Remembrance of Things Crass


January 1, 2004

Just came down from the attic. Thought there might be something left to sell up there, but it’s pretty well cleaned out. Didn’t find much, just a stack of incredibly hefty fashion magazines from September 2000. President Bush says this depression is going to end soon, but i don’t know. I have a feeling it’ll be a good long time before we see the likes of September 2000 again.

Took a look at the magazines and was mesmerized by the musings of yesteryear’s fashion elite, all of whom seemed to be harboring nutty fantasies of gentility. At W, the outsize monthly adjunct to Women’s Wear Daily, the fall season was described as featuring “clothes [that] are old-line luxe—ladylike, exuding an air of good breeding and understatement.” Kate Betts, the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, told her readers that the five essentials of the season were “a tweed suit, a fur tippet, a great leather coat, a Pucci-printed evening dress, miniheeled pumps.” And Vogue, extolling the virtues of being “polished and pulled-together, ladylike and groomed,” explained that this goal could be achieved with the purchase of crocodile pumps, the wearing of tweed, and something called “a pretty little day coat” (as opposed to what, a big ugly night coat?). Vogue went on to quote Calvin Klein—the idea that an advertiser might not be the most disinterested party in giving fashion advice didn’t seem to bother the editors—as saying, “A matching outfit is about sophistication, and sophistication is an idea that transcends time.” The thought that matching ensembles invariably cost a lot more than a bunch of separates you can disguise as different outfits just didn’t occur to folks back in 2000.

It wasn’t only matching that cost money. According to the magazines, everybody had to have stuff made out of dead snakes, birds, and other animals. The folks at Bazaar recommended a pair of Narciso Rodriguez’s sky blue alligator stilettos, described as “sultry” and priced at $1965, and a python suitcase on wheels by Trussardi for $2445. And at Fashions of the Times, The New York Times’ biannual style magazine, not just reptiles were on the menu: An ensemble by John Galliano for Christian Dior consisted of a pea green dress made of ostrich skin for $2635 covered by a pea green $2000 shearling wrap styled like a Levi’s jacket. Vogue even managed to find something from a goat—a Fred Flintstone-ish blouson by Anne Demeulemeester for $1745.

Though all the magazines agreed that fur was absolutely essential, Bazaar went the furthest, running a whole article about a $95,000 op-art-printed sheared mink coat by Karl Lagerfeld for the house of Fendi. Lest you thought this garment was a mere catwalk stunt, the magazine described the coat as a “key provision” for fall, and quoted Anna Fendi as saying, “We believe everything we create is to be sold. We never do a coat for the runway. We like to see it on the people.” Fendi went on to describe the coat as “intelligent. Something that’s intelligent you can always wear,” and even lauded its practicality: “It’s not too warm, for the new winters.” But not all animals were treated so harshly. Vogue had a section called “See Spot Shop” devoted to consumerist canines, with products that included sushi for dogs made by a company called Poochie Sushi and costing a Nobu-worthy $17 for nine pieces.

Alas, even if you had a ton of dough, unless there was blue blood behind that platinum card, you could forget about hosting the best soirees. According to Vogue, “America’s oldest families are still the life of the party.” The party in question was in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art, and it must have given the attendees an extra thrill to cross a picket line, since the museum’s staff was on strike the night the fete took place. In fact, it was apparently so much fun to cross a picket line in 2000 that W remarked on it too, in a humorous essay that described the night Marie-Hélène de Rothschild tried to organize a performance of Cinderella at the Paris Opera House despite the fact that the place was on strike, and how she cried in Pierre Bergé’s arms when she was foiled.

Even Fashions of the Times argued that lineage counted as much as money. In a piece entitled “Madcap Must-Haves,” the list of necessities included lots of stuff you couldn’t just go out and buy: “mother’s faux tortoise pocketbook,” “a great-aunt who rode side-saddle,” “grandmother’s recipe for Cheveux de Chien,” a “photograph of great-aunt’s horse Traveler (named after Robert E. Lee’s steed),” an “old Hermès scarf,” and a “friendship with the maître d’hôtel at the 21 Club.”

Still, it must have been at least halfway possible to buy your way into the haut monde. Otherwise, who would have bothered spending $37,000 on the Fendi baguette bag with the 22-karat gold clasp that Andre Leon Talley in Vogue described as “the season’s blue-chip purse” or $16,500 on a beaded Ralph Lauren coat (modeled by a Harlem schoolgirl in Fashions of the Times) or $2830 for an Alberta Feretti dress (in Bazaar, shot at the Reichstag) or $3100 for a Bottega Veneta leather jacket which Bazaar was forced to admit “appears to be straight out of the shredder”? The most mundane garments were not exempt from puffery: a pair of dungarees was lauded in Bazaar as being “kind of Southern and rough but at the same time royal and expensive.”

Funny thing, though—even while they were paying astronomical prices, people back then didn’t object to being bitten, hard, on the very hand that was feeding designers’ coffers. Ever wonder why relatively young women got all that liposuction, Botox, collagen, and other scary stuff? Here’s what Patrizio Bertelli, Miucca Prada’s husband and Prada CEO, told Bazaar about the loyal customers who spent fortunes on his nylon knapsacks in the early 1990s and put his company on the map. When asked how he could keep Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera from seeing Prada as their mom’s label, he replied, “By not making the same mistakes as Mr. Armani. . . . If you’ve got a customer who is now 45 with two kids and a bigger size you throw her out and bring in a new one.”

I saw one of those Prada bags for sale just the other day. It was lying on a dirty blanket outside a boarded-up bank, next to a pair of cracked crocodile high heels, a broken python suitcase, and a moth-eaten op-art-printed coat that looked like it might have been made of mink.

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