Slow Fashion and Stealth Luxury

I was reading Suzy Menkes on In Praise of Slow Fashion, and I had just wrapped my head around that concept, although I had to look outside that article to have it explained concretely. Merkes seems so inside the industry — and writing for the industry — that her use of terms is barely gestural, and not at all explanatory.

Tim Holt, Is the time right for Slow Fashion?

Slow Clothing surfaced in 2006 as a spinoff of Slow Food, and has since evolved into a somewhat less homespun Slow Fashion movement embraced by rebellious clothing designers in the US and Europe. The phrase “Slow Clothing” appeared in a December 2006 essay by Sharon Astyk, a writer who lives on a small farm in upstate New York. Her essay, appearing in the online Groovy Green Magazine, outlined in forceful language a program of independence from the multibillion-dollar clothing industry and “its exploitation of poor people … toxic pesticide use and the inhumane treatment of animals.” Ms. Astyk challenged US households “to create a single outfit for every man, woman, and child that is homemade.” Harking back to a simpler era, she also urged families to mend their clothes and buy fewer new ones.

“If we can radically reduce our clothing purchases, there will be no reason to buy cheaply made, imported, sweatshop clothing from Wal-Mart,” she wrote. “We will be able to afford to purchase high- quality, environmentally sound clothing.”

Astyk wasn’t calling for anything radically new, but rather for a rebalancing of the old and new toward time-honored stitch-and-mend ways as opposed to a buy-and-throw-away ethic.

[I found Astyk’s Slow Fashion manifesto on The Ecologist. Groovy Green may have grown up or gone away.]

Seems that slow fashion is about consideration of the whole lifecycle of clothing: the materials, those that make the fabrics and clothes, the distribution paths. In this way it is like slow food, and with the same radicalizing tendencies. Less clothing, but of better quality and more durable. Knowing the provenance of the materials, which requires an increasingly open clothing ‘chain’. Recycling rather than trashing older clothes. And the natural tendency to favor more local clothing production, since this makes openness simpler and decreases the impacts of global transport.

Menkes may have internalized this, and the NY Times readers may already be aware of the roots of the concept, but I was not.

And then I was hit by this:

Mr. Lemaire said his favorite piece was an orange jacket sculpted by hand out of a single piece of cloth by a Mongolian artisan. No one would know that but the wearer. And that is the secret of today’s stealth luxury.

So, today we are seeing a new, ‘stealth luxury’. Again, totally unexplained by Menkes.

I found an interesting slide deck by scenarioDNA from three years ago — which could be out of date:

So the wealthy will decrease their use of overt markers — like logos and specific styles — and instead will conceal luxury. They will live in houses that appear average, but have a huge array of sophisticated electronics in the walls. They will wear a coat that was made by a Laplander from one sheep’s hide. They will have a vintage Norton Indian motorcycle, but only talk about it with other collectors at private get-togethers. Their bicycles’ tires are made of kevlar, but look like rubber.

What the wealthy do has an impact on all of us, and I can see the convergence of slow fashion and stealth luxury as having a major, sustained impact on the markers that are embedded in the goods most tied to our presentation of self: our clothes.

The deep meaning of slow and stealth in fashion is a message about our relationship to the world of things. Things are less likely to be considered props that simply set us off. They have their own stories, their own histories, their own complex interrelatedness to a larger world. We want those stories to help shape our identity, either publicly or privately.

For those embracing slow clothes, they want the story to be visible: they want to make a statement about clothing, saying that it is another thing that ties us to a vision of how the world should work, and what is wrong with the world today.

Those leaning toward stealth may share a some part of the world view of slow clothes types: the idea that we are what we own, for example. But instead of asserting a world view through the pants we wear or the transport we choose, the stealthy want to drop from view, conceal their story, camouflage their identity. The stealthy are only open with other stealthies, while the slow fashionistas are exhibitionistas: they want us all to know.

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