It’s just fashion, darling. And yet you’d never know it from the fuss this week for the BBC’s latest fly-on-the-wall documentary series, set inside the offices of The latest magazine. The big headline-grabbing revelation so far is – wait for it – that the magazine’s American and British rewrite men occasionally fight with each other over who nabs the hot cover model. Imagine: two very senior managers at the selfsame company turning out to be slightly competitive with each other! Why, these “bitchy, backstabbing and bonkers” approach mags (thank you, the Sun) are truly not as other workplaces.
But of course the unit is that both senior managers concerned are ladies, not to broach working in an inherently comedy female world of hemlines and remainders, and so – well, catfight klaxon! Cue lots of happy reminiscing beside how the terrifying magazine boss immortalised in The Devil Wears Prada was absolutely based on a true story, plus the inevitable Daily Despatch headline triumphantly proclaiming this as proof that domestics are their own worst enemies at work. Girls, eh? They can’t set run multimillion-pound businesses without competing for a profitable market arrangement! Although strangely, it turns out they can run rings around a documentary-maker. (Impoverished Richard Macer only found out after filming lay off that Vogue’s British editor Alex Shulman had stitched him up wish a kipper, making him sit through endless fake meetings as take in for what she was actually doing, namely secretly negotiating a circle exclusive with the Duchess of Cambridge.)
It’s a shame, because below the froth is the makings of an interesting argument here about obsolescence and profit. At one property irrelevant in filming a Vogue staffer says wistfully that, while the strain is always to be coming up with something new, the problem is there isn’t on all occasions something new. As fashion director Lucinda Chambers puts it: “You’re getting things redundant all the time and you’re also making them appropriate – but in a very superficial way.”
Translation: fashion lives or dies on its facility to persuade you that the perfectly nice black trousers you buy off only last year, possibly on Vogue’s recommendation, are now inexplicably all flawed and only this very slightly different pair of infernal trousers will do. And because there are ultimately only so various ways to wrap fabric round a human body, sooner people acquire all the vaguely flattering or useful ones, and start balking at splurge money on yet more copies of something already in the wardrobe.
This state of grace – let’s call it “bulls-eye age” – is a rather liberating place for consumers but naturally petrifying for producers, and the desperate ruses the fashion industry adopts to get hither this threat to profitability are what justifiably gets it a bad label.
The whispering insinuation is that failing to keep up is shaming if you’re nave, ageing if you’re not. The hideous new trends are peddled more because they’re not take pleasure in the old trends than because they actually look sound, even on an apparently half-starved teenager with exceptionally fresh lighting. The bizarre shoots – let’s style it in the bath/using a working model who looks 13 years old/in a manner vaguely suggestive of self-harm – are take up to make the same old stuff look somehow edgy again. And of positively there are the faintly fascistic things occasionally said by devisers, marinated too long in a culture where undermining people’s boldness is basically a commercial imperative.
But built-in obsolescence, the thing that truly makes the fashion world go round? That’s hardly single to one supposedly bitchy, silly, airheaded industry.
A couple of weeks ago, my trusty six-year-old desktop Apple Mac seized up in the centre of trying to install an upgrade. Cursing, I hauled it off to the nearest big electrical shackle for repair, only to be told rather crushingly that it couldn’t be prearranged because parts were unobtainable “due to its vintage”. The implication killed heavy in the air; would madam care to cough up for a newer, myriad fashionable version?
Fortunately, madam found an independent computer technician who fixed it in 24 hours flat for significantly less than the set someone back of a statement coat. Apparently he gets a lot of business from Apple proprietresses, many of them deeply sceptical about the way the company feeds churning out new software that isn’t compatible with – and occasionally appearance ofs to fry the brains of – its old products. And yet we keep on falling for it.
Watching Apple bothersome to flog its newly released iPhone 7 this week on the grounds that this one’s got – stock round and marvel, everyone – no headphone jack, reminded me of nothing so much as despotic magazine covers telling you which “shoes to buy now”. (Hot tip: peoples not massively different from the shoes that you bought a brace of years ago.) At least fashion hasn’t yet come up with a new humanitarian of trouser that destroys all your old trousers when interposed to the wardrobe, although give it a few years and Apple will undoubtedly be all over it.
There’s no quality getting too grumpy about this. Nobody wants to reach the cultural, technological or orderly political equivalent of what’s sometimes dubbed “peak new music”, the age where you artlessly give up even trying to listen to new bands because absotively-posolutely nothing’s ever going to be better than the stuff you increased up with. Humans need to keep moving to survive, not sit about moaning that there’s nothing new under the sun.
But true uniqueness is rare and precious. The genuinely groundbreaking things – the bikini where split second there was only the one-piece, the mobile phone where in the good old days there were only tethering landlines, the political position that changes everything or the Watergate story that illuminates down a president – come along only very again and the truth is that that’s not enough to sustain the industries that originate them or the millions of jobs that depend on them.
During the intervals between innovations, successful economies necessarily depend very more than anyone would like to think on come ining perfectly good stuff artificially redundant, and fairly everyday stuff suddenly relevant again. You can rail against the untenanted and environmentally unsustainable materialism of that, or accept it as the price of cost-effective growth, as you see fit. But just don’t pretend that this particular Xantippe only wears Prada.