Balmain makes holes in a shirt and sells the punctured piece of fabric for $1,625. Jil Sander’s $290 brown paper bag is made of brown paper, and a pair of jeans with paint splatters, frayed spots, and dark denim patches sells for $595. The fashion industry tells us the disheveled look is cool, minimalism is in, and the homeless look is chic.
“I think it’s more of a fashion statement,” said Mildred Fabian, the regional director of Jil Sander, in an attempt to justify the high cost of the brown paper lunch bag’s makeover (the regular $1 brown paper lunch bag is not cool).
But is minimalism a fashion statement or just the industry commodifying the individual’s experience? Andrew Hong PO ’13 wears a pair of denim jeans more than three times per week that he has washed four times in two and a half years. That is a fashion statement. In fact, it is a statement that goes beyond fashion. Designer Alexander Wang once said, “Because at the end of the day, fashion is style and style’s not just the clothes you wear, but it’s what you eat, where you go, who you hang out with.” Hong’s worn-out jeans do just that. The stains, small tears, frayed spots, splatters, and other imperfections tell us his story.
Two and a half years ago, he bought a pair of Rogue Territory jeans made of 14.5-ounce Sanforized Japanese Denim for a project entitled “A Second Skin.” His objective was to wear the same pair of jeans every day for a year. The jeans have been washed four times since and have traveled to 12 countries. Hong, who practices martial arts, was inspired by the wear patterns on his teachers’ sets of armor. The colored armor, dyed with natural indigo, showed white marks from where the dye had rubbed off.
“This was both a sign of experience as well as a beautiful aesthetic, embodying the Japanese idea of wabi sabi, in which one finds beauty in imperfection,” Hong said.
Fashion houses and textile companies sell jeans that are distressed, coated, colored, printed, dark rinse, gray, light wash, and wrinkled. The garments go through a process of standardized distressing. At the factory, a splatter of paint is replicated on an entire stock of jeans. The girl you see wearing the Current/Elliot jeans with the worn edges and shredded holes at the knees didn’t trip and scrape herself at Joshua Tree. She was at New York Fashion Week when you were in the Mojave Desert. Yet, the brand makes her look like she was there with you, robbing her of her own experience and creating a veil of illusion.
“It’s as if some clothing brand is determining those experiences for you, dictating the way in which your lifestyle reflects itself on your clothes,” Hong said.
When asked to list some of the things he has spilled on his jeans, Hong replied, “Wine, gelato, mud. Assorted things from hiking through storm drains. Beer. Lots and lots of beer.”
Andrew’s jeans have the broken-in look coveted by designers like BCBG Max Azria, whose fall-winter 2013 collection, inspired by the Gypsies of southern Europe, was presented at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. “Homeless Chic,” the Olsen twins’ signature look, is “a twisted appropriation of a manner of dressing that is born of a lack of privilege” Hong explains. The fashion industry and its devotees seem to be insensitive or unaware of the issues that such an aesthetic raises. What ethical dilemma does romanticizing the homeless and the poor pose?
“A Second Skin” is Hong’s story: a segment of his life. It is a project that raises questions of sustainability and morality. In that, it is a fashion statement.