Wednesday 2 April 2014

The Trends on Wednesday: Phe-norm-enon

"You're not going out in that - it's too formal! You look like you're going to a party! People will be dressed casually in shorts and t-shirts. It'll be completely inappropriate for what we're going to be doing. Put on something snug and practical." That baying imperative left my mum's mouth throughout my teenagehood - a time spent in the glare of late 90s girl band glamour - and on many an occasion over the past decade, as I battled her sartorial sanctions. Maybe I should be sorry, because maybe - just maybe - my mother was at the forefront of avant garde fashion forecasting, with insight so cutting edge it was decades ahead of its time. Yes, fast forward 15 years (or just skip the track - duh! More on technology later) and it's purists' practicality that the cool kids are wearing, or normcore as it is currently known.

Fashion has ventured beyond the obnoxious 'irony' of the hipster look to outright avoidance of fashion's standard fare: commercialised branding, transient fads and conventional glamour. Key pieces for the summer include CĂ©line's skater shoes, Prada's crystal hiking sandals, unfitted jeans and tracksuit bottoms, grey marled sweatshirts and 'ugly' pool shoes (perchance bringing new meaning to the term, 'poolside glamour'). Some see it as a shift of paradigm from binding, ornamental sufferance for one's style to comfort: a slow-burning zeitgeist reacting against years of impractical, constrictive opulence. Richard Nicoll, a designer with a penchant for relaxed-fitting, timeless staples said: "fashion in the last five to 10 years has been quite shouty and bold. It's an old-fashioned idea that aesthetics matter above comfort. It's outdated." Within that timeframe - one which began with the 'fierce' look of binding bandage dresses at Christopher Kane, hazardous, tottering heels and short bodycon dresses at Burberry and Balmain that groaned under the weight of rhinestones - the world caught up with the elusive glamour of the privileged few, with reality TV shows trailblazing their take on catwalk fashion and reworking desirable looks through face-contouring makeup and immaculately tonged hair. The elusive became ubiquitous, so fascination turned to the 'off duty' aesthetic on celebrities. This new approach is echoed by designers. in their mission to make the wearer feel good because the clothes are good to wear. If you consider the Mary Quant quote: "The fashionable woman wears clothes. The clothes don't wear her," perhaps it's not such a new idea, after all. By the same token, it's not thought to be the end of an era for ostentation either. Be prepared for the pendulum to swing back towards binding, tottering glamour over the next five years!

Maybe a shift back to flamboyance wouldn't be so bad in the long term. Since the bland, anti-style ethos of normcore begun in the summer of 2013, it's seen its share of controversy and disapproval. The concept of embracing sameness as a way of looking cool, rather than striving for individuality was born in a world of frenetic technology and communication. Everything is so easy to find, research and publish via the internet, that "everyone is a researcher now" according to Natasha Stagg, the Online Editor of V Magazine. Trends and cycles happen so fast that the concept of staying current is no longer possible or existent. It is for this reason that trend forecasting collective, K-HOLE identify normcore by conceptual rather than aesthetic means - as co-founder Emily Segal asserts, “it’s not about being simple or forfeiting individuality to become a bland, uniform mass, (rather, it's about) seeing (recognisability) as an opportunity for connection, instead of evidence that your identity has dissolved.”

It is a salient point that the normcore mentality offers a means of sartorial discourse instead of individualistic flamboyance. I'd rather not have to forfeit any of the artistic expression in my dress sense simply to not look sad and old hat - apparently, neither would Grayson Perry.To quote Henry Van Dyke: "Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best." The same principle applies, surely, with sartorial expression. Where the normcore mentality might just be right, however, is that fashion, like any art form, is read and decoded as a set of signs. If we are to take the reins of communication and break new ground, perhaps it should be done, not with what we want to say in mind but how we know people are going to read it and where we fit within the wider discourse of fashion. It ain't what we say, it's what the world says it is. Face it, you're unique - just like everyone else!