Article «About good and bad taste – Redefining Fashion» by Jean-Pierre Dubois-Monfort, French and European Affairs Analyst.
“The multiple adventures of the Parisian municipal campaign had – provisionally, perhaps – the reason for my passion for politics. I felt that I had better things to do and I am engaged in analytical work on the intersection of luxury and digital.
The page was not entirely blank: neither on luxury – I was in charge of luxury products in Tokyo in the early 90s – nor on digital, since I participated in the work of the OECD in the early 2000s and at the first negotiations.
Intrinsic interest in these two fields, of which I have followed successive developments, and in their singular and profitable union: scientific abstraction and sensory rapture, ephemeral and predictive, the attribute of success and the spirit of ‘innovation.
Union at this triumphant point that it has profoundly modified the physiognomy of our city centers, so important for social conviviality and human interaction – here reappears for politics.
This article was written in the special circumstances that we know of. A sentence by Steinbeck comes back to my mind: “no misfortune is too heavy to bear as long as men hold out”. Jean-Pierre Dubois-Monfort
VERSION FRANÇAISE disponible ici
I am not a librarian nor an archivist, but I like reading old newspapers and magazines in order to appreciate the accuracy of judgments and insights by journalists, political and business leaders.
I read recently a cover story of Time magazine about Hollande (17 February 2014: Can he fix France?), the last sentence of the article was:”Hollande needs to have a few more surprises up his sleeve”. Obviously, he had not.
It is also interesting to follow how deep or not the changes in human activities may be. Also in the world of fashion.
In an interview with Time magazine (28 December 2015) Riccardo Trisci, Artistic Director of Givenchy , was asked by Ariel Foxmann: ”Do you think there’s such a thing as good and bad taste?”
He answered: ”I don’t think so.Taste is very personal. Taste for me is the borderline between something that could be beautiful and something so ugly it has a strong beauty. When I arrived ten years ago, what I was doing was very languid, more dark, much more sensual. People don’t really accept it. But after ten years, I am considered one of the people who know how to make women beautiful and to make things that are very tasteful”.
Some months later (22 February 2016),Tom Ford was asked-also by Ariel Foxmann- the same question in an interview with the same magazine.
“Is there such a thing as absolute good or bad taste?”
He answered “Behaviourally, being elegant and being human.But visually no. Taste is really formed culturally. And if you say, I am a *tastemaker”, it’ s that I am a tastemaker working within the framework of what is considered contemporary taste”.
Both were also asked if there’s some beauty ideal .
For Riccardo Trisci, “there are only few things that everyone will recognize as beautiful”.
For Tom Ford ”divorce yourself from what contemporary culture has told us is beautiful, you can then find it in places you would not expect”. However, Tom Ford added: ”We find symmetry of the face more pleasant than not.”
The answers given by Riccardo Trisci and Tom Ford mirror the twofold definition of taste: the first one is aesthetically and the second one is more ethical.
According to the first one, the taste is a spontaneous reaction at the sight of some work or masterpiece as spontaneous as we react when we taste a dish or a meal.
There is a point of importance when we taste a meal, our tongue is the instance; when we see a work by a fashion designer, our eyes decide and they don’t focus only on the work, but also at least partly on the body associated with it.
The ethical definition means that taste is what is suitable, acceptable in a given society. Even, if from the aesthetical point of view a work satisfies your taste, you may reject it because it hurts your ethical approach. In such a case, you may be as customer or potential buyer in a difficult situation.What to do?
Which criteria do we apply when we qualify a piece of cloth as being of good taste? The combination of colours, the quality of the materials and the cut, the adequacy between the dress and the person wearing it, the adequacy between the dress and the time, venue and event? May be all together?
But do we really prefer good taste versus bad taste? Are we not a tangle of contradictions, expecting some disruption, some breach with previous times? Don’t we want to recognize the signature of a maverick creator? It’s a very frequent behavior in the art, in literature to define a goal in opposition with dominant values: It was the case with Victor Hugo as he explained in the famous Preface of Cromwell that the ugly, the grotesque should have its place in the art.
In previous times: codifying good and bad taste
In the early times of the Fashion history, it was more easy since , especially in France, you had instances, which codified good and bad taste: the king, his advisers, the court.
The state had to be involved in cultural activities, since our imports from foreign countries , notably tapestry were a burden for our economy. A first step was undertaken under King Henry IV and confirmed under King Louis XIV with Colbert.
I remember in my history book in the elementary school, there was a picture with Colbert receiving two ladies of the court. The author of the book asked:”Do you think that the Minister of the King is happy receiving these two elegant ladies?”. I hesitated .It’s the debt!Stupid! May be it’s the reason I turned civil servant in the Ministry of Finance.
In order to avoid the sharp increase of our expenses, the public authorities decided to manage as much as possible activities which could disrupt the situation and which could ensure the central role of the monarchy.The etiquette belonged to that as well as fashion: Louis XIV is said having introduced the wig for men. La Bruyère writes it: ”Formerly a courtier wore his own hair, breeches and doublet as well as large canions and was a free thinker;but, this is no longer becoming; now, he wears a wig, a tight suit, plain stocking, and is devout.All this because it is the fashion.”
Nowadays: the role of inspiring models
Even in our modern democratic times you can rely on the advices of members of the aristocracy:it is surprising how easily Kate and Meghan succeeded in the role their “mother in law”Princess Diana played more than twenty years ago: serve as inspiring models for women of the upper and middle class.
Not only in UK but also in so a democratic country as Germany and the self-conscious women living there: articles about the dresses , the jewels, the make up of Meghan Markle are published very frequently.
