“I don’t care what you’re wearing as long as you accept responsibility for it.” Tim Gunn

This past Tuesday, we took an extra long lunch break to listen to Project Runway mentor Tim Gunn and “The Sartorialist” Scott Schuman (who has been credited with turning fashion blogging into an art form) chat about fashion, its increasingly significant presence in media, and how this impacts culture. The discussion, titled “Fashion Cuts: Public Media and the Fashioning of Reality,” was part of the Parsons Festival 2011 and was moderated by Hazel Clark, Dean of the School of Art and Design History and Theory at Parsons. The main themes were:

The fashion industry demystified

In the last decade a lot of media attention has been paid to fashion: books and movies like The Devil Wears Prada, documentaries like Bill Cunningham New York and, of course, television programs like America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway have all provided an insider’s view on the industry. These stories have served to convey the reality of the fashion industry, but have also polarized the profession. Gunn noted that while Project Runway laid bare the sheer hard work of fashion design and gave fashion the recognition it deserved as a discipline, opponents of the reality show felt that the reputation of the industry (and the people in it) would suffer if its glamor and mystique was stripped away. And in fact, with fashion broken down to its most basic elements, it has become accessible to more people. That’s not to say that it has become less attractive career-wise, but that hopefuls go into it with more realistic expectations.

Celebration of the individual

In addition to fashion becoming more pervasive in traditional media, social media has been instrumental in democratizing fashion, giving individuals a platform to share, experience and discuss style. Through social media, Schumann noted, fashion has lost its aura of exclusivity and is now distinctly more inclusive. Schumann suggests the next generation of bloggers will be more about heart; rather than all trying to emulate a New York fashion editor, they will embrace and be inspired by their roots.

Fashion speeds up

Burberry live-streamed its Spring/ Summer 2011 show in-stores and handed out iPads for customers to buy items as they appeared on-screen, illustrating the pace at which fashion retail is both evolving and heading towards by adapting to new media and technologies. Schumann suggested that magazines, still doing photo shoots three months in advance, will need to speed up their processes.

Fast Fashion and cultural lag were also touched upon. Thanks to the likes of Zara and H&M, styles are coming and going at an astonishing pace—how can you ever hope to keep up? Perhaps you can’t, and should ask yourself if you want to. One good thing that may come from this cycle is that individuals will be forced to create their own style and identity, a formidable challenge for many.

Fast fashion also raises the issue of design piracy, to which the Internet contributes with its endless stream of fashion sites and blogs. Independent designers are protected by law in Europe but not in the United States, where the fashion industry has been lobbying for intellectual property protection for years with little return. It would have been interesting to hear more about fast fashion and its cultural and ethical implications, but this topic is worth its own dedicated discussion.