I try to learn as much as I can when I watch Project Runway - mainly because the fashion world is so alien to me and I find it a great mirror to what's going on in the "culture industry". Since the American culture is a merchant culture, most of what is considered "culture" is what you can sell. Fashion is a prime example of this.
I work in an environment (MIT) where my usual wardrobe of kakis and a polo shirt is considered haute couture and I've never had the money to develop into being a flashy dresser. So watching young fashion designers trying to make their mark in an environment where there appear to be really no real overt rules except for how Michael Kors happens to feel on a particular day is quite different and interesting.
This is what I have gleaned so far on this television anthropology field trip:
- In order to get anywhere you really need a flashy name. There seems to be some confusion as to whether you actually need to produce good work to support it - I guess that it's sort of a chicken and egg thing. I do know that preferably it should be one name only or at least not more than two syllables. In response to this, I am seriously considering changing my name to Mondo. There's a certain ring to Mondo T. Spriggs and I wouldn't have to change my initials.
- You have to be creative and out there, but you can't offend anyone or be "vulgar." This is actually the main skill of fashion design - being creative without upsetting anyone and it's a neat trick since in order to be creative you have to break rules. But, I guess, you have to break just the right rules in this context. I think that this is why so much of this kind of design leans toward the ridiculous. Being ridiculous is a way of being creative and being dismissed all at the same time. If you're dismissed, then no rules have really been broken since you haven't upset anyone.
- Old people can't really design. Sure, they always put a token on the show - this year it's a woman with the unfortunate name of Peach - but the chance that you're going to be "cutting edge" (the definition of which seems to change from day to day) after 40 is not that great. I think that the reason for this is has something to do with the fact that the people who buy these type of clothes (mainly middle aged women) buy them to look younger than they are, not their age. And then there's the fact that these buyers would, given the choice, probably prefer looking ridiculous than stodgy.
- You have to have "passion" but the right kind of passion and in the correct amounts. You've got to want to be X so much that you would die (or at least kill) for a chance to be successful. Also, it has to be directed passion. Having passion for the Red Sox or Ferraris won't make it. It has to be directed toward your individual success within a very narrow definition of what success is. And, of course, being successful in this way mainly depends on having the technique that you use to create what you have envisioned which really has nothing to do with passion. So you have to be able to deal with your own overweening ambition, have a cool enough head to solve problems with good technique, have a sense to how far is too far in your design, and enough social savvy to sense if Michael Kors had a bad run-in with a bran muffin earlier in the day. And you wonder why these people have problems adjusting to consensual reality?
- Father figures are a necessary part of the creative process. Doesn't matter if they might be gay, there has to be someone who can authoritatively exhort you to "make it work" when you've made a mess of a pile of organza or tell you to pick yourself up and clean out your space once you've been drop kicked out of Fashion World for some sort of heinous crime against the Fashion Goddess.
- There can only be one. There's only one brass ring and you can be fantastically creative and it won't mean a damn thing because creativity only means something when you win, win, win.
- Life is hard. One day your're in and the next day your out, and you have little control over this status. Life is essentially random. And the only thing that matters is if Michael Kors likes you or not.