Functionality vs The Aesthetic:
A.k.a ‘Style Over Function’
By Yasmin Jones-Henry
What is Fashion For?
On a crisp Spring afternoon, I made the executive decision to walk from Green Park Station to Oxford Street. For anyone who knows me – walking any distance that doesn’t involve getting in and out of a taxi is an achievement in an of itself. Nonetheless, I felt a sense of adventure as I pounded the pavements in the sunshine. ‘Finally!’ I thought to myself, after a complete lack of a work life balance, and an adolescence of living with my head inside the pages of the glossy fashion magazines – now was the moment I was both mature enough and fiscally endowed to appreciate what both Old and New Bond Street had to offer me.
As I drew closer to the parade of shops I had been salivating over since childhood, memories of shopping trips with mother began to flood my imagination. As I started to come across familiar brand names, I remembered the frustration, the fussing, ‘my feet hurt’ ‘I’m hot’… ‘How much longer?’ that would accompany these Saturday expeditions. Shopping – or rather retail therapy was never my forte. However what I did enjoy, was the excitement of walking past the enticing window displays of Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada – even the famed Russell and Bromley on the corner – would beckon me to waddle over and look at the ‘One-Day-When-I-Grow-Up’ Big Girl Boots.
This, one could argue, was the purpose of visual display: Aesthetic and Functionality working in beautiful symbiotic harmony. With an institution such as the Royal Academy literally round the corner, Old and New Bond Street offered a rival type of exhibition to the aesthetic savvy eye. The colours, the fabrics, the composition – heck the juxtaposition of accessories in the shop windows taught me, even then, that what we consider to be art – transcends a canvas hanging on a crusty wall. For all my fidgeting at that age, I am grateful to my Mum for persevering in bringing me along to her shopping trips. In a sort of subliminal – drip feed manner she was educating me on a much broader world view.
Don’t get it twisted, by bringing me shopping with her, Mater wasn’t trying to breed another shallow materialistic mongrel. There were/are plenty enough in modern society as it is. No. By bringing me with her, she was subtly instilling within me the rites of a hardworking, pioneer: To be the best – in life, it is not enough to be the best at what you do – you must look your best – at all times.
Presentation, Presentation, Presentation.
The significance of the statement ‘You Are What You Wear’ lies not in the value of the garment – or the notoriety of the brand, but in the acceptance that whatever items you chose to put on – are an extension – a reflection of your character, innermost thoughts, tastes and aspirations.
Right or wrong, we live in a society where people still make life changing decisions based on how another person appears. Jobs have been offered and withdrawn based upon how the candidate has chosen to present themselves at the interview. A year spent working in recruitment taught me that: to the prospective employer, a person that takes no care in their appearance is not ‘liberated’ as some might have you believe. They simply look care-less. Would you want a careless person representing your hard earned merchandise/services or brand?
By the same token, as a well educated and eloquent black woman – I know full well that I must look like a ‘well-educated-and-eloquent-woman’ at all times, to avoid the odour of racial prejudice that still lingers the moment people realise – that the voice on the other end of the telephone – does in fact belong to a woman of my complexion. I owe my mother a lot, but this pearl of wisdom she gave to me at the tender age of 7 is one that I arm myself with everyday. The simple reality is… the only way to overcome such prejudice is to “Control Your Own Narrative”. By saying ‘you are what you wear’, what that statement is actually signalling is that – clothes – fashion if you must – is an extended form of self-advertisement.
A lot of fuss is made over designer brands. They are expensive. The presumption amongst the unwashed and uneducated, is that to be seen in designer gear – must translate as: ‘I am successful. I am wealthy. I have taste’. #Newsflash… hang on to your receipts – because in the real world this is not the case. Standing in Bond Street Station – waiting for a friend a few weeks ago I felt my blood boiling with rage as I watched a young woman as she stood next to me decked from head to toe in designer labels. I would refer to such a display as ostentatious, but this was a level above… Von Dutch Cap (so 2005!) Dior belt and matching handbag (could be a fake but these days who knows). Jimmy Choo knee high patent boots… and an i-pad mini and i-phone to boot – oh and let’s not forget the trademark Chanel sunglasses.
Needless to say I was witnessing a walking disaster. Yet this young lady summed up perfectly how the ‘You Are What You Wear’ mantra has been misinterpreted by so many in today’s Insta-Aren’t-I-Perfect-World. My fury was not simply at her appalling dress sense. It was at the futility that now pervades fashion in the 21st Century. I see it all the time on the train on my way in to work; in Selfridges when I pop in to buy some make up or to browse the rails or worst of all… in the once revered glossy reference libraries that I admired in my childhood. You always see the same breed of parasite. Celebrating everything that glitters and has a brand name. Wearing everything that glitters and has a brand name with no notion of the legacy, artistry, enterprise and ingenuity that founded the fashion house they now claim to endorse.
This brings me right back to the opening question: What is fashion for?
My reason for establishing Work In Fashion as an initiative is based entirely upon this question. It is time to re-educate the masses on the meaning of ‘fashion’. Taken from the latin ‘Facere’ – the word literally means “to do or to make”. The wonderful thing about the human race is our power to create. We all have it and we express our creativity in different ways.
I have said it before and I will say it again, I believe that everyone has a unique narrative. One that they control entirely with its different flavours, rhythms, textures and origins. As a curator of all things aesthetic and functional I wanted to create a platform that enabled others to share their narratives – independently of the censored – heavily edited and photoshopped storyline that is force-fed to the masses via the newsstands every month.
You don’t have to be a size zero glamazon to subscribe to the Work In Fashion ethos. Come as you are but just remember this one thing: Jobs, businesses- commerce will come and go. Make sure you are a brand that lasts forever.
Take care of your composition – and the message you are about to convey. You never know who is watching!
Until Next Time…
#ControlYourNarrative #BuildYourBrand #CreateYourLegacy #whatisfashion?