The case of deja vu

The relentless, cantankerous declaration of every generation is that they – or, indeed, we – have seen it all before. That nothing is different, nothing is interesting, nothing is new. Ironically, that’s an old story in itself. But, starting in 2022, the ouroboros that is popular culture may be swallowing more of its own tail than ever before. It’s not just that our fashion is filled with revivalism – it’s been normal for over 30 years. It’s that music is made up more than ever of covers and samples: Beyoncé’s album Renaissance features prominent and instantly recognizable samples on 10 of its 16 tracks. The film industry is dominated by remakes, franchised sequels and prequels, and reinterpretations of real stories, the latter also appearing on television: The crown, The stall, Invent Anna. This year’s Best Actor and Actress Oscar winners both received their Oscars for their starring roles in biopics — essentially, real-life reruns, names and faces we already know.

We live in a time of déjà vu.

Images from the Dior Fall-Winter 22 show © Yannis Vlamos

© Yannis Vlamos

What if, today, rather than contempt, familiarity breeds contentment? There is a certain satisfaction in the known, and the notion of familiarity can take many forms. A fashionable retreat into history can be expressed not only through retro shapes and forms, but also through an enthusiasm for vintage – wearing pieces of history from a resale market that, despite producing over 100 billion new garments every year, continues to grow in popularity and price. And the new ones look like the old ones. For the AW22 menswear season, designers leaned into the power of the suit, a recognizable symbol of masculinity and, indeed, expense. Prada, Gucci and Dior base their collections around two-pieces: at Dior in particular, Kim Jones draws from a rich vein of historical references, borrowing from the brand’s haute couture heritage and mid-century embroideries, like a remix of greatest fashion hits.

Hair, Charlie Brock at Goodmans barbers using Uppercut Deluxe.  Assistant photographer, Robin Bernstein.  Digital Operator, Luke Bennett.  Fashion assistant, Mitja Olenik.  Production, Virgilia Facey at Gather

Hair, Charlie Brock at Goodmans barbers using Uppercut Deluxe. Assistant photographer, Robin Bernstein. Digital operator, Luke Bennett. Fashion assistant, Mitja Olenik. Director, Virgilia Facey at Gather © Grégoire Avenel

Ever since Karl Lagerfeld took the reins of Chanel in 1983, designers have been pinning down emblems and signifiers to pollinate history into new fashion, anchoring ideas in a storied past to heighten the cultural cachet. Yet today, the idea of ​​familiar can also encompass things we see every day, simply re-contextualized. This includes notions such as logo hacking – where an existing, almost universally recognized logo is reconfigured or reformulated – or the two-handed, two-brand designer collaborations that have become increasingly popular, the example the more extreme being the link between Gucci and Balenciaga last fall, mixing the iconic shapes and logos of both.

Martine Rose AW22
Martine Rose AW22

There’s a familiarity there, because we recognize part of the symbol we’re looking at, even if the lettering looks a little foreign or different. Martine Rose, a London-based designer who is being mooted, at the time of writing, as a possible successor to the late Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, has done a neat line of logo referencing. His first name has appeared in logotypes resembling everything from former global brand Carling Black Label through a football kit to a lurex sweater emblazoned with Durex’s trademark curvy font. They elicit a sly nod, a wink – we’re in on it. And then, maybe, people buy them.

Balenciaga Station '23

Balenciaga Station ’23

Rose has been playing with this sort of thing for years and had a huge influence: when she was a consultant for Balenciaga in 2017, the brand launched its version of the logo of 2016 Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. “I love shooting logos, which I do because I think it’s funny,” says Demna, creative director of Balenciaga. “It’s also questioning things.” Things like true value and true meaning, blurring our perceptions of the products someone is selling, playing with ideas of luxury. Lining up your products with condoms isn’t something most designers would do, nor is the glorious confusion caused by two fashion houses swapping brands – a Balenciaga branded bag in a Gucci window, and vice versa. These scams (perhaps a naughty term, but I hope Rose and Demna would agree) could well be the genesis of collaborations such as Calvin Klein with the London skateboard and clothing brand Palace, whose name is written in the CK One perfume typeface of the mid-90s, a giant “K” superimposed after its own “C”.

The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard asserted that “we have entered a deceptive world in which an entire culture works assiduously to counterfeit it”. He checked the importance of decoys in the military and placebos in medicine – but curiously, not fashion, which has been populated by counterfeits for over a century; there is a multi-billion pound industry dedicated to their creation, and an increasingly proportionate resource dedicated to their disposal. Again, the power of the fake lies in familiarity: people fool status symbols such as the Louis Vuitton monogram, the Burberry check and the Dior logo print. As Balenciaga’s Demna observes: “Counterfeiting can also produce creativity, in a strange and ironic way.”

