Class act

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Fashion, parties and class distinction

If I continue with a critique into the attitudes represented by FS, it is not waged against those involved, but rather directed towards the systemic and hierarchical structures of society as they are displayed in an event like this.

Nick Worsley, the director of FS, describes it as a fashion show which “descends into more of a party”. There seems to be a false morality implied by statements like this: from fashion show to party is a descent, the former better than the latter – as though the party is almost an unavoidable by-product of what was originally intended as a good, clean fashion show. In fact, there is no reason to prefer one over the other. The presence of bouncers – although their function was no more than cursory – apparently employed to control the rowdiness, hints at what FS really wants to be about. In fact, it’s clear to everyone present that this rowdiness is the desired atmosphere; so why disguise the event as anything other than pure hedonism?

Theorising on aesthetic judgement and cultivated sensibilities, Pierre Bourdieu introduces the concept of “distinction” and how it is at play in an economy of cultural capital. According to Bourdieu, the set of dispositions expressed by the middle and upper classes towards all number of cultural activities (including but not limited to: art, food, literature, music) are disguised, or “naturalised”, as disinterested taste. He contests that these dispositions are inherited, hereditary within classes. They are deployed as signifiers of  distinction; to separate those sophisticated, well-bred individuals from those whose attitudes are vulgar, common.

It doesn’t require a particularly strenuous logical leap to see Bourdieu’s concept of “distinction” at work in an event like FS. The signifiers of elevated taste are obvious: most apparent is that the show is worthy of coverage in Tatler, a magazine which makes no bones about the classism implied by its choice of events worth coverage. Then there is the ordered seating plan,  smartly laid tables, the ‘VIP’s, the formal dress code and the abundant champagne, all of which signify sophistication and thus add value to the event. This is something that cultivated people do: get steaming drunk while pretending to look at clothes. And it’s worth the attention of the national press.

When the show does “descend into a party”, which happens after about five minutes, it’s a realisation of what we knew all along: surveying the marquee before any of the models have stepped out, the DJ booth protrudes half way up the wall facing the audience; its the most visible position in the room, and already it has supplanted the catwalk as the centre of attention.

As the fashion show seems to play second fiddle to the party, the charity aspect of FS seems a similar afterthought; there are far more efficient ways for a committee of 26 people to raise money for charity than putting their heads together to divide resources between booze, security personnel and advertising – this is not to detract from their hard work in putting the show together, which I know was an immense undertaking.

Instead, charity is tacked on to the show’s billing to increase the marketability and the profile – another word for sense of self-importance – of FS; it certainly makes the evening’s purpose seem more virtuous. This virtue, the good-will in ‘raising awareness’ for a charity (which itself raises awareness for another charity)  is another facet in the distinguished aura of FS.

Make no mistake; this is not a moralistic critique of FS, or this sort of party in general – there is no harm in enjoying a bit of the sauce and having a good time. I mean to question the origin of attitudes which hold in high esteem a spectacle which propagates its “professionalism” while indulging in, or at least permitting, supreme decadence and oafish behaviour in the name of charity and an appreciation of fashion.

James Williamson

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