During a family party last weekend, the subject of music came up as we listened to my 17-year-old nephew's eclectic iPod selection. Everyone present - and we encompassed several generations, - chatted enthusiastically. My cousin then took over the conversation. Being a self-confessed music "nerd", he began regaling us with tales about who had inspired what twang. As if listening to dreary Bob Dylan wasn't bad enough without getting the commentary. However, when I lifted my head from my hands I found everyone else in the room riveted.
When I tried to butt in with my story about meeting the tailor who had made the first Rolling Stones suit ever this week, I was told to "shut up". Ahem, since when did a music nerd become cooler than a fashion nerd? Although working in my industry gives you the hide of a rhinoceros, especially when it comes to fashion knock-backs, I occasionally get hurt. I still find it odd that everyone wants to know what's in fashion but aren't the least bit interested why.
Whenever I'm asked "what's in fashion" I keep it brief. Take high-heeled hiking boots for instance. These are a cross between a workman's boot and Timberlands with a very high heel and tyre-track sole, and are being tipped as hugely trendy right now. Are they a backlash to superheels? Are they around because they fit into the country lady vibe for autumn/winter 2010? Did Nicholas Ghesquière kickstart the trend or was it fashion students customising workmen's boots? When I've tried to bring up this very subject, the eyes of whomever I'm talking to glaze over.
Unlike music, you see, fashion is all about "now". Now what everyone wants to talk about is Prada "lady" skirts and wearing them with those high-heeled hiking boots. Karl Lagerfeld has always said fashion is about looking forward, never looking back. No wonder fashion nerds, who love to fuss about the latter, stick together. I was recently privy to a typical fashion nerd conversation after the Versace show in a plush hotel foyer.
I expected it to be a sort of breathless Carrie Bradshaw-type rant about heels v hemlines. To my surprise I found an intelligent debate about how Lycra had changed the way women dress. After a chronological romp through fashion history, there followed a hushed silence followed by five minutes of glorious speculation. Who might create the best Lycra item were they to do it, Nicholas Ghesquière or Roksanda Ilinicic?
All eyes swivelled. Then the talk really kicked off and was halted only when Victoria Beckham walked past in a very short dress. Frantic scribbling in notebooks. I am certainly not the nerdiest fashion nerd I know. I've got plenty of academic-type friends who can reel off seven types of guipure lace (so very Paul Poiret darling!) when all I can think about is what's for lunch. What a pity, then, that their opinion doesn't count in the real world. What really matters in fashion is what the masses think. Or to put it another way, what they will buy.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, catwalk shows were low-key, industry events where fashion editors could truly voice their opinions. If whoever was the Queen Bee didn't approve, an entire collection might be axed. Not any more. I doubt if even Anna Wintour has the power. I overheard an interesting interview with Marc Jacobs directly after his triumphant autumn/winter 2009 collection, where models walked to a Gershwin soundtrack played throughout the show.
"Was that a tribute to Judy Garland on Broadway, or was this your take on the annihilation of South American rainforests, Mr Jacobs?" hissed one breathless fashion hack who had bustled her way backstage. (There had been a lot of tribal rainforest-type influences in this by the way). "You know what," answered the dry-humoured American designer with a wave of his hand. "It's whatever you or anyone else wants it to be."
Ultimately, the function of clothes is to take us through life events, day to day, and occasionally sweep us off to grand functions for the evening. Designer whims affect us but we the customers choose what to wear or not to wear for reasons that can be as personal as whether they match the colour of our eyes. When I asked my cousin why he had tracks on his iPod that had come out before he was born, he answered: "Because I like 'em."
Who cares what's behind hiking boots (although I'd hazard a guess fashion nerds would know the answer)? As Carrie Bradshaw would say, "We likey."