Balenciaga's Fall/Winter 2017 show appropriated Bernie Sanders' campaign logo

Balenciaga’s Fall/Winter 2017 show appropriated Bernie Sanders’ campaign logo

Fashion revivalism has accelerated – in recent years designers have increasingly used phrases such as ‘the wardrobe’ or ‘the street’, mentioning ‘classics’ as they go that they were talking about. What they mean is that, rather than going back to clothes worn throughout history, they draw inspiration from the familiar and everyday. Forget trench coats and suits – in the 21st century, there’s nothing more ubiquitous than sportswear, which is now merged into designer collections like never before. And the sportswear brand of our moment is Adidas, whose logo has been popping up in designer collections over the past few years. Prada, Balenciaga and Gucci, as well as brands such as Wales Bonner, have all collaborated with the German sportswear company. There’s a touch of nostalgia in these Adidas iterations, with Balenciaga’s oversized proportions and Prada’s sleek minimalism reminiscent of both late ’90s hip-hop videos, and more than a hint of the ’70s in Wales Bonner’s muddy palette and graphic patterned sportswear – think John McEnroe via Chas Tenenbaum’s tracksuit in Wes Anderson’s 2001 The Royal Tenenbaums. The result, sometimes, isn’t even that sporty, but retains the most important brand identity: all collaborations use Adidas’ protected trademark, the familiar trio of stripes seen so many times on every street, from Mayfair in Munich.

On the one hand, it marks a refreshing and long-awaited realization that most people don’t walk around in silk-faille opera capes. But it’s also akin to the art of appropriation, where figures like American Richard Prince re-photograph Marlboro cigarette advertisements or rework pulp fiction book covers into multimillion-dollar works of art. of books, to many critical conjectures.

Gucci AW22

Gucci AW22

Prada AW22

Prada AW22 © Monica Feudi

The power of familiarity has economic value, as Hollywood’s reliance on franchises and remakes proves. The fashion equivalent is the revival of dormant luxury houses, sometimes colloquially referred to as “sleeping beauties,” where brands are rebooted under completely different creative, and often financial, direction. Luvanis, a Luxembourg-based private investment company, specializes in this area. She relaunched, with more or less success, the fashion house Vionnet and the Parisian trunk maker Moynat (now owned by LVMH). It’s easy to see the appeal: there’s less risk than there would be in investing in unknown and up-and-coming designer names, and many people will be at least partially familiar with these historic houses, ready to be remembered. again with a new collection, a new advertising campaign or a fragrance. Luvanis’ business model is to assemble intellectual property rights and trademarks to everything from licenses to fragrance titles, auctioning them off with net profits to the highest bidder. As Arnaud de Lummen, Managing Director of Luvanis, once told me in an interview: “The culture of the past is currently more important than the creation of a new future.”

This may sound a little nihilistic, but this idea is especially prevalent in times of uncertainty, when the future itself seems in jeopardy. In the late 1930s, as political and economic turmoil boiled over, couturiers turned back to the safer climes of the 19th century, reviving bustles and crinolines. Hollywood offered idealistic historical epics around the lives of Queen Christina, Catherine the Great, and Marie Antoinette; even modernism in the interiors was eschewed in favor of styles emulating the scrollwork and turned feet of Regency and 18th-century tastes. This perhaps underlines a reason why so much today feels familiar – it’s the antidote to the unknown.

It also corresponds to the way we consume information today. In the age of TikTok and viral videos, impact has to be instantaneous – there’s no time to dissect, deliberate, digest. Attention must be grabbed immediately.

There is, however, another way to look at this, especially when framed in fashion. When so many labels have pushed so far and hard to be innovative and outrageous, designing – and arguably over-designing – their clothes to the edge of importability, there’s something revolutionary about offering a simple sweater, pants or a nice blue collared shirt. . Alessandro Michele said he based his February Gucci show on the suit because it was the most fashionable thing he could do. It’s refreshing that familiar things aren’t so familiar anymore. Perhaps this is where this current fascination with them lies. Describing her SS22 Miu Miu show, Miuccia Prada said “there is no useless invention, no fashion”. She wasn’t trying to invent anything new.

Styling by Julian Ganio. Hair, Charlie Brock at Goodmans barbers using Uppercut Deluxe. Assistant photographer, Robin Bernstein. Digital Operator, Luke Bennett. Fashion assistant, Mitja Olenik. Production, Virgilia Facey at Gather

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