Thursday, 11 August 2011

What is Precious?

Somewhere between the distant memory of last week and the post apocalyptic daze we've landed in this week I was getting excited about the arrival of the new Autumn Winter collections in all their glory, first in full glossy features in the magazines and then in the shops.  Then all hell broke loose.  Although relative calm has been restored to the capital with the arrival of ten thousand more police, London feels like it is still dangling on tenterhooks.  I still hear the night chorus of sirens, I still hear the police helicopter nearby.

Walking down my high street this morning it was a little depressing to see the shops on the high street with their boarded up windows.  Some still had their windows smashed in with wooden boards slapped haphazardly over them, like a hastily applied band aid to a gaping wound.  For a moment I wanted to take a photo and post about it as I thought it may be some time before I'm in the mood to chatter lightheartedly about something so frivolous as frocks, wondering if it was going to be appropriate anyway given all that's happened.

But after sitting through a day off work sick yesterday, most of which was spent watching horrific scenes and images on the internet, I arrived home from work today thinking that another photo of the damage posted to the already burgeoning and growing archive is now just bordering on glorifying what these people have done to London, to England, to the idea of a civilized society.  I'm sure many are getting a kick out of seeing their handiwork plastered all over the media.  I on the other hand, would just like to see something beautiful and positive again even if I lack my usual enthusiasm to be prosaic about it.

I've chosen some photos of the Autumn Winter collection by London based designer, Mary Katrantzou which I took back in London Fashion Week in February and are only now starting to go on sale at retailers.  In a way I chose this collection because it shines a torch through the current darkness here on one of the many things we normally celebrate about London.  The innovation, the creation of beauty, the bringing of joy and pleasure to people through the art of fashion and the entrepreneurial success of a talented designer and self made business woman.

Katrantzou's focus for this collection was precious objects of desire.  Also quite a pertinent theme.  Objects of such rarity, beauty, great craftsmanship and also great frivolity that humans are incited to desire them, covet them.  Humans are acquisitive by nature.  Though I'd love to have a collection of Katrantzou dresses, I don't really understand the desire to collect any of the objects which were quoted as inspiring this collection: "Faberge eggs, Corommandel screens, court costumes of the Qianlong Dynasty in ancient China, and Meissen porcelain" according to the Telegraph.  But then again I am categorically excluded from ever being able to start either collection by just not being wealthy enough.

But neither am I in a position to understand why an object of desire worth wreaking havoc for or endangering other peoples lives for, would be a pair of trainers or a flat screen television, or anything for that matter.  Four people have died in riots which have been mostly about robbing and looting.  It seems like what is precious has become so skewed in our society.

And I wonder if I actually help matters by sitting here prattling on about dresses I could never afford, somehow stoking in some small way, with my small addition of fashion kindling, this national aspirational consumerist fire that's literally burnt London.  I feel like maybe I should just shut the hell up.  After hearing all the stories of people who had lost everything and of others who fought to save their properties, shops and places of religious worship, I wondered what I would do if looters broke into my flat and it really made me question whether anything material thing I own really matters.  I'd rather lose my all my material possessions, beautiful as many of them are, than risk my life trying to fight for anything I own.

I struggle with the double sided coin of what fashion represents, on one side an appreciation and celebration of beauty and self expression, on the other some kind of wanton, consumerist, materialistic shallowness that promotes exclusivity rather than inclusion - that old chestnut of the haves and the have-nots.  Where does this bestowing of such great value to material objects come from?  Why does society use ownership of them to draw divisive lines across itself?

Whilst photographing these dresses we were harassed by the people looking after the display not to photograph them too closely, one of the ladies getting especially agitated about the prints being copied.  I internally rolled my eyes at this as these dresses cost thousands of pounds by virtue of the detail put into production.  Cheap copies would never appeal to that small group who can afford to buy a real Katrantzou which will be less than one percent of the population of London, or perhaps even the globe.  The haves versus the have-nots again.  With such a stark stratification of wealth in the UK it is hard to have sympathy for the notion that Katrantzou's fortunes are somehow at risk from the sales of copycat versions at price points that have no hope of overlapping.  And believe me the stratification of wealth in the UK is noticeably severe.

