Insta-fashion and the Art of Wabi-sabi

I have always been somebody to tire of things remarkably quickly. A positive spin on this might be to boast about my relentless thirst for newness. That is certainly how the fashion world would word it. For the fashion world, for all its charms and vices alike, is constantly on the lookout for novelty. Indeed, the industry’s very essence is founded on the notion of transiency.

It was Oscar Wilde who famously commented, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” There is much to be unpacked in this quip, often cited without a tremendous amount of consideration for its implications. The most significant idea here is that of ugliness: what was once desirable so quickly becomes wholly undesirable within that space of time we loosely term season.

And then along came Instagram and its many contemporaries that have also served to create a gargantuan shift towards immediacy. While this phenomenon is by no means restricted to our beloved fashion industry, it is leaving an unmistakable mark on the way in which we consume fashion. Even on the way that we—physically and psychologically—view fashion. For example, how have we come to be so fascinated with such momentary glimpses of creations that we know, and even defend passionately, as having taken hours, days, months of intelligent design and craftsmanship?

The plethoric run of menswear shows over the last few weeks gave us plenty to adore and discuss, as we each donned our all-too-easy-to-acquire critical hats and talked of a revolution within men’s clothing. There was industry favorite Raf Simons’ revision of the fashion show, whereby he removed seating for his invitees and stripped away the usual hierarchy; there was that Craig Green show in London, which induced tears among the audience with its poetic undertone of protest for purity; there were the boys and girls cast together for Prada, Givenchy, and various other presentations, loudly alluding to a timely recognition of increasing equality and even assimilation of the sexes.

Indeed, there is plenty to adore and discuss, with many demonstrating their admiration with a “like” on Facebook, while masses of fashion’s fans have already engaged in the discussion with a “retweet.” With so very much to consume, such a saturated market to sift through and make sense of, I wonder, can we blame those who follow the most newly emerging trends via low-quality videos and filter-bearing photos on Instagram?

If we stop to consider that trends and great fashion moments, while irrefutably different from one another, are both inextricably linked to the idea of relevance, should we not ponder the possibility that this relevance has in fact merely evolved, no longer restricted to that six month season?

I would like to draw a comparison between the digital sphere and its constancy with the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic. First brought to many a fashion darling’s attention by Yohji Yamamoto, wabi-sabi is a certain ideal of beauty which accepts and embraces impermanence and imperfection. In short, it is the philosophy of finding beauty in time’s weathering of the perfect. Although the tranquility of wabi-sabi’s roots could not be further from the aggressive speed of the “journalistic” coverage of fashion via various social medias, a parallel between the two phenomena is identifiable. After all, both focus largely on an acceptance of inherent transiency.

The fundamental difference, of course, is the pace at which this transiency is even acknowledged. While wabi-sabi dictates a peaceful remarking of how change is unavoidable and, thus, exemplary of natural beauty, scrolling impatiently through one’s feed is a rather more agitated act and quickly becomes largely contrived. Our collective thirst for further ground to be broken is, in that sense, arguably detrimental to the real wonder of fashion’s transient essence. Fashion’s impermanence nowadays is often too fleeting, its evolutions expected to transition within the time it takes to publish a 140 character comment, and only further perpetuated with every re-gram.

There are various reasons as to why the influence of social media upon fashion should be lauded. It is certainly not all bad—least of all the way in which it elevates the accessibility of what is still, in many ways, a particularly exclusive creative domain. This faster pace is also entirely natural; it makes a lot of sense that we should have developed this increasingly insatiable appetite for fashion, an industry consistently in tune with technological advancements. We want it all at our finger tips, and we want it now. But do we care as much when it lands at our finger tips? When it’s the day’s 180th runway shot to flick across our smartphone screens? Perhaps we should try and return to a calmer, more wabi-sabi-esque state of play. Fashion is all about finding the relevance of now in harmonious collaboration with what is pre-empted as well as what is known to have come before. There just has to be time to appreciate it all, and with the digital world’s turbocharged influx of information and imagery, I’m just not sure that there is.

text by: Ben Sharp

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