PRINT December 1995

David Colman


A photo taken in 1958 shows Joan Crawford holding the definitive status symbol of that year of years: A SMALL AIRLINE BAG emblazoned with the Sabena logo, which despite its cheapness conjured all the glamour associated with jet travel, but which 20-odd years later was about as glamorous as the worn polyester seats of a 747. But the airline bag, the sturdiness of its nylon reminiscent of a Prada knapsack, was born again this year at the hands of Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo. At first glance, the resurrection suggests the ’60s references seen in so many designers’ collections; however, Kawakubo, unconcerned with that decade’s overall esthetic, indexed the bag’s entire ascent and decline, from the smartest jet-setting shoulders to the dustiest Salvation Army floors, creating an object both of fashion and out of fashion. At a confusing moment when items that were not only out but were in fact literal emblems of outness, like Gucci loafers and Lacoste polo shirts, have been resurrected to great fanfare and profit, the polemic of Kawakubo’s bag became all the more arch when she stopped manufacturing them after a brief fashion frenzy, before the above history could repeat itself. In doing so she demonstrated an increasingly revolutionary idea for the industry—participation via withdrawal.


That MADONNA’s put on a couple of pounds doesn’t really represent much unto itself; for someone who in 12 years has made herself over as many times as Crawford did in her entire career, a couple of pounds is nothing. However, Madonna’s Proteus act ran aground when, for her appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards, she crammed her zaftig self into the lean and androgynous silhouette of Gucci’s breathtaking ad campaign, then topped it off with an absurd Belle de Jour hairdo. To see Madonna vainly styling herself after Gucci avatar Amber Valletta was a graphic reminder of the growing gulf between hype and reality. It’s not that the Gucci clothes are unrealistic, even if they don’t forgive one’s extra ounces. But in its exalted scarcity, the Gucci collection represents the new blind fervor for those must-must-haves that confer fashion-insider status on the wearer. And fashion-insider status via MTV, it must be said, seems a bit silly. As for status symbols—didn’t they go out with Gucci loafers?

David Colman is a regular contributor to Artforum.