Found on the Fringes

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High fashion can be likened to an art-world Frankenstein monster despite its glamorous allure. With several fashion weeks per year in Paris, New York and other major metropolises, it is no wonder that the quintessence of the industry is change itself. Innovation-hungry magazine editors and fashion bloggers applaud uncanny garments like Chanel's full fur bodysuits for their fall/winter 2010 collection, but the public seems more grounded in pragmatism. The fashion industry's combination of commercialism and artistry has brought forth a strange breed of excess.

The impracticality of the fashion calendar is enough to make anyone's five-inch Louboutins teeter-totter. Major designers like Alexander Wang and Balmain show their spring collections on the runway during the fall. By the time the spring season arrives, their clothes have already been reviewed and mimicked by fast-fashion chains like H&M and before people are done tweeting about it, the cycle begins again in preparation for the following season.

With resort and pre-fall collections to worry about as well, designers and consumers are starting to feel like they are fantasizing about next week's lunch while chewing a mouthful of tonight's dinner. During the waiting period between the time when clothing is shown on runways and sold in stores, the fashion community grows restless with anxiety for new trends. As a result, pre-fall collections are sold between May and July, when everyone is bored of the current season's looks but fall fashions have not yet become necessary.

When Donna Karan recently told WWD Magazine that stores should start selling clothing during the season it's meant to be worn in, the fashion media treated the designer's criticism of the runway-to-retail cycle as a call for revolution rather than common sense. Karan's comments voiced the alienation consumers feel when faced with over-the-top prices for clothing that quickly goes out of season. But the root of the problem may be more than a "smorgasbord of too much" as she claimed.

In the fashion world, designers have a triple role. While maintaining their independence as artists, they face pressure to make novel statements every season while working with what flatters the human body. Alber Elbaz of Lanvin and Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel have alluded to the overwhelmingly fast-paced nature of their discipline.

"You cannot write six books a year. You cannot produce six movies. You can't do six collections a year. And I think this is actually what is making fashion be the way it is today," Elbaz told Style.com, "I know a lot of people complain that there is not enough change and that fashion in the past was much more creative than today, and I think a big part of this phenomenon is that we don't have the time to think."

Perhaps this growing atmosphere of estrangement among designers and consumers alike explains the rising popularity of personal fashion blogs operating out of the Bay Area. Co-founded by UC Berkeley alumna Helen Zhu, Chictopia.com is a fashion social networking site where users upload pictures of themselves wearing self-styled outfits and are matched with others based on clothing style, favorite brands and body type. Similarly, San Francisco-based Lookbook.nu is an invitation-only online fashion community with a famously cosmopolitan repertoire of member photos.

Since plentitude has been the norm in the Western world for decades to some extent, people are becoming more interested in re-appropriating garments creatively rather than following pre-made styles. Many of the outfits pictured on Chictopia and Lookbook mix contemporary clothing with vintage, the bounty spilling over from the past century. Instead of mimicking role models, our generation also relies on each other for sartorial inspiration.

The epitome of this upswing of moderation in fashion, Annabel of blushingambition.blogspot.com, is one of my favorite bloggers and a fellow UC Berkeley student. She photographs her unostentatious but carefully chosen outfits, posing in her kitchen and bedroom. Focusing predominantly on classic staples and neutral shades, Annabel mixes and matches loose fitting tops, denims, blazers and wedged heels.

Apart from being fashion savvy, Annabel is also an epicure. Blushingambition is filled with pictures of delicious food from her gourmet restaurant adventures in San Francisco. Her posts typically receive 50 or 60 comments. Perhaps so many readers are drawn to Annabel's blog because fashion is so deeply ingrained in lifestyle despite being a freestanding art form. People want to read about tiny rainbow colored macaroons, white oxfords and red cardigans because the overarching canopy of the blogger's personality gives those objects meaning.

Maybe the fashion world is such a Frankenstein monster because its artistic and consumer goals are at a disconnect. Lanvin's one-of-a-kind stonewashed duchesse satins may never materialize anywhere but fantasy, and reading about consignment store treasure hunting from a college girl seems more tangible for those of us with barely enough quarters to do laundry. Different economic climates call for different approaches, and fashion's multiple constraints keep the industry - art form, whatever it is - perpetually evolving.


Try on one of those Chanel fur suits with Nastia at [email protected]



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