This article originally appeared on page 7 of the Spring 2023 issue of Coulture Magazine.
What value is in controversy for controversy’s sake? That’s been the foremost question for the past decade of fashion weeks as the gimmicky nature of the industry has led to controversy large and small (at the nefarious end: Balenciaga; at the sartorially affronting one: Pharrell at LV; somewhere in the middle of an almond farm: Bella’s spray–on Coperni).
Until recently, Alessandro Michele and Jeremy Scott were exemplars of the industry: loud, kitschy, Instagram-facing. Certainly a circus for the eyes. Both visually provocative, a trend we expected to throughline the waning of the pandemic as a kaleidoscope of social gatherings and frenetic color—out of our sweats and into the streets! In hindsight, the crystal ball in trend forecasters’ laps may have been cloudier than we’d thought.
I was reminded of this when strolling through the cashmere jebels dotting the showroom of the moment’s hottest brand at the Via Tommaso Grossi, Loro Piana, which catapulted to the front of the zeitgeist with the success of characters like Kendall Roy; the “ludicrously capacious bag” polemic is certainly of its time.
Paradoxically, the conspicuous lack of logos and branding harkens to an equally loud conversation being had, a provocation itself. What do we say of our anxiety about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the cost of living crisis when the financially fortunate trade logomania bucket hats for $500 plain baseball caps? When Daniel Lee’s Burberry foray eschews its eponymous check altogether? This isn’t totally due to yearning for a return to the essence of alta moda; the 180 from lurid to leaden is a reflection of everything that is happening all around us. If you’re only seeing the black coat procession as just that, you’re not looking wide enough.
Such discomfort is what we tried to harness in Issue Provocateur. So many of us
look to fashion as a respite from the world around us; the fantasy of it all is often the genesis for so many of our interests in the industry to begin with, including myself. The most common criticisms of fashion regard its supposed vapidness and frivolity, but it’s often fashion visuals that spark the most visceral conversations about the world and our values. Many do not believe that the two belong together at all, reflecting a larger unease we feel about fashion and the role it has in our lives. No one played on this tension more dexterously than Franca Sozzani.
The late Vogue Italia editor deviated from her contemporaries by thrusting the social
dialogues of the day inextricably into the themes of her shoots, engendering more controversy than Condé Nast’s c-suite was often comfortable with. Examples include her July 2008 all Black issue calling out the lack of diversity in the industry and July 2005’s “Makeover Madness” shoot featuring an anesthetized Linda Evangelista taking a post-op stroll through the St. Regis, commenting on the exponential rise of plastic surgery. She didn’t always hit the mark, but she always made you think.
Sozzani’s fashion ethos informed much of Issue Provocateur and its pages exploring everything from the British royals to academic burnout. As some of the most controversial shoots Coulture has explored, we realized many readers would not agree in consensus on how they perceived its contents, and could even completely misconstrue their theses, and that’s completely okay. If nothing else, we hope to start a conversation through the language we speak best.
Sozzani is one in a canon of indelible Italian and Italian-American creatives who have toed the line with their artistic endeavors in a country that is deciding its place in history among vast internal dichotomies, much like the rest of the world. I am reminded of this every time I pass “PACE” pride flags among headlines regarding Meloni’s legislative agenda to hamper the ability of gay parents to adopt. May this letter be a paean to them.
While in Milan, I have been fortunate to discover Italy’s beauty despite the surrounding socio-political climate. I make note of the grocers who walked out of László paintings while buying pastries; women accessorizing their Sunday best with pooches and cappuccinos. It feels very full circle, authoring this from the park across Hotel Principe di Savoia after watching Somewhere. My forebears, who fled the heel of this country as shoemakers, could have never predicted this sartorial ouroboros. How serendipitous?
More grateful than I am to have this experience is to have those across the pond holding up this magazine. Special thanks should be made to Clay; Monique, Loulie and Maile; Thomas; Olivia; Sophia; Naomi; Diannah; the works. These people and so many others I do not have the word count to name are les petites mains at work snapping, editing, and writing this magazine into existence in a year when we transitioned from a semester to annual calendar with editorial ambitions to match. It’s a beautiful thing to have so many people care about and believe in Coulture in the midst of college and life and figuring it all out. To them I say: Grazie mille!
I hope you enjoy Issue Provocateur as much as we did making it . . . or maybe I want you to feel uncomfortable. Or melancholic. Or bastardized. Or enabled. Or silly. I just hope you feel something.
- Harnessing Discomfort - April 28, 2023