Arthur Haynes, CEO of Urban Outfitters and Santorum backer
Fashion has been getting too real lately, and I’m not sure if I like it.
I flip through GQ and Mitt Romney’s name is everywhere. I skim a lengthy article charting his political trajectory. Needless to say, it has nothing on Mr. Romney’s preferred suiting fabrics for spring. Last year, I read a similar article in Vogue profiling then presidential hopeful John Huntsman. The article was really just a series of arresting vignettes from the campaign trail, interspersed with glossy photo spreads of Huntsman posing with his icy blonde brood. I get it, I guess. Even fashion, great engine of escapism, cannot escape reality these days. Politics are on everyone’s minds, even the minds of those fashion people, you know, the ones you could never imagine reading a newspaper or watching CSPAN. I look at the models in Vogue and I-D, those willowy Saskias and gamine Kates. They can beguile women into buying the crinkle waisted leather culottes (Chloe Fall 2010) and hip exploding peplum jackets (Celine Spring 2012) right off their bodies, but trick Americans into nodding acceptance of a tanking world economy, national debt in the trillions and an election cycle that has never more resembled a circus–not a chance in hell.
There are contemporary issues fashion can not doctor, blemishes that don’t go away, a great distended belly of anger and disillusionment in our modern era that even the most dogged pair of Spanx cannot hold in. Every day, the issues seem more real. Alexander Wang is being sued 50 million for allegedly using underpaid Chinatown laborers to turn out his covetable slouchy tees and leather goods. Urban Outfitters C.E.O. Arthur C. Hayne is apparently a homophobe who has in the past written $13,150 checks to a certain Santorum fellow, and every issue of WWD now seems to bear ominous news of rising labor costs in China and the repercussions for the retail industry.
My feelings on all of this have been mixed. On one hand, the cynic in me wonders blithely whether a fashion industry run by massive corporations is impacted at all by the hullabaloo. On the other, I’m seething. That part of me is the one asking questions like, how do you reconcile politics with the purely superficial glee of diving into a sales rack at Barneys? Should a few thousand in Rick’s pocket keep shoppers (both gay and straight) from buying up Urban’s inexhaustible supply of Levis denim and faux-vintage knits? Should Wangophiles all ditch their Rocco bags (baby blue leather with rose pink studs) just cause they might hail from a Chinatown sweatshop? Should anyone with ovaries swear off American Apparel circle scarves and bandeau tops because Dov Karney is a creepo beepo who objectifies women? These questions appear to have easy answers, but things change when you switch out “should” for “will.” Will consumers think about their puchases in a more critical way? Will the fashion industry change as a result? Will we ever know?
The truth is, it’s hard a lot of the times to put your GAP card where your mouth is. When you see the clothes, hanging there so demurely on the rack, they seem the least political things in the world. It’s just too easy to forget that what you buy and what you wear do have a connection, sometimes in very serious ways, to what is going on in the greater world outside your closets. I won’t pretend I’m perfect in this regard. I shop irresponsibly all the time and oftentimes don’t stop and think about who made the shoes I find on sale at the Tannery or what politicians I am inadvertently supporting in my quest for the perfect pair of colored chinos. Like many people, I shop from the hip, buying based on my price constraints, my stylistic whims and daily moods. It’s not okay, but I do it.
What I’m saying is not give up all mass-produced or foreign sourced fashion (no, never that). Nor am I saying we should all take a long moment to wallow in our guilt and hypocrisy as members of a consumerist society. It’s unavoidable in this day and age to be a little bit–or a lot–of a hypocrite when it comes to being conscientious about fashion. Sometimes, you just need to buy a shirt or a pair of pants and it has to be cheap. And rather than lounge around naked you go to Wal-Mart and pick up a pair of $15 off brand jean shorts that were most definitely not made in a country with enlightened labor laws and that’s that. Are you a terrible human being? Probably not. But there are always certain issues, certain stores, where we can make a stand. Take Urban for instance, whose trademark miscellany of hipster paraphernalia and overpriced party dresses is nothing but superfluous. If not supporting a business that donates heavily to a politician who is wholly against my right to marry means going cold turkey on those BDG skinnies I love so dearly, then so be it.
It’s a loss I’ll have to take.
-Thomas Dai 14′