Fashion labels want to have an intellectual conversation about your jeans. What do your style choices say about you? To some, fashion is just a way to hide your nakedness. It’s about putting a shirt on your back, adding a tie if you have to, and nothing more. To others, it’s not only a matter of taste – it’s about expressing your intellect.
And there’s no shortage of brands lining up to tell you that by buying into their collection, you have made an intellectual as well as a commercial decision. The recent Pradasphere exhibition at Harrods is a prime example, associating Miuccia Parda with not just fashion but art, architecture and cinema. Collaborating with artists presents fashion brands and their wares as more than mere vessels to make you look good – it allows them to become a comment on society; both the here and now, and what comes next.
It’s not just Prada – almost all high-end fashion brands love an exhibition, be it at a museum or in a shop. Not only does it add to brand awareness, it helps them to keep up with the industry Jonses. If Prada’s holding an exhibition, you’d better bet Jean Paul Gaultier is going to have one, too. How can a piece of clothing make an intellectual statement?
When you put on a pair of trousers they need to fit, complement your backside and flatter your shape – but if they also make you feel an association with something bigger, something cleverer, then that label has successfully intellectualised itself. This is the way some brands get away with selling ugly things; an emperor’s new clothes approach to fashion. If you’ve been intellectualising your brand adequately, people won’t question it. Take Raf Simons and his long T-shirts that verge on dresses – if it were anyone else they would be laughed out of town, but even Rihanna has been seen wearing one.
It isn’t easy: brands and designers like Simons have done the groundwork to make us receptive to new ideas. Some young designers think they can rock up and reinvent the wheel, but in reality it’s a slow burn of influence; getting away with challenging ideas can take years. This is more prominent in womenswear, but it’s also seeped into the men’s arena. With menswear, intellectualizing tends to be about promoting exactly what something is, how it’s made and the history of the person selling it to you. It’s a collection of factors that, in unison, gives a brand or item depth and personality beyond the threads holding it together. So next time you pick up a designer shirt, ask yourself not only whether it makes you look good, but what it’s saying about your entire world-view.