One of the most disturbing things I heard in the riot coverage was an interview with young teenage girls bragging about their involvement with the looting and blaming the Government and "rich people", "people with businesses" for their woes, laying the responsibility of the riots at their feet with barely coherent arguments. The rich had it coming.  Salt doused with a good dose of ignorance to be rubbed into the wound of the hardworking owners of the small businesses, already battered by the recession and who have suffered huge losses or even totally lost their livelihoods over the past few days.

A lot of the media's analysis of the riots has been about the deprived and the have-nots. It's hard to feel any sympathy for individuals, however young, poor and disenfranchised, who simultaneously believe they have a right to tear down what other people have worked hard to build up and that somehow the world owes them something. In the bitter end the world doesn't owe anyone anything. The world is very much what you make of it. After I stopped being angry listening to the sheer stupidity of these girls, I then felt equally extremely bleak and saddened that here were young girls who couldn't imagine that they could ever grow up to one of those "rich people" owning their own business.  I wanted to ask them - which is worse?  To have aspirations to be wealthy, to be successful, and desire by your own hand to achieve this? Or to have no aspirations at all?

Clothes: Mary Katrantzou


  1. Oh girl! There's just so much I want to say to this, but truly not enough room. I, too, am a bit sickened by the rampant consumerism that seems to abound. Seriously, it's just STUFF! Hundreds of dollars for a pair of shoes?! A dress? A belt? It's not the way I want to live. When my husband was getting concerned that maybe I was too attached to my "treasures" (clothes I've accumulated), I told him, I could walk away from every bit of it if I had to. It can all be's just STUFF! GREAT post! Thank you for writing this! ~Serene

  2. Thanks for the pictures of the Mary Katranzou collection. It was my very favourite show at fashion week and I think we can all do with looking at some beautiful things right now.

    I think there is a real difference between being able to appreiciate beauty, and needing to OWN it. I know I never can, so I just enjoy looking. I can't help but be angry right now at every person who took part in this. I know what it is like to grow up with no money and be scared of the future, but the idea that this gives them the right to ruin other peoples lives is totally shocking. In a country with free education and healthcare, benefits and social housing, I feel no sympathy for these people who think they should also be given the world on a plate. Hope it has calmed down where you are now xx

  3. Those patterns are beautiful and I can't wait to try to put together some inspired outfit - a bright mad ensemble from op shopped items - because that's how I choose to spend my money! I hope you are able to process the madness you have experienced in a constructive way - I really don't know how I would cope. Big hugs from me to you across the seas.

    Sarah xxx

  4. What an amazing, thoughtful post. Please submit it to IFB Links a la Mode. I go through this double-sided coin in my own brain all the time and I have yet to find a good answer. I have to tell you that between September 11, having two kids, and watching my husband go through a horrible accident, I refuse to focus for long on the negative in the world. There is too much sadness, it is never-ending. So I very purposely choose to focus on things that are beautiful, that bring me joy, even for a moment, because I understand far too well now that life as you know it can change in an instant. I'm glad you meditate on the beautiful as well, your blog brings great joy, to me and others, so I know this will sound sentimental and overwrought, but you have to focus on the love! We all need it at this point! There is lots of talk in NYC news too about the growing division between rich and poor and I feel I am seeing it more and more in my everyday life. I don't think the division gives anyone the right, however, to break the law by looting and rioting.

  5. Thank you for your insightful personal perspective on this sad turn of events. I agree so completely with evertthing you have written. I am a follower of your blog from Seattle, Washington. Sheila Gustafson

  6. Thank you for your insightful personal perspective on this very sad turn of events. I agree with everything you have written. I follow your blog from Seattle, Washington. Sheila Gustafson

  7. You brought up soo many good points! I think the younger generation really suffers from the concept of instant gratification - they want everything, and they want it now - without wanting to work hard for it. That leads to being unappreciatitive which makes it easy for them to throw a tantrum when things don't go their way.

    Here in the States, the financial downturn was bound to happen - people were living outside of their means just so they can have everything right now. Life is not easy and anything worth having is worth working (and many times waiting!) for.

    I truly enjoyed reading this and everytime I turn on the news I think of you and pray that you're safe!

  8. I feel as you feel but as always am unable to articulate my thoughts (mainly because it's past 1am!)... Apologies hon. I have so much to say but writing frustrates me. I am a talker. These points you raise were the topic of discussion between a group of us yesterday.

    this tall poppy syndrome baffles me... why not use the tall poppies as something to aspire to? WHY does the mediocrity need equality on a low level?

