[Marxism] Lagerfeld Confidential

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Oct 27 12:45:42 MDT 2007

When I was invited to a press screening of “Lagerfeld Confidential,” now 
playing at the Film Forum in New York, about six weeks ago, my first 
reaction was to decline the offer. What possible interest could the 
Unrepentant Marxist have in one of the world’s highest profile haut 
couture designers? I am glad that I decided to watch a screener. Not 
only is Karl Lagerfeld a truly compelling figure; the film also provided 
an entrée into the role of designer clothing in bourgeois society.

Since my wife is a professor at Fashion Institute of Technology and an 
avid shopper for luxury goods at Woodbury Commons Outlet, a famous 
shopping center about fifty miles from New York, there was also a 
personal connection. Long ago, when I worked at Goldman-Sachs on Wall 
Street and had money to burn, I got hooked on luxury items myself. I 
bought my suits at Paul Stuart and kept a Mount Blanc pen in my shirt 
pocket. Not long after I started working at Columbia University, I 
donated all the suits to a thrift shop but kept the Mount Blanc pen. I 
never use it because the refills are exorbitantly expensive. Although I 
lead a simpler life now, I do understand the mystique that such goods 
have. Even Fidel Castro wears a Rolex.

Perhaps the last word on dressing up comes from Thorstein Veblen. In 
chapter seven (”Dress as an Expression of the Pecuniary Culture”) of 
“Theory of the Leisure Class,” Veblen observes:

     The standard of reputability requires that dress should show 
wasteful expenditure; but all wastefulness is offensive to native taste. 
The psychological law has already been pointed out that all men — and 
women perhaps even in a higher degree abhor futility, whether of effort 
or of expenditure — much as Nature was once said to abhor a vacuum. But 
the principle of conspicuous waste requires an obviously futile 
expenditure; and the resulting conspicuous expensiveness of dress is 
therefore intrinsically ugly. Hence we find that in all innovations in 
dress, each added or altered detail strives to avoid condemnation by 
showing some ostensible purpose, at the same time that the requirement 
of conspicuous waste prevents the purposefulness of these innovations 
from becoming anything more than a somewhat transparent pretense. Even 
in its freest flights, fashion rarely if ever gets away from a 
simulation of some ostensible use. The ostensible usefulness of the 
fashionable details of dress, however, is always so transparent a 
make-believe, and their substantial futility presently forces itself so 
baldly upon our attention as to become unbearable, and then we take 
refuge in a new style. But the new style must conform to the requirement 
of reputable wastefulness and futility. Its futility presently becomes 
as odious as that of its predecessor; and the only remedy which the law 
of waste allows us is to seek relief in some new construction, equally 
futile and equally untenable. Hence the essential ugliness and the 
unceasing change of fashionable attire.

Notwithstanding Veblen’s insights, there is another dimension to 
designer clothing that “Lagerfeld Confidential” conveys. While such 
clothing is not “functional” in any real sense, it is often beautiful 
and can even rise to the level of art as should be obvious from a trip 
to the Metropolitan Museum or even the Guggenheim, which mounted a 
controversial exhibit of Giorgio Armani clothing in 1999. Some 
journalists made the obvious point that the museum was blurring the 
lines between art and commerce:

     The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum announced last month that it would 
pay homage to the Italian designer Giorgio Armani next fall with a major 
retrospective of his work. The museum will turn its rotunda over to his 
ball gowns and pants suits and tuxedos, providing a breathtaking 
backdrop for an opening soiree and adding even more luster, if such a 
thing is possible, to the fashion designer’s name.

     What the museum did not acknowledge was that some eight months 
earlier, Mr. Armani had become a sizable benefactor to the Guggenheim. 
The size of his contribution has not been disclosed, but one participant 
in museum meetings at which it was discussed said it would eventually 
amount to $15 million, an initial $5 million with a pledge to donate $10 
million more over the next three years.

     Asked about the gift, museum officials said it was part of a 
“global partner sponsorship,” gifts that can go to Guggenheim projects 
anywhere in the world, and denied that it was a quid pro quo for 
organizing the Armani show. The show is being sponsored by the fashion 
and celebrity magazine In Style, in which Armani is an advertiser…

     But the debate began earlier. In the last three years, at the 
Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, fashion designers like Dior 
have sponsored shows devoted to their work. When the museum held a show 
of Gianni Versace’s fashions, it was paid for in part by Conde Nast, 
publisher of fashion magazines like Vogue that depend on Versace for 
advertising. Next year the museum hopes Chanel will finance a show of 
its work. Tiffany, Faberge and Cartier also paid for shows about their 
products. The museum won’t say how much any of these shows cost.

     –NY Times, December 15, 1999

If there is a case to be made that fashion is a form of art, Karl 
Lagerfeld would be prima facie evidence. “Lagerfeld Confidential” 
consists almost entirely of interviews with the seventy-something 
designer as he works in his studio, attends runway shows, dines with 
fashion industry muck-a-mucks, etc. Although I knew him only by name in 
the past (I might have even had a bottle of Lagerfeld cologne in my 
decadent youth), I came away from this documentary directed by Rodolphe 
Marconi with a deep respect for the creativity and intelligence of an 
admittedly cynical subject. Like his friend Andy Warhol, Karl Lagerfeld 
is a true expression of how bourgeois decadence can be seductive, not 
unlike the pearl generated by an infected oyster.

full: http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2007/10/27/lagerfeld-confidential/

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