Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Formative Moments in Fashion History: Dior Bag

Inspired by Dave Chapelle’s “Great Moments in Hook-Up History," in which he recounts memorable tales of sexual escapades, I present the first of a series of “Formative Moments in Fashion History.” I am often asked why fashion means so much to me and how I can justify dedicating my career to what many deem a trivial pursuit.  I hope to articulate why I’m abnormally distressed about who will be Karl Lagerfeld’s successor at Chanel and how I can justify spending my weekly paycheck on an “investment piece” by bringing you a series of influential moments that have defined my perspective on style, the fashion industry and what they mean to me.

It was 2005, and I was in the 8th grade.  I strode proudly into Christian Dior at The Mall at Millenia in Orlando, its sleek white exterior exuding ultimate sophistication.  Okay, I admit that I was a little nervous; it’s not everyday a sales associate sees two middle schoolers enter their wildly expensive luxury store sans parental figure.  What are they doing here? They must have thought.  They can’t afford this.  And they were right. I probably couldn’t.  But nevertheless, a young, flamboyant sales associate graciously assisted me in picking out a beige, floral-embroidered mini shoulder bag.  I told him that I would have to think about it but that I would certainly be back either way, and he gave me his card. 
*Same pattern as my bag
Image via

During the car ride home, I couldn’t help but think about the bag –how perfect it would look on my shoulder and that I absolutely had to have it.  Recounting the episode to my mother, she politely told me, “In your dreams.”  If I wanted the bag, I would have to come up with the money myself, quiet a feat for a 13-year old without an income.  “But it’s on sale,” I pleaded.  And it was, for roughly $300.  This did not sway her conviction -or mine. 

I returned the following week with the money in hand.  My mother had taken me to the bank to withdraw the funds from my savings account, nearly all of the money from previous birthdays and Christmases.  But I walked out giddy as a schoolgirl, thrilled with my first designer purchase.

I wore the purse nearly everyday until my mom wisely suggested that I give it a rest considering the fragility of the embroidery.  It was a funny thing that bag and the significance of the logo explicitly patterned across the canvas.  If the unease of my classmates who self-consciously clutched their Vera Bradley backpacks did not reveal the power of its branding, their vocalizations did.  “I love your bag,” they said with an undertone that voiced their regard rather for how much I spent than for any genuine appreciation of its aesthetic value.

Looking back, I feel unease.  Unease about the age-inappropriateness of shopping at Dior.  Unease about the validation that wearing Dior made me feel.  But also comfort in knowing that I’m not alone but rather one of many influenced by the power of branding. 

There’s the ubiquitous Louis Vuitton monogram, Burberry checkered print, Missoni stripes and interlocking Gucci G’s, each inviting you to prominently display your status as a member of a certain class.
*Image via Lab Art

But it doesn’t stop with luxury fashion.  Brands work tirelessly to promote an image for the consumer to buy into.  Choosing Nike or Lululemon.  Apple or Microsoft.  Tide or Gain.  Ford or Ram.  Each choice revealing something about its purchaser and the way of life he or she chooses to buy into.

We are currently at a crossroads: one in which logo-emblazoned sweatshirts like Kenzo are as equally in demand as minimalist designs from Phoebe Philo’s Celine.  But can even those most averse to discernable labels truly avoid this phenomenon?  Man Repeller Leandra Medine puts it quite nicely: Doesn’t the “corresponding sense of great pride we may feel when someone asks that magical question: great [insert item here], who makes it?” suggest that we continue to feel validated even by brands that seek to evade branding? 

Comment away!  I'd love to hear your thoughts.


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