What’s After Fashion Trolling? Enter Peak Mundane
Brands like Rottingdean Bazaar and Maxine Beiny are taking “everyday fashion” into bizarre new places.
Photograph by Tristan Fewings for BFC via Getty Images.
As the Washington Post’s Robin Givhan observed last month, fashion is obsessed with the mundane—with crafting something totally ubiquitous into something covetable. Take Crocs: they were shorthand for the most hideously practical shoe in existence, a footwear choice only acceptable for hospital workers and chefs. But throw on a few crystals and you have Christopher Kane Spring/Summer 2017. Kane told Vogue it was about “transforming the everyday into desirable luxury.” Add a platform and you have a pair of statement Balenciagas. Whether the fashion world is “trolling us,” as Givhan wrote, or responding to a latent desire simply to wear ugly clothing, is still up for debate. But amid the proliferation of fashion throwing what the consumer already has straight back at them, there are designers who are mining the mundane and creating beautiful and bizarre garments laced with an irony that includes their audience.
Rottingdean Bazaar, helmed by James Theseus Buck, 29, and Luke Brook, 32, celebrates a ridiculous, distinctly British strain of banality. For Spring/Summer 2019, the designers sent a procession of lumpy and disjointed fancy-dress costumes waddling down the runway: a worm, a sweetcorn, Van Gogh. They were rented from shops around the U.K., with each model carrying a placard announcing the look’s title (“CARROT”) and provenance (“MAD WORLD FANCY DRESS”; “LONDON”). As Buck told Vogue.com backstage, “We were attracted to really off things that nobody would ever want to hire. The lady in the Cotswolds shop said, ‘Why would anyone want to wear that?’ when we said we wanted her pumpkin.”
Between the fashion industry’s obsession with class appropriation and its dad fetish, it seemed like only a matter of time before a designer simply pulled people off the street and sent them down the runway in their own clothes. But Buck and Brook, as well as a handful of other designers, are taking that concept in an unexpected direction. Martine Rose, for example, said that her Spring/Summer 2019 collection was inspired by the “geezer”—British slang for literally the most ordinary man you can think of, “found usually out side a pub with a pint in his hand on match day. They commonly like football, scrapping, beer, tea, tits, and Barry white,” according to UrbanDictionary.com. Rather than igniting the trend that their consumers want to follow, designers are now looking at consumers themselves, or in the case of designers like Rose and Rottingdean, the people “outside” of it—the ones least likely to be consumers of luxury or avant-garde fashion. The geezers, as it were. Whilst the big brands are repackaging and commodifying the style of those outside of the industry, these younger designers are celebrating the off-kilter dress of moms on the school run and the builder for whom dressing up means putting on a new pair of jeans.
Rottingdean Bazaar flipped the runway show—typically a reverent place for a designer to show his or her creations—on its head. “We haven’t made anything,” Buck told Vogue backstage, but instead, they pushed fashion over the edge of mundane—a place we’ve been teetering on for some time now—and twisted and warped the humdrum so far that it became absurd and extraordinary. It suggests that clothing can be worn and discarded just as easily as renting a costume for an event, used to display whatever a person feels at that given time. They show how absurd the whole concept of a runway show even is—that a couture show is not so different to a series of awkward characters dressed like vegetables and animals. They question the difference between the absurd and high fashion, the mundane and the elite.
Maxine Beiny is another emerging designer who employs the mundane in her creative process, though her version manifests in a far subtler—and sexier—way. With pinstripe skirts, lace-trimmed stockings, a print made from invoices (paid and unpaid), and another featuring a mobile phone with the screen reading “Calling… Daddy’s Office,” Beiny’s collections reference the everyday woman: her office 9-to-5, as well as the life she lives outside of her workplace, in the bar and in the bedroom.
“The mundane inspires me because my life is mundane,” she tells me. (We were both in boardroom-worthy pencil skirts when we met, fittingly personifying the Beiny woman.) “I make clothes that feel wearable in everyday life. Maybe if I was royalty that would be different but I want my clothes to be functional, fun included… It’s good to have fun in your clothes!” Her clothing engages with sex, femininity and the drudgery of millennial work-life with abrupt, sharp sarcasm (slogan tees feature her own real-life Tinder conversations, including a message she received: “You’d probably be hotter if you didn’t try so hard and dressed normally”). Her constant tethering of these themes to the doldrums of daily life makes her collections exciting, like the fantasies that make up so much erotica: the sexy secretary, the plumber massaging your pipes. They’re hot because they’re part of your daily life.
Fashion fantasy of the traditional kind—“a hip-hop queen stuck in the chambers of Versailles who’s obsessed with Patti Smith!” or whatever—no longer works, says Beiny.“I think [designers] do have to reject fantasy in a way, as if you want to run a successful business you need to make clothes that the consumer wants to buy.” Consumers are no longer looking to these abstract ideas but reality TV-minted celebrities to show them what to aspire to. “This is why stores are stocking a lot of streetwear brands,” Beiny eye-rolls. “I think the consumer just looks on Instagram to see what the Kardashians are wearing and will just go out and buy whatever they post.”
Neither Beiny or Rottingdean is engaging with the elite fantasy of haute couture, but they still manage to lace their clothing with everyday fantasy—the fantasy of wearing something that transport you to a different place without ever having to leave your desk. People don’t need clothing that just mimics what they are already wearing, or even mocks it. As Beiny says, “it’s boring, and I think who wants to go and buy a t-shirt for £200? I never would.”