Fashion Now: Bland, Boring or Ugly (or all three)

Published: Feb 28, 2023  |  

Founder & creative director of TheChicGeek


Illustration by Sarameeya Aree

We are living in disparate fashion times. On the one hand, we have the Harry Styles and Sam Smiths of the world playing around with genders and outlandish fashion on the red carpet, and on the other we have the average person and our slow slide into comfort. Look around: we look bad right now. 

Karl Lagerfeld once said “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” His eponymous brand now sells track pants. Items that were once “just for putting the garbage/bins out” have made it full-time into wardrobes. It’s easy, I get it. But, like a fashion Talking Head, I have to ask, “Well, how did we get here?”

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. A hopeful glimmer offering a respite from the bland, boring and ugly hole we seem to have pigeoned ourselves in. 

The fashion brand Balenciaga, one of the fashion industry’s leaders, hit sales turbulence in December. A recent earnings call by its parent company Kering, whose Chairman and CEO Francois-Henri Pinault said Balenciaga had an excellent 2022, despite a difficult month of December.

In November 2022, the brand launched a fashion campaign featuring images of children holding BDSM teddies. It was swiftly withdrawn with them admitting “grievous errors,” but it had “a big impact” on Balenciaga sales in Britain, the Middle East and the United States in late November and December. 

Kering aren’t ones to suffer slowing sales lightly. No designer is too big or important for an emperor-like thumbs down. If they don’t pick up quickly, it could all change at Balenciaga—Gucci had a swift head change just before Christmas for the same reason. 

The brand and its creative director Demna Gvasalia—who has been the master architect of our descent into fugly—have been a powerhouse together since his appointment in 2015.

The brand is very clever: it’s made ugly and banal cool. The shops look like nuclear bunkers or underground concrete car parks and they are charging $1800 for bags looking like family-sized crisp packets. It was selling. Those 2017 leather car mat skirts they did were genius and should be in a fashion museum.

Gvasalia’s original label, Vetements, which he left in 2019, pioneered ridiculously overpriced basics—DHL T-shirt, anyone? I can remember seeing my first piece of Vetements at a fashion party during its early days. Having to bend down, I noticed a woman with a pair of high shoes with unusual heels. Upon closer inspection the heel was a disposable lighter. It was kinda funny, but also a bit shit at the same time. And completely the point. I got what the brand was about instantly.

In the rock, paper, scissors of fashion, cool trumped everything.

It was when other “luxury” brands jumped onto this bandwagon and tried to follow Balenciaga’s lead that got us to this point. The fashion business is currently out of ideas, and the main ideas it does have revolve around this aesthetic. Scroll through any “luxury” multi-brand website and it will have pages and pages of clothes that, looking back in ten years, we’ll ask ourselves “what were you thinking?” Even mullets are no longer ironic. They are just there. 

It’s okay to accept and recognize where we are. It’s fashion, after all, and it will change. Call it a pandemic hangover or the direction of travel we were already going in. When ugly became cool, it distorted people’s mindsets and way of thinking about things. What we would have rejected before, we now accept—this is the power of fashion. We will need to unlearn all of this and reeducate our eyes.

Over the last decade, luxury brands tried to out-bland each other on how they could erase any personality they had. Scores of logos reverted to a bold sans serif type that did little to distinguish anybody from anybody.

Recent glimmers of fashion hope include Burberry reverting back to a serif font and historic logo under its new creative director, Daniel Lee, and Saint Laurent slowly reintroducing the old logo but still missing the  “Yves”.

This isn’t a cry for being traditional or trying to ram an ideal of beauty down people’s throats: aesthetics are totally subjective, after all, but it still needs to be recognized and said out loud that we’ve found ourselves living in boring, ugly, and bland times.

Pinault said, “Balenciaga has a lot of work to do to restore its image in the United States.”

The label’s upcoming Paris fashion week show is scheduled for March 5 and will serve as a reset, Pinault said, with the event more focused on the clothing and “less theatrical.” Could this be the start of the bounce back from bland, boring and ugly? One can only hope.

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