The Great Flattening™

by Corey Malley

I'm not convinced anyone knows what anything is anymore.

2020 caused all of us to experience "culture" in the societal sense almost exclusively via phone screen. The normal status-soaked social climber opportunities like popular restaurants, over-packed night clubs and ordering the right coffee at the right place were swapped out for more scroll time, a 60 second vertical video, or a livestream of two rappers just kinda vibing.

2 major shifts happened as a result:

1. We had fewer chances than ever to signal status

2. Our discovery - both of trends and the associated product itself - flattened to 2D

We could no longer walk around our favorite neighborhood and see what people we admired were wearing. There was no brick and mortar retail to visit and touch and EXPERIENCE. Status symbols, trends, brands, etc. all suddenly turned into media terms: impressions and frequency.

"Tunnel fits" exploded, as athletes were some of the rare few who got to keep on with their high-visibility job, and fashion noticeably got louder, somehow more logo driven, and less intentionally designed, and more intentionally created to signal status faster than ever.

"Influencers" took notice, taking these limited opportunities to flex as hard as they could with the loudest items possible - Chrome Hearts hoodies, Amiri jeans, Balenciaga sneakers, etc. etc. etc. New brands formed thanks to suddenly eliminated barriers of entry; pumping the algorithm with simulacra after simulacra of dubious quality, origin, or inspiration. A textile gold-rush.

Increased screen time meant more people discovering fashion - once gated with legacy points of entry - through broad, uncontrollable means at a time of massive industry upheaval and primal survival. An uneducated mass with no teacher. Embracing sans serif logos for fear of missing out and fear of choosing incorrectly.

So what does this all mean?

It means the average consumer has no way of knowing what the fuck anything is anymore.

We discover, experience, and consumer product via tiny screen. When we do buy, we often don't know what to expect until the product is in our hands. The average consumer should not be expected to understand spec measurements or the difference between fabric blends and techniques. 

As a result they think the difference between a Gucci hoodie and a Gap hoodie is a name. If the pictures look the same, and the colors are close enough, it must be the same, right? Just like that, a product team's years of development and experience reduced to a JPG side-by-side.

This has made it harder for brands to break through and explain their product difference to the consumer. Sure you could write some good copy, but I'm not gonna read all that. Good for you or I'm sorry that happened. You can make more content, but that takes CASH and ALGORITHMIC MANIPULATION, the acknowledgment of which feels inherently anti-luxury. The publications can't be trusted, driven entirely by the highest affiliate bidder. Same goes for the content creators, who certainly mean well, but can taste the siren song of free product, fashion shows, and press trips. Someone will pay for them to play nice.

You see it in product too. Jonathan Anderson has committed millions in show production to proving CRAFT. He of course has the benefit of Bernard's bank account to keep that fire burning. (note: I love Loewe). A closer examination uncovers a trend of INTENTIONAL MISTAKES, small stitches, askew patches, and the like to show you this was HAND MADE and humans are IMPERFECT a la Bode. Planned imperfection, just enough to signal craft while remaining commercially viable. 

I don't write this with a solution. Maybe you have one. Maybe you'll think of one right after this. Who knows.

All I know is something is slowly being lost, and we've begun to crave the fruit closest to the ground. Minimal effort, immediate dopamine, rinse, repeat.

What I do urge is to visit AN ACTUAL STORE, whatever that may be wherever you are. Go touch some stuff, preferably right after touching some similar stuff. Try a thing on. Try a lot on. Build you palette back up. Develop your taste by actually tasting! 


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