But not only the Royal are a reference, also celebrities :models, movie stars , sportsmen and sportswomen. Inspiring is one of the most used and misused words of our time. When referring to a celebrity, the customer is searching for a certification of his choice: you can’t be wrong when you choose a watch already chosen by somebody who won twenty times the Slam. Uncertain of his or her own taste, the potential buyer finds such a solution.
Celebrities and brands have understood that they have a common interest in cooperating together in order to increase their visibility, their attractivity, their profits.The best example may be the partnership between LVMH and Rihanna.
Specially for fashion devices, the product itself is not the sole criterion: the environment around the product matters and very often this environment is a very beautiful woman or man, young, slim, blond.
It was the case during many decades : the first black model on the cover of Vogue was Beverly Johnson in 1973.
These practices have been considered as discriminating , the notion of good taste is seen as to ethnically and social restricted, therefore changes are carried out.For instance, Barby created in recent years a “curvy Barby”. Nowadays, on some catwalks, middle aged models are presenting new dresses as well as oversize models.Through such networks as Instagram, we became aware of the diversity of physical beauty.
Concerning the cleavage good and bad taste, there is an other point to take into account: the evolution of the role of women in the western societies.
Women are setting new priorities: less representation functions, but professional and social responsibilities
*Women with managing responsibilities: less time for shopping
Even if they are still fighting against the glass ceiling, numerous women have no more only the representative role of the past, but are empowered : leaders, managers, decision makers.
In such a situation the dichotomy good taste/ bad taste remains important but you have to appreciate the adequacy between your function and your wardrobe, between your wishes and the unwritten rules of your activity:if you are in the CEO suite of a carmaker company or a cosmetic enterprise,the dress code will be slightly different and you would need time you don’t have to make the right choice.
Some designers had already launched the trend toward a wardrobe more related to the daily life: for instance, Hubert de Givenchy with his famous collection of 1954.
This explains the success of startups which offer on line choice of clothes and dresses, not the classical woody pants, but the sartorial elegance.
*Women with social responsibilities: purchasing not a finished product, but a manufacturing process
For an other group of women, the cleavage good bad taste may have lost its impact. For the women who buy not only the finished product, but also the manufacturing process: they want to know under which conditions the products have been manufactured, the labor conditions of the workers involved, the consequences on the natural resources and the biodiversity.
For such women, the purchasing act is also a proof of their social responsibility and the notion of good taste remains important, but not necessarily in the front line.
More generally, the professional dress code is evolving even for Swiss bankers. Ironically, the disruptive digital industry seems to be a sector with an implicit dress code: a portrait of Mr Brian Roberts, the Chief executive of Comcast the cable company in the center of Internet, mentioned the fact that he does not wear hoodies, but charcoal suits.
Within and beyond aesthetic approach
Since the middle class in western societies has more and more to give up the idea of buying luxury products, the importance of emerging markets is growing, but in some of theses countries, the notion of good and bad taste is very different. The expression “modest fashion” illustrates this difference: it means that the relation to the human body is not the same as in the US or Europe. The women in Islamic countries do not want to expose to much of their body.
The New York Institute of Fashion Technology defines the modest fashion as ”loosefitting clothing that covers as much of the body as the wearer wishes”.
This is especially important since the fashion industry in the western countries has often the temptation of the provocation, in order to catch the interest of the media and the customers.
It was the case in the 90ies with the so called pornochic, which generated controversies inside the industry and some deep changes in fashion groups.
The consequences for the brands is to decide which type of taste they have to satisfy: products for each cultural segment or a middle way between the liberal and the strict relationship to the human body.
But, not only the customers from around the world matter, also the creators. For instance, Masha Ma, who works not only for “Made in China”, but also for “Designed in China” and says “it s time for an international brand from China to succeed”. Or Madaew, the very young Thai designer who wants “people to see that ugly things that don’t to go together can become something beautiful”.
Evolving values: from clothing well being to digital well being
There are also evolving values in the wishes of the consumers : asked which types of expenses have their priorities, young consumers signalize very clearly that digital products and services are their first goal.
Since their purchasing power does not increase in proportion, they have to reduce their clothes budget. How they do that ? Buying less often, buying less expensive products, buying second hand clothes.
One solution for the textile industry may be to produce twofold uses devices aesthetically and digital. Some results are already under way.
There is still a search for good taste, for elegance. We see that every day at every corner in our towns, big or small. We see that on the screens: Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
But nevertheless, our relationship toward the good taste, the elegance is slightly different, somewhat changing. Due to the new role of women in our contemporary society and to the new assessment they have toward good taste and the way it is carried out, their shift of interest toward their professional or leisure activities.
When we take into account these features of the present time, one remains sure: there is still a place for fashion magazines in order to inform the customers men and women about the products, the most adequate choices, relying on a deep background of Fashion history and a deep knowledge of the overall trends and consumers expectations.
More than ever, the companies actives in the Fashion industry have to work very hard and we could keep in mind this sentence of Tommy Hilfiger about his brand: ”we evolve the brand, we push it forward, we fine tune it, we expand it, we babysit it, we nurture it.”
Good luck, everybody.
Article «About good and bad taste – Redefining Fashion» by Jean-Pierre Dubois-Monfort, French and European Affairs Analyst.
Double training: literary. (ENS Cachan, Aggregation of German) and administrative (Sciences PO Paris, ENA). Extensive bilateral (Singapore, Japan, Germany, Turkey, Switzerland) and multilateral (GATT, OECD) international experience: challenges, opportunities and negotiations.
All comments and questions please address here.