In his latest op-ed column for BoF, Colin McDowell provides some controversial fruit for thought on The Great Gatsby and how it’s a reflection of all that’s wrong with the high fashion world of today. As a preface, he reveals that he is neither an F. Scott Fitzgerald or Baz Luhrmann fan, and believes that there are plenty of other American classics that rival the book, and better encapsulate the era. He then credits the film itself as being a manifestation of all the superficialities that live inside fashion culture, before taking aim right at Vogue.
“Its cheap emotionalism and vulgar filmic cliches are in no way an authentic reflection of anything in the 1920s. But it is sure as hell an authentic voice for our times in its lascivious drooling over the wealth and luxury of the attitudes and lifestyles of the super rich. The Great Gatsby in Luhrmann’s version is a fashion story about greed and it entirely reflects the attitudes and beliefs of the high fashion world today. No wonder American Vogue went over the top about it.”
But instead of dissecting the film bit-by-bit, he shifts the focus onto what he loathes about fashion. He turns to Suzy Menkes’ notorious T Magazine article, in which she scrutinized the fashion circus that has emerged from the street style and blogger era. He agrees with many of Menkes’ points, saying that she sheds light on the shallowness of it all. He even goes so far as to say that style no longer exists because shopping is simply a matter of high cost and seeking out designer labels.
He hurls one of his most jarring accusations when he likens the fashion industry to pornography, claiming that it masquerades as style inside provocative ad campaigns and editorials, where the clothes are no longer the real subject.
“Whether we like it or not, the likes of Tom Ford and Dolce & Gabbana have become wealthy by realizing that sex for the young is mostly very different from what it was in the days when their grandmothers were young — and they package their wares accordingly, with as little understatement and taste as possible.”
McDowell also targets the journalist and editors, saying that there is a general lack of critical commentary, even calling most fashion reports useless to the informed reader. This is because they are most concerned with maintain cordial relationships with designers and receiving handouts.
Lastly, he points out that fashion’s biggest victims are those who make the clothes, and that those in the industry are aware but decide that ignorance is bliss.
“Nowhere is the old adage that there is no such thing as a free drink — or handbag, or dinner — more true than in fashion. And that also applies to the customer who is indirectly footing the bill for the largess, the gifts and the trips by paying grotesquely inflated prices for the merchandise. Even more so, it is a bill paid in far too many cases by the people who work to make the clothes, always with low wages and sometimes in appalling conditions about which every fashion insider is well aware, but is reluctant to comment, preferring the fluffy dream world of films like The Great Gatsby.”
Naturally, as both editors and consumers of fashion, we take offense to many of McDowell’s accusations. On the other hand, we think that beneath all his moaning and groaning about industry idiocies, there is some truth — most especially in his closing statement. Despite how put off we may be, how, in good conscience, could we deny that fashion comes at a price? The death toll of the Bangladesh factory fires has reached over 1,000 and still, some of the companies involved refuse to take full accountability. Of course, admitting that the fashion world has its plagues doesn’t necessarily mean we believe that Daisy Buchanan’s opulence is to blame.