False Idols

Reexamining Our Fashion Deities

Virgil Abloh. Kendall Jenner. Justin O’Shea. Alessandro Michele. Demna Gvasalia. Chances are pretty high that the moment your eyes crossed those words, a wave of recognition swept over you in an instant. And it’s no surprise at all. That’s just how the fashion world wants it.

Functioning within a microcosm that somehow has the capability to simultaneously seep out into the larger world around it, the fashion industry has a longtime pattern that crosses over with mainstream culture in anointing the figures that are meant to represent the centerpieces and spokespeople for what fashion is and stands for. “It Girls, icons, fashion deities”—they are the people both exalted and fawned over for whichever reasons we have deemed fit.

From magazine editors and models to designers and high-society figures, the icons within the industry range from the long-reigning individuals to more fresh faced millennials—and their purpose and power within the world of fashion and beyond seems to be only getting stronger.

But let us not forget: the higher the pedestal, the harder the fall.

If we’ve realized anything within the past few years, it’s that fashion is far from immune to the larger landscape it functions within. In the midst of the #MeToo movement, a time where shake-ups are common and truths continue to be exposed, we can’t help but look inward and explore the machinations of the fashion world, especially in terms of those we put on pedestals, who we praise, and who we look to as voices for the industry we love.

The firing of John Galliano for anti-semitic comments, accusations towards famed photographers for sexual misconduct, and just last month, racist and homophobic language from industry insiders—these are not fashion faux pas, they’re serious occurrences that require a shift in thinking.

Let’s look to one of the more recent scandals. Last month when Miroslava Duma, the co-founder of Buro 24/7 and a recurring face within the fashion circuit, shared a note on Instagram that couture designer Ulyana Sergeenko sent her. Assuming you do not live under a rock, you know what happened next.

While those we declare to be fashion idols function on a spectrum, it is important to hold those accountable and fully think about why and how these individuals are where they are. Duma and Sergeenko are just two members of a large fashion community, yet there are numerous individuals who are just as well-positioned—they are the countless others we call “fashion deities”.

We stand on a precipice, one that hovers between unapologetic accessibility and sheer irresponsibility. This turning point can be traced back largely to the advent of social media and the shift towards digital in general.

Things have been changing for a while now. Designers are moving in, out, and around fashion houses. Magazines have long since started to shift their attention to digital, acutely aware of the pull, pulse, and imperative force of a dot com. The struggle for power is nonstop, and fashion is constantly seeking out a leader to look to—and these days, there are countless people vying for a way in.

It’s a mind blowing reality we live in. It’s exciting, but also should make us move forward with trepidation.

Because if we pause on the chatter about Miroslava Duma and think about all the others who have just as much—if not more—weight in the industry, it becomes a bit alarming.

Social media has brought numerous positives to the industry; the accessibility is astounding and the ability to pull the curtain back is essential. But its use must be measured , especially when those framing the lens are not essentially positive figures. Who gives these personalities  the authority to be the spokespeople of whichever side of fashion they take? And why do we seem to care?

The past few years it seems as if the industry has been in a state of flux, where those we worship tend to take an air about them that is more akin to reality television stars much like the Kardashian empire. And many of them are entirely out of touch with the real world, choosing to exist in a space where Instagram followers and flawless filters matter more than any ounce of talent or expertise.

This goes beyond the social media-focused—we can look to a handful of high-powered fashion icons who have been given an incredible amount of accessibility and authority due to their familial affiliations and larger social status.

From Gigi Hadid to Chiara Ferragni, leading figures are placed on a pedestal for one reason or another, but it is actually not as much about the individual cases as it is the overall manner in which we choose and criteria we use to anoint fashion deities.

Fashion has an inherent voyeuristic element to it, after all. So what do we crave in these individuals? What are we trying to gain? And how are they getting to a point where they can deliver us the content and aesthetics of our dreams?

On one end, it is the money these certain individuals have access to and the lavish lifestyle that comes with it. Beautiful clothing, exquisite interiors, fantastic travels—they are a living, breathing magazine editorial. They resemble what we aspire to be, and therefore we place them above all others. Not because of their thoughts or opinions, but because of what they represent and what we aspire to be. An idea, a fleeting world we wish to emulate.

Then you have those who have navigated rough waters with seemingly bullet-proof strategy to get them to the place they are now. It was, after all, a sex tape that made the Kardashian name one worth remembering. Today, they are treated like royalty. It’s hard to not be impressed with the manner in which they’ve climbed to the top.

Social stance, an aspirational lifestyle, and a plethora of connections no doubt lend a hand in propelling a career, but we should take pause when it comes to equating it with instant authority.

The fashion gaze seems to favor the aesthetic over thought and the celebrity over visionary.

How can we take ourselves seriously and appreciate fashion as an expressive craft when the industry is mired in celebrity hodgepodge, where accountability can be scarce and reputation is based on bloodline?

Again, we have to remember that it is a spectrum, albeit a spectrum that is harder and harder to differentiate upon as the group grows larger with celebrity offspring, affluent creatives, and social media stars. Being a celebrity or having millions of followers on Instagram does not make you a role model. So why are we putting those people in these positions?

The icons and the It Girls of the moment hold power partly because we give it to them. Let the fashion gods fall. It’s time we rethink who these icons are and push towards a movement where we hold individuals accountable and praise those worth praising.