Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
I never used to ‘get’ quotes about the difference between fashion and style. You know the ones I mean – about how one can be bought and the other is innate, that sort of thing. I always thought it was just the sort of inane fluff that bloggers put in their Twitter bio because they can’t come up with anything coherent to say about themselves. Last night I discovered that I was wrong.
The title of this blog is probably misleading, as it implies that I didn’t have a good time at FNO. I did. I hung out with Sian, founder of Domestic Sluttery and one of my new favourite people ever, saw lots of cool stuff and drank free alcohol. Too much alcohol, given it was a school night. But there’s no point in me just writing another ‘I did this and I met blah and it was fun’ Fashion’s Night Out review, because (God knows) there’ll be enough of them around by Saturday night. Yes, FNO was unlike any shopping experience I’ve had before, but there was a very dark side to it all. That’s what I want to talk about.
My experience can be neatly summarised by the following statement – on my way to the event, it felt like everyone was looking at my outfit (which wasn’t even that extravagant) out of the corner of their eye. Once I got arrived, I didn’t get a second glance. Or, in most cases, even a first. Girls in neon bodysuits and dudes with haircuts like 17th century monks were suddenly not only present, but commonplace. I realised something about the extent to which Fashion is a bubble, enforced by the fact that Old Bond Street and the surrounding area was literally cordoned off, and I began to feel like I had stumbled into an aviary full of exotic birds.
Much of the enjoyment I derived from the night came from the fact that items were laid out as if they were pieces of art – types of fabric, patterns and elegant designs transcended the status of mere clothes, bags, accessories, and become something much more. I described my experience on the night as being more like a trip to a museum or a sociological study than going shopping, and I stand by that. But ultimately, I came to be so overwhelmed by the (presumably subconscious) focus on dehumanisation that the whole evening felt a lot like holidaying in the Uncanny Valley – I came across people pretending to be mannequins, designs that the world has seen imitated at market stalls so many times that even the real article no longer seems genuine, shoes that mimic the appearance of the feet of Gypsy Cobs horses, puppies that I can only presume have been genetically modified to be tinier than nature ever intended. Though, to be fair, Tinkerbell was pretty cute.
The atmosphere was startlingly similar to that of a zombie film. Clutching freebies, Champagne flutes and minuscule gift bags, people shuffled from flagship to flagship, seemingly no longer aware that £430 is not an acceptable price for a t-shirt. As for the staff, they seemed to fall into one of two camps – the first demonstrated palpable anxiety, presumably terrified that they were going to mess up one of the biggest nights of the year. The second was made up of those who have been infected by the arrogance and superiority of their bosses to the extent that have forgotten, or have learnt to repress the fact, that at the end of each day they have to return the clothes on their backs to the shelves and make their way back to a bedsit in Clapham.
This was par for the course for the rest of the night; a lot of things felt falsified or obscured. Everyone seemed determined to project the mask of self confidence and bluster that they’ve been practicing for so many years, but insecurities were only ever a second glance away. Many of the participants were evidently so desperate to cling to their collective youth that they had botoxed and liposuctioned themselves to the point of deformity.
The best managed to walk the line of simulacrum convincingly enough that they seemed to possess an ageless, Dorian Gray-esque quality. The worst had clearly become content to descend into the grotesque long ago. I watched a grey haired man making his way into an exclusive club, clinging onto a zimmerframe as zealously as the platinum blondes holding onto each of his skeletal arms. I saw a woman with Gucci sunglasses not oversized enough to cover the pallid skin of her face, which had been surgically lifted almost to breaking point. I saw greed and bitterness everywhere, individuals stricken with a desperation to be ‘happy’ that the best part of them had given up finding long ago.
What I saw on Thursday evening was Fashion, not style. It was beautiful, and deceptive, elegant, and elitist, enticing, and rotten. And it had nothing to do with who I am or what I want to be.