Fashion Mailbag: Why Are Designer Runway Clothes So Ridiculous?

    Because even if you make things that are ugly, you will still be called a genius.

    Are fashion shows actually meant to represent clothes people wear? Or is it more about what this designer can do, and challenging the status quo, etc., things like that? Because so many items are so unpractical and actually quite ugly and ridiculous in real life, i.e. florals that make you look like your grandmother's couch.

    Well, I don’t know about you but I wake up in the morning thinking of ways to look like your grandmother’s couch. Shows what those of us on the inside know, Outsider!

    Kidding. When it comes to fashion, save like 50 or so people who work in the industry and are ranked high enough in it to Truly Understand Clothing, we are all outsiders. Fashion likes it that way. I believe that part of the weirdness on the runways is a ruse, actually — if you’re as famous in fashion land as Marc Jacobs or Miuccia Prada, you are almost guaranteed to get rave reviews because you are YOU. So you can send out pimp hats:

    Or banana prints:

    And other fashion people will compare you to Darwin or label you a “psychoanalyst of style.” I wonder if these designers are thinking “what ugly or totally stupid-looking thing can I send down the runway to get people who want to prove they UNDERSTAND fashion to rave over how genius I am?” And then laughing when, without fail, that very thing happens every time they sew some clothes.

    The other thing about fashion reviews that you read, well, pretty much anywhere is that very, very few are negative because you can’t piss off the labels that are paying an assload of money to advertise on your site or in your magazine. So, without the same window of criticism that movies or restaurants are subjected to, designers have little reason to reel themselves in. They spend enough money on advertising to continually get their clothing photographed and promoted by the top magazines and hold sway over most honest critiques of their work. (The not-offending-advertisers problem is so bad that a friend who worked at one of your typical women’s fashion print titles told me they would sit around the conference table and say things like, “This sneaker is hideous but we have to shoot it because the brand made a big ad buy. Where can we stick it in the issue and then forget about how it scarred our eyes forever?”) And even if a label doesn’t advertise, you might not want to say anything that would offend them because they can ban you from their fashion shows and parties and refuse to speak to you for the rest of time. If you’re a fashion writer, it will be pretty hard to do your job without the access you need. (For an recent example of this problem, I suggest you read up on what happened to brilliant "Newsweek"/Daily Beast fashion critic Robin Givhan's relationship with Chanel following the publication a piece she wrote in which she questioned the label's designer, Karl Lagerfeld.

    Also, runway shows have to be, well, shows, otherwise they’re boring. People who go to fashion shows sometimes have to sit through six to eight or more a day, which sounds a lot more fun than it actually is, I swear. Imagine if you were seeing a pair of slacks with a wool sweater and ankle boots ten million times in one day? It’s like, do you want to go to a Broadway musical and watch someone in jeans and a sweatshirt sit in a chair and sing to you with no dancing? Of course not. But Marc Jacobs gives you big pimp hats that might be made from dyed tarantula fur? You’re interested. Prada’s dangling a boxy banana-print button-up shirt in front of your dieting face? You’re hungry. You’re on the edge of your seat. You’re dreaming up pimp-themed fashion shoots that you can do in Chinese factories with banana trees in the background. (Because China is trendy. Sounds wrong, but it’s not my idea, it’s just the truth of fashion right now.)

    So, to sum up: designers make weird runway shows because they want to be risky, entertain fashion people, and because if their riskiness ends up sucking there are seldom consequences. (But you have to wonder: even if a show got a bad review, would the customers stop buying? I don't think so.)

    Now, what you buy off the rack from these labels is usually not the same thing the designer showed on the runway. It’s commercialized for the outsiders. Designers have to be business people, and they understand that people with the money to buy their things are not going to buy something like this:

    They’re going to buy the things that make them look thin, that can be worn to a variety of occasions, that can fit through doorways, etc.