Now that the fashion dust has settled in New York, London, Milan and Paris and one at last begins to recover from the exhausting blur of thousands of garments, one can take stock. What is it all about? What does it all mean?
Looking at all the collections from far-flung corners of the world (not just the four above, but also everywhere from Los Angeles to Tokyo), I noticed several things right away: The colors are weird, and the presentations are over the top, like a Ringling Bros. circus. Then there are the fashion magazines, which confuse one even more. It's all manufactured dust. No one talks about workmanship, length or where the clothes on the runways can be worn.
(Ah, how it made me even more nostalgic for those days when I was a young liebchen at our schloss high in the Alps and I would lie on my bed eating chocolates and leafing through the pages of Carmel Snow's Harper's Bazaar or Diana Vreeland's Vogue that my mother brought back from her visits to the ateliers of Paris.)
Click Here for the Previous Column by the Countess Louise J. Esterhazy >>
Why is the fashion world always trying to show off its intellectual power when fashion really has nothing to do with intellect? Why are designers still searching desperately for trends when there are no trends?
Truth be told, women today make their own trends -- and thanks to the Internet, anything they want is available to them no matter where they live. Long, short, fitted, loose, patterned, plain -- name it, they can find it and buy it. What that means, my dear designer friends (and I still have a few), is that women are no longer loyal to you -- or to stores.
What designers -- full of fashion pretense and ego -- don't understand is that shoppers are smarter than any of them. Snobbishness in fashion has gone away and Americans in particular, and many Europeans, don't want to be told what to wear.
Don't misunderstand me: Fashion still retains its inexplicable magic. Just look through the coffee-table book "Dior Glamour: 1952-1962"; the photos gave me tingles because the clothes by Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Marc Bohan are as right for today as they were then. And there are designers who have piqued my interest just as those three did long ago: Christopher Kane in London, Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough of Proenza Schouler in New York, Bouchra Jarrar in Paris and the new team at Valentino, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, who are carrying on that house's traditions in a 21st century way.
Face it, women still love a sense of discovery. The newly independent woman will, when she sees something she loves, buy it immediately -- even climbing over racks of merch to find that one isolated dress. They buy what they like and what makes them feel comfortable in their own skin.
And why shouldn't women (and the increasingly fashionable man) be picky? Who wants to be just like the rest of the fashion herd? How do consumers react today to the opinions of fashion directors of stores like Bergdorf Goodman or Harrods or editors like Anna Wintour or Glenda Bailey? In the old days, it used to be the big designers in Paris, Milan or New York showed their collections on the runways and then Seventh Avenue manufacturers would copy that for the masses, who would flock to snap them up. Well, at least sometimes they would. A very close friend of this old countess once urged retailers to push a midcalf length he dubbed the Longuette. So they did -- and women ran for the hills.
Perhaps that was the first sign that times were changing. Now the whole fashion engine as we knew it needs to be rebuilt. And it will be because, in truth, the customer is always right (well, almost always).
The really stylish -- and I'm not talking about the costumed women today's street photographers follow like sheep -- aren't really influenced by the fashion elite, and never have been. The ladies of the past -- Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, C.Z. Guest -- were personalities in their day because they created their own style. And clothes were only part of it.
These women weren't fashionistas -- a word I hate. I prefer the word "passionista." Freedom is the heart and soul of fashion and style. First, to dare and, second, because clothes are part of what makes us all feel better about ourselves.
So go for it ladies. Challenge the Establishment. The Fashion Machine needs your help.