The other night, over negroni sbagliati (traditional Milanese cocktails) with fashion photographer Michele De Andreis in Rome’s gritty artist quarter of Pigneto, our conversation drifted from stylist friend, Manos Samartzis’s upcoming magazine launch. I began lamenting the early 2000s – a decade that, in my opinion, passed without a coherent fashion movement – and coveting the coming of a radical trend to define my generation.
Michele is from a different vintage of fashion. A generation whose coming of age occurred in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when models like Cheryl Tiegs, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista held court in crop tops and penny loafers. His early career captured racy models wearing bold fashions that epitomized the excitement of a style movement. Nowadays, he says, like their contemporary fashions, the models who are the current faces of the industry lack originality.
“They cut her to be a reincarnation of Jeny Howorth,” he said, referring to British model, Agyness Deyn, who he and Manos had recently gone shopping with. “The agencies pump out models like an assembly line, to fit with this look or clone that icon.”
This furthered my case. If even our models are imitations of fashion eras-past, how can we hope to find any novelty in the industry today? Where is my generation’s conviction in the clothes we wear to represent ourselves? If the subject seems to broach superficial, think about what anthropologists will say down the road. Will our clothing say anything about the way we lived and what we lived for?
In the past, changing times spurred a collective mentality that manifested in the fashions people wore. In the midst of material shortages, an awakened sense of modernity and liberation drove designers of the ‘20s to get creative with jersey knits and shorter hemlines as the world was engulfed in its first great war. Ingenuity and industrialism thrived in the ‘30s and ‘40s and saw the birth of man-made fibers and bold shapes. A counter-culture based on peace, love and a new sort of spirituality brought out the rainbow palate and free flowing forms of ponchos and Indian scarves during the hippie era, while new music and drugs propelled the desire to explore physicality in the form-fitting spandex of the next decades.
Whether war, industry or social change, fashion has always had a focal point in society from which to stem, a common social catalyst to drive creativity and personal expression. But if we are to believe that fashion needs a unifying constituent, shouldn’t we have found one in the great age of technology and globalization that defined the early 2000s?
Michele and others have suggested that perhaps it’s just too early for us to understand the fashion of our time, but I’m pretty sure the ‘80s knew what the ‘80s were all about when it was happening. Today, I could be at a party wearing a Clueless-style pleated skirt and knee socks, standing next to a guy with a Beatles haircut chatting up a girl in spandex and a yellow mesh tank. And we would all fit in.
As I reflect on my personal style over the years, I notice that, as my mother always scolds, there is no decisiveness behind it. Under the heading, “Demographics and Social Trends” of a 2010 Pew Research Center report on The Millennials, the analysis states that while my generation displays an openness to social change, we are not remarkably different from our predecessors. Indeed, as a member of Generation Next, I have at times felt guilty of resting on the laurels of the Baby Boomers and the generations that came before, in politics as well as in vogue.
In middle school, it was bellbottom jeans and blouses followed by hot pants and spaghetti straps. Next came a throwback to preppy Lacoste polos in high school. In college, first the ‘50s then the ‘80s were back with a vengeance, and in the end we all decided we were Mick Jagger or Sid Vicious. Post-collegiate in New York City, I was enamored of seamed stockings and belle cloche caps, before realizing I was actually a ‘70s roller vixen after I had moved to Rome.
Today, fashion bloggers and the Internet have not only made throwback trends more accessible, and accordingly, more replicable across the globe, but have propelled a sort of fashion-globalization that has exposed the styles worn by different cultures. But does this accessibility eliminate the need to be creative and authentic in our own trends and the motivations behind them? I no longer need to belong to a culture or a movement of an era to wear clothes that project that group’s mentality. If I want to model myself after Coco Chanel, all I have to do is type her name into Google Images and I’ve got my look-book.
Or is it that the very catalyst I’m searching for is, in fact, the Internet and the rapid advancements in technology that have come to define Generation Next? With the accelerated globalization brought on by the age of computers and international investing, could it be that our style is a response to a world becoming too small and too progressive too fast? Are we grasping at the past and the trends of old to slow ourselves down and bring us to a sort of equilibrium here and now?
At this point, I don’t know the answer, but perhaps ten years down the road, we’ll look back at the early 2000s and recognize a trend known as “world computer collage” or “vintage modernity.” Or maybe we’ll just make an unusually large Christmas donation to the Salvation Army of items that evoke someone else’s nostalgia in place of our own.