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Are Instagram Likes Trumping Good Design?

by: Lucy Jones | 1 year ago | Features

Image: memes ruled the runway at Viktor and Rolf's spring 2019 couture show. Image source.

Welcome to the year 2019! Flying cars haven’t been invented yet but humans are able to communicate with each other from opposite sides of the world in real time, watch their fave TV shows on tiny portable devices, and wear slides that are also bum bags! The future is now, people.

Let’s face it, if aliens were keeping tabs on Earth’s hot new fashion trends from outer space, they would think that humans are absolutely bonkers. In the past year, bum bag slides (fanny pack slides for all you Americans out there) and the t-shirt shirt both happened. Micro handbags that are too small to actually hold any of your belongings are also trending, and lets not forget the recent advent of platform Crocs. These items of clothing all have one thing in common: they are BIG on the Internet.

These products seem harmless enough. They are smart (in a dumb way) and funny. But the joke starts to wear thin when you realise that people are paying upwards of $1000 for a ‘lol’ product. Most of these items sell out within weeks, even after they’ve been slammed in the media. The headlines tell us that Balenciaga is trolling us with platform Crocs and that Crocs are the world’s ugliest shoes, but that doesn’t stop platform Crocs from selling out before they’ve even been released. Any press is good press when it comes to funny fashion!

The logic behind these designs is simple: if your product is popular on the Internet it will be popular in real life. But what happens to the fashion industry when the need to be hashtag relevant starts to trump good design? Well, for starters, it gets quicker. The Internet is a fast-paced place so if you’re going to design for it, you’d better make it speedy. Trends also have an incredibly short shelf life online, especially when they are tied to memes. These posts circulate so much that they lose all relevance after a few weeks. Once the joke is over, your platform Crocs will be stashed in the back of your closet or thrown out with the trash.

Take the t-shirt shirt, for example, which took the Internet by storm last year. As the name suggests, the Balenciaga shirt is a t-shirt that has been attached to a button-down shirt. Pop the t-shirt on and the shirt-shirt will hang in front of you, pop the shirt-shirt on and the t-shirt will hang behind you, geddit? The $1,290 USD price tag of this novelty shirt caused quite the stir on Twitter. "This is a hideous joke" and "More and more, I think there's a designer over at Balenciaga who's permanently stoned, and just keeps coming up with the lamest designs he/she can think of to take the piss!!!" were just some of the comments that were aggregated under the #tshirtshirt hashtag. 

Demna Gvasalia is the mastermind behind the t-shirt shirt and platform Crocs. He has also given us high fashion Ikea bags at Balenciaga and Bic lighter high-heeled shoes at Vetements. Gvasalia claims that these items are popular because they are ironic and relatable, but there’s nothing relatable about a $2000 Ikea bag.

“Irony is both about making you smile or laugh, but it can also be quite painful because it asks questions. With irony you can ask questions that are delicate, but there’s a thin line between irony and sarcasm so I have to be careful not to overstep it,” Gvasalia explains.

“I made a bag for my first men’s show at Balenciaga, which was based on the classic Ikea bag. It was ironic but also authentic. I used the blue Ikea bag during my four years as a student in Antwerp, due to its size and its price. Fifty percent of all students had the same bag for the same reasons, When I did it at Balenciaga I recycled leather that the company had on stock from previous collections, and I finished it as a luxury product. I meant it as an ironic gesture in part, taking something really cheap and moving it into the luxury realm. But it’s authentic too, and that’s why it’s been all over the Internet by now. People can relate.”

These expensive takes on everyday items are supposed to read as an inside joke — they expose the arbitrariness of trends and poke fun at the ‘exclusivity’ of the fashion industry. But they also reinstate this exclusivity by slapping huge price tags on functional products.

Historically, high fashion has been all about expert craftsmanship and artistry. People followed designers, and paid top dollar for their products, because they represented the best of the best. But now, high fashion is more about making products that can translate into a trending hashtag. This means that the industry has traded meaningful, careful design in for meaningless, humorous design. 

The more we Tweet about novelty fashion trends, the more likely they are to be successful. We can’t make these items disappear but we can choose to ignore them, so that’s exactly what we’ll be doing from now on. The day that someone tries to sell a tuxedo t-shirt for $1000 is the day we’ll be quitting the Internet.

If you liked this, you might like to read our recent article about 'Meme Couture' over here.

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