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“Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You just put on a lumpy blue sweater because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back…,” Miranda Priestly whispers in her characteristically nonchalant voice while Andy Sachs, who was teasing the idea of fashion just a minute ago, stands speechless among all the dresses and shoes on the rack.
This scene is way too familiar for all the fashionistas out there who can probably recite every single line from The Devil Wears Prada. Not so long after Vogue’s special September issue swept fashion lovers off their feet, New York, London, Paris and Milan turned their museums, factories, palaces and even streets corners into runways that embrace the most anticipated fashion weeks of the year. New York, the city that opened the fall fashion week season, experienced the first wave of climax when Jason Wu and Rag & Bone revealed their brand new design for spring and summer, 2013. As the models sashay down the runway with their delicate hairdo and impeccable makeup, the audience, are so enthralled by the glamour that they forget the real role this billion-dollar industry is playing in the society. For the people who are not walking down the runway or sitting in the front two rows, the conversation between Miranda Priestly and Andy Sachs seems extremely relatable. When the models are strutting down the catwalk and fashion lovers are flying between New York and Paris to find the latest trend, why should we care?
Of course it is such a thrill to see celebrities, fashion designers, critiques and stylists to put on such a spectacle every once in a while, but those dreamy $3,000 gowns and $2,000 handbags seem to belong to a different world. What happens on the runway does not simply stay on the runway; it leaks into the streets, onto the racks in department stores and their catalogues, and finally in a seemingly inconspicuous way, into peoples' closets.
Chanel’s little black dress is the best example. Nowadays people take the color black for granted; from long evening gowns to a heavy knit black sweater, people associate this color with formality and versatility. But, prior to the age of Coco Chanel, black, especially for women, was the color reserved for deep mourning; for women, wearing a piece of black garment, without appropriate circumstances (like a funeral) would be considered inappropriate or even indecent. Coco Chanel, however, sent America’s Vogue magazine a simple sketch of a short black dress, which ended the period of 'indecency' for the color black. It is the decision made by the fashion designer Coco Chanel and fashion critiques from Vogue that changed the destiny of the color black in a culture, leading the women from rigorous restriction to the simple elegance that is accessible to everybody. Moreover, Chanel’s timeless tweed jacket attracts so many followers and imitators that brands like Zara and even Forever 21 start to carry jackets that closely resemble Chanel’s little black jacket.
Even though the fashion industry is all about change, there are styles and elements that overcome the challenge of time and become everlasting. These elements are seldom about superficiality, as opposed to the common perception of fashion. Chanel cuts women’s dresses to knee length so they can enjoy the outdoors through this newfound freedom and mobility; Louis Vuitton invented lightweight and airtight flat-bottom trunks that revolutionized the way of travel; Prabal Gurung, a rising fashion star from Nepal, embraces his wide clientele from Kate Middleton to Lady Gaga, while putting his motherland and culture into a global spotlight. “Nepal is a third-world country caught between India and China,” Gurung explains in an interview, when asked about his design for Michelle Obama’s red dress at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2010, “she told millions of people back home that all you need is a dream and dedication for things to happen.”
When it comes to fashion, time is the best judge. By the end of the day, when all the models have left the runway and all the lights at the fashion show are turned down one by one, some elements will stay, some will be forgotten, and some will wait for a couple of decades before making a grand comeback. As for the elements that stay, they soon will be integrated into every level of the society in a conspicuous yet mysterious way. “That blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs,” Miranda Priestly continues, “and it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room….”
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The Culture Columnist, Asheley Gao:
My name is Asheley Gao and I’m a junior at Cal, majoring in History of Art and minoring in French. I grew up in Asia, the land of dragons and jasmine green tea, as a kid with too much imagination. Indulging myself in exploring different cultures and what they have to offer (art, movies, cuisine, you name it!), I’m on my way to becoming a woman whose country is the whole world. Along with all the excellent writers at Unleashed, I would love to share with you my adventure and take you all around the world.