Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Times They Are A'Changin'

Occasionally, I am terminally "girl." The publication of the fall Vogue magazine is one of those occasions. I buy the huge, heavy thing almost every year to see what is going on in the world of fashion, although it's a world I find fairly mystifying. As an artist, I appreciate the creative merits of certain designs and the talent of many designers. But the need to follow hemline lengths, the required presence or total banishment of shoulder pads, and whatever color has been dubbed the season's "new black" always eludes me, as my friends will readily attest. This fall issue, however, had a couple of items worth noting.

The first item that caught my eye was an advertisement for Keds with a headline that read, "Cool is less materialism, more material." The ad copy was about how it's no longer cool to want more of everything and how "the tide has turned" so that quality, not quantity is what's important. "More stuff, less space" is now passe. Imagine my surprise and delight! Also, it's very tricky to advertise something in a way that makes it so appealing that readers will want to buy it, while sending an anti-stuff message at the same time. I must admit, well done, Keds ad company. If I didn't already have my stock of Keds, I'd be tempted to buy more. And it is rather entertaining to be accidentally trendy!

Even more interesting to me was an article by William Norwich entitled "better to give," (all lower case, which is so much more modest) with a subtitle, "A warm-fuzzy mood is sweeping the blessed-by-fortune set: Ostentation is out; charity is in." How fabulous! Apparently rich people no longer want to flash their wealth for all to admire and are eager to share some of it, too. Warren Buffet's "breathtaking" (no kidding!) $31 billion dollar gift to the Gates Foundation is considered "the most elegant moment" of the year and the primary topic of conversation at tony dinner parties from the Hamptons to the south of France. Buffet has always been a down-home kind of guy, a Midwesterner with no desire to flaunt his enormous wealth. But what about all those "social x-rays," as Tom Wolfe called them, and the handsomely attired spouses and escorts that squire them to galas across the globe? This change in the winds must require a radical reconceptualizing shift for many of them.

The wisdom of age (honestly, you've got to get something to compensate for everything else that you lose) has convinced me that the best way to instigate social change is to make your agenda cool. If you want to make the point that acquiring more and more stuff is ultimately not a good idea for either people or the planet, don't keep harping on the evils of accumulating possessions; make it cool to have less. Make it cool to live with empty spaces here and there in your home. Make it cool to have a smaller wardrobe. Make it cool to buy a hybrid car.

Vogue is a magazine with ads for pricey items like $20,000 watches, and with a business model demanding that its readers be enticed to purchase new clothing and accessories on a regular basis. The article about charitable giving by the wealthy makes it clear these benefactors are not going to go bankrupt as a result of their generosity, or skip the haute couture shows in Paris. But I must give Vogue a cheer for presenting the idea that the new cool embraces the concept that less is more. In its own ostentatious way, Vogue ironically wants us to be thoughtful consumers!

© 2006 Cynthia Friedlob

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