    It's not just the mediocrity... it's all levels of society... which is where all that consumerism comes in... I don't get it, I never will... I don't understand it bags... I don't understand the self serving dichotomy. I don't understand the need to accumulate and to be validated by the acquistion of labels.

    "I struggle with the double sided coin of what fashion represents, on one side an appreciation and celebration of beauty and self expression, on the other some kind of wanton, consumerist, materialistic shallowness that promotes exclusivity rather than inclusion - that old chestnut of the haves and the have-nots. Where does this bestowing of such great value to material objects come from? Why does society use ownership of them to draw divisive lines across itself?"

    That is a perfect paragraph. This post needs to be nominated somewhere. Your writing is the product of a brilliant, beautiful mind.

  9. That collection is a work of art and I'm happy to admire it rather than own it.
    I find all this greed hard to understand in the same way that I'm perplexed by bloggers who post wish lists. Although I have a huge collection of clothing I've never looked at something and longed to own it. Given the choice of my vast wardrobe or the chance to travel the world for a year or so I could walk away from it without a second glance.
    I honestly don't think poverty comes into what we've witnessed over the last few days. A while ago I worked in an office where the staff would happily ransack the stationery cupboard without a care in the world, not because they needed box of biros or a dozen reels of sellotape simply because it was there for the taking. I guess it's in some people's natures. x

  10. I'm speechless. Your perspective is enthralling.

  11. It is possible to appreciate beauty of all types without needing to own it. These dresses are wonderful examples.

    I've been away during much of these episodes though I have followed the BBC World headlines. When I look at the high rates of unemployment especially among youth in the US, it is a wonder to me that the same is not happening here. I'm not defending their actions, but one wonders how much beauty they actually ARE exposed to in a day.

  12. This should definitely be chosen for Links a la Mode. I have a couple of friends in London who kept me abreast of the news.


  13. I love to look at beautiful clothing and accessories. They feed my soul. I don't need to own them. Many, like MK's designs, are food for thought and inspiration. I'm with Terri - I don't condone ANY kind of violence against people and property. But I do wonder how a violent demonstration of the catastrophic divide between wealth and welfare-dependency hasn't come to an ugly head any sooner. Capitalism today frightens and disgusts me, however I do wonder how I would survive under a dictatorship. The week's events have ignited such a dilemma in me. Thank you for this wonderful post Miss V. xo

  14. This is an incredible article that shows both sides of the coin and reflects so much of what the 'thinking fashion blogger' considers when it comes down to how much what we write about really matters. I'm impressed and I'm your newest follower :)

  15. Oh my what a wonderful bog and those dresses? Yum!

  16. i'dont know how describe it, but recent london events are sickening.

  17. Hi my dear-this is a very insightful post and thanks for sharing Marys stunning collection too. I for one cannot afford her pieces, but enjoy marvelling and looking, rather than coveting and wanting. Hope you have a good weekend too, take care xxx

  18. Thanks all of you for your comments, your empathy and your valued thoughts and points of view on the recent events in the UK as well as the issues of being caught up in the conflict of admiring beauty vs rampant consumerism. I started off this post not really knowing what to write in the wake of the riots on something as trite as a fashion blog and wondering if was appropriate to blog about fashion and clothes anymore at all. You've all been a huge encouragement to look at it with the perspective I had previously and lost sight of, that beauty is worth celebrating in a world that can often be ugly, that it is worth doing things you enjoy and it is worth sharing beautiful things with others.

  19. Thank you for writing such a beautiful piece. I, too, struggle with the consumeristic side of fashion. I think that like anything, our relationship to it and with it defines what it stands for. I can't condone elitism. There's a dark side to every industry, I hope to stand for light from my vantage point.

    I'm always so sorry to hear about violence, even sadder that it comes from a place of ignorance and primal reaction. That's not the answer or anything close to a solution. It only fuels the monster of that disparity.

    Glad you were featured on IFB, congrats.
    xoxo, f
    The House in the Clouds

  20. MK's collection is amazing! ANd yes you are right, who would try to copy these dresses? 0_0
    I found you via IFB. So congratulations on being featured;)

  21. Not sure how I missed this post when it was originally posted but, my goodness, V - you write so well. Such a thoughtful and thought-provoking post.


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