In recent years the concept of “authenticity” has become a big fixture of our society – especially in fashion. The way I see it, successful fashion companies have been able to exist by selling us products that allow us to assert and reinvent ourselves. For example, companies and their advertising tell us to “buy this blazer and you’ll be perceived as a classy working woman!” or “these chino pants scream summer and they might summon it!” For as long as clothes have existed, they have been able to help us assert our identities, or our desired ways of being perceived by the world.
However, the evolution of fashion has brought upon more transgressive ways of dressing. We no longer assert our belonging to a group through clothes, but instead use layering of different garments as a way of showing just how diverse our backgrounds are and the different aesthetic clothing legacies we want to carry. This does not mean that this mode of clothing did not exist before, but the globalisation of our world and the increased exchange of cultures and traditions has allowed for the wider adoption and fusion of different styles for each individual.
This increased individuality in products has brought a renewed desire of “authenticity”, since clothes have become not as much a reflection of who we desire to be and where we want to belong, but of who we are and where we belong. This means that we want the companies that sell our clothes to reflect that authenticity. We want companies to reflect the real world, where wearing high heels hurts and the most attractive are those who live without paying too much attention to the opinions of others. We all aspire, at some point or another, to be the girl with the perfectly smudged lipstick, the messy ponytail and loveable quirks. We want our clothes to be for real people, which is fed into by the era of social media and social media fashion influencers of the likes Leandra Medine, Imani or the Thomsen sisters who are part of a movement slowly bringing into our Instagram feeds fashionable and relatable content.
These greater channels for authentic and everyday advances in fashion have of course not gone unnoticed by the fashion and cosmetics industry. There is an increased recognition of the fact that catering to people who do not fit the narrow and extremely dated definitions of the desirable customer can be very highly lucrative. This can for example seen in the wildly successful brand Fenty Beauty that has achieved record sales thanks to Rihanna’s simple philosophy that all women of all colors should be able to have cosmetics matching their skin tone.
Furthermore, we are currently experiencing a boom of new companies that have paired subdued and wearable clothing with small-scale, responsible means of production. We are not only getting interested in unique pieces but also ethical standards. The extreme example of this is Maison Cléo, which only sells a limited number of beautifully crafted pieces every Wednesday, with all clothes sewn by the titular Cléo in France for a business managed with her daughter. United by Blue also taps into the eco-conscious demographics by basing their whole business model on removing a pound of trash from the oceans for every piece sold. We as buyers are getting more educated about the clothes and products we wear and expect more from the products presented to us.
This is not just a small-scale business trend however, big established houses like Dior or Adidas have started to evolve in the face of changing mentalities. Dior is moving away from its days of extravagance that kept the house afloat in the 2000s under John Galliano towards more sober tones under Maria Grazia Chiuri. Their use of Jennifer Lawrence as the face of the company, an actress known for her “realness” to the extreme, showcases a desire to exhibit women whose personalities transcend their clothes. Adidas partnered with Kanye West to create the iconic Yeezy collection. This highly successful partnership allowed the company to move away from its “strictly sports apparel” image towards one of everyday clothing with the help of a limited-edition collection with a hugely famous celebrity.
However, this move towards “authenticity” has produced some terrible missteps. A prime example of this is the Vetements debacle, with the brand initially being hailed as a trailblazer of the more authentic style in its early years to becoming a parody of itself in recent years. Their clothes have become the source of mockery as astronomically high price points are paired with clothes that can be found for the same quality for not even a twentieth of the price.
One item that has particularly been derided is their “DHL collection” for Spring/Summer 2018 which is, just as it sounds, plain yellow clothes with the DHL logo tacked onto them. The line of “authenticity” is drawn at T-shirts making you look like a delivery driver costing more than 500 pounds, and the public has spoken, as the company’s sales have collapsed. While being more sustainable, limited edition, atypical and reflecting of the nuances of real people can allow some companies to sell their clothes for more and retain a more than comfortable margin of benefit on their clothes, there is a fine line between catering to customers and betraying their trust.
However, the weight of drawing the line of how far we are willing to go for authenticity rests on our shoulders as customers, which is why we need to stay educated on the brands we buy from and the products they sell. Since we want our clothes to reflect who we are, we need to make sure that what we wear tells a story we can stand for.