On this past Monday, at their annual awards ceremony, the Council of Fashion Designers (familiarly referred to as the CFDA) declared Public School to be Menswear Designer of the Year. Considering the amount of press Public School has received over this past year, the CFDA's decision shouldn't immediately strike anyone as being odd. When you take a step back though, and realize that it was just one year earlier that Public School's designers Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne had walked onto that Lincoln Center stage to receive the CFDA's Swarovski award for "Emerging Talent," the whole situation begins to get murky.
This is not to say that Chow and Osborne are not great designers, and that through their work they have not brought some much needed attention back to New York, but to proclaim that two designers have fully "emerged" after just a year, is not only baffling, but potentially dangerous. Yes, Public School was founded in 2008, and in 2010 joined the CFDA's Fashion Incubator, but what sort of message is the CFDA, and those industry members that vote for these awards, sending by declaring that twelve short months is a proper maturation period for a young brand to go from burgeoning to flourishing?
To single out the CFDA exclusively would be unfair though because this is just the latest in a string of examples that all point to the Fashion Industry's growing tendency to operate at a speed that is quite frankly impossible to maintain. Take the Metropolitan Museum of Art for example, which earlier this year named an entire wing after Vogue Editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who is not only still alive, but still working. I'm not foolhardy enough to speak ill against Wintour—she certainly is deserving of an entire wing full of accolades—but naming the wing itself after her does raise concerns about the industry's tendency to focus solely on the here-in-now, rather than exploring its history.
This notion can be seen daily, as sites (admittedly, this one included) proclaim designs and designers as the "next big thing." A designer that now shows one impressive line is a "genius." A garment that stirs something in us is labeled as a "must have." A well-dressed celebrity (an ever endangered species these days) is immediately called an "icon," after one successful red carpet showing.
Our minds have become like kiddie pools: We can perceive what lies on the top of the water—what is closest to us—but we have lost all of the substance that lies beneath.
Like a child receiving a ribbon purely for participation, we've taken to affixing hyperbolic descriptions upon all contemporary facets of fashion. What is it that implores us to prove the importance of all these things, all of the time? Well, it's the Internet. It's what you're on right now. Every week, countless new items, labels, trends and new designers surface, compounding themselves on top of the already insurmountable mountain of menswearian fodder that already exists. In our quest to better understand how each novel piece fits into this larger puzzle, we've ignored the puzzle almost entirely. We're no longer fitting pieces into slots, but stacking them on top of each other, transforming our puzzle into a precarious game of Jenga. As this tower has soared, so to has our vernacular. With our words we propel these garments and brands ever higher into the opaque clouds, and at a speed that now makes one year seem like an infinity.
This is the real concern here. By so recklessly and rapidly stamping anything that comes across our purview as something worthwhile, we have lost sight of what actual value is. This can be best perceived each season as men's magazines tote out their lists of "essentials," which have now grown so bloated that they appear like the end result of an all you can eat menswear buffet where no single dish has been spared. How does one keep track of all that our mediascape tells us to care about? The answer is we cannot possibly do so.
By thinking that we have a complete view of the entire menswear landscape, we are actually only seeing the surface. Our minds have become like kiddie pools: We can perceive what lies on the top of the water—what is closest to us—but we have lost all of the substance that lies beneath. We no longer take the time to actually learn about what goes into the clothing we see, or what designers might have informed the very creatives that we call the "best" today. This in turn has transformed us into a purely aesthetically focused audience. Yes, clothing is no doubt about how it looks first and foremost, but to believe that notion provides the complete picture is ignoring the actually great, thought-provoking work that designers, like Chow and Osbourne, have put into the creations.
Stop and think for a change. Why is this really the "best"? And, better yet, if this is the "best," then why do we still feel the need to find the next "best" all the damn time?
Jake Gallagher is a writer living in New York. Follow him on Twitter here.