Fashion’s royal court is only for a small percentage of Americans with royal salaries.
One has only to look at last night’s Oscar results for The King’s Speech to see that when it comes to royalty we are smitten. But where we cheer for stuttering kings and their noble supporting cast, new-found love and endearing visions of the past, do we really need a new court?
“Fashion is royalty,” a friend said to me over dinner last week in New York.
Is it possible that the most consumer-driven part of our society could seriously be considered royalty? And do we really want to consider the most irresponsible of our designers the new court’s kings and queens?
My friend may be on to something. How many stories did we have to endure over New York Fashion Week detailing obsessive information about what courtesan celebrities were wearing in the front row to see their noble (king or queen) designer? Humbly though they sat to admire the breathtaking fantasies from legends like Karl Lagerfeld, Versace and Tomas Maier of Bottega Veneta, we undoubtedly heard (or maybe cared) less about the looks coming down the catwalk as the star-studded sidelines.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article that peeks inside the closets of those rarefied shoppers of fashion weeks in New York, Paris and Milan, the world’s most expensive clothes may only be made for those with royal salaries. “But many of the runway styles are actually purchased by a small group of customers, not all of them from the isle of Manhattan. And unlike celebrities and socialites, who often get designer clothes at no charge in exchange for publicity, these customers pay full price,” says WSJ writer Elizabeth Holmes.
Is this the royalty my friend, a struggling young designer, is referencing? Yes.
A rereading of this fairy tale might encourage us to ask why fashion’s royal court is being led by people purchasing clothes with heavily gilded price tags. A Balmain gold mini-dress at $74,000? Especially in a still-tepid economy, such displays are garish. The era of bling bling and logomania among the peasants may have abated in step with the financial times, but decadent fashion still wears its crown.
Fashion is royalty, she reiterates. Heady, worked up and a little intoxicated, she glares and says, “Ha! You’re just like a peasant with the clothes you love,” and takes a conclusive sip.
Indeed I am, and in fact, we all are. What comes down the catwalk and drives fashion magazine editorials is not the ready-to-wear, (much less the mass-produced fast fashion that will show up in stores in the months after fashion weeks), it’s the thin slice for the royals and their royalty. This can be confusing for the average American fashion consumer, seeing the gaudy and glamorous creations of fashion week and the fantastical spreads soon after in glossy publications. Is this a level of fashion the typical consumer can ever attain? Yet this is what drives fashion, and all young designers must visit the high design courts to pay homage to those patrons on whom their success hinges. Whether they want to or not.