Why Fashion Runs to Extremes

The intrinsic value of an item is a combination of the expense of its physical creation (small) and the expense of its invention (large). This is a nice alternative to market demand, which seems to me lately just a measure of manipulation, but maybe I’m too cynical.

The expense of a box of Kleenex, for example, is part the ground-up trees, and part the intellectual property of the inventor of Kleenex, God bless him or her.

The fashion industry (I mean 5th Avenue) stands out as an economy that sells purely intellectual property. The cost of the production is insignificant compared to the price–anyway the clothes aren’t meant to be worn more than once. It is the idea of the designer that one buys (would buy), exclusively.

And so, not knowing what an excellent example they are for a lecture such as this, those who earn their living from fashion chase each other around, stab each other in the back, tackle each other in dressing rooms, send spies with great sunglasses around in taxi cabs, and glamorously rob, cheat, claw and steal for the best ideas however they can.

They have to be newest; they have to be correct; nothing else. Because their existence as an industry depends completely, passionately, expensively on other people wanting to be seen by still other people as having had the right idea. That is the market force. There is absolutely no reason to buy a second pair of $20,000 shoes otherwise.

Most industries, to some degree, have their own market of ideas, less visually appealing and dramatic, less essential, but still mimicking the fashionistas. This is ridiculous. My toothbrush need not reflect my personality; neither is it a work of art.

And re-inventing-for-obsolesence, the primary tool used by producers to navigate the idea market, is just psychological gauging.

You probably already know that the auto industry changes the shape of the cars on the market dramatically every 5-10 years, intentionally, colluding to make older cars look old in contrast. And you probably already know that most players in almost every other consumer industry do the same thing. There’s no other way for them to support the difference between the price we pay for things and the price it costs to produce and transport them. They extract that value from our minds.

(No, I will not consider for a moment that you really thought hair product technology was actually improving as we discovered new polymers originally intended to cure cancer or coat the space shuttle. But I agree that a razor with 7 blades at least makes some kind of sense.)

I met a young industrial designer who had some great ideas about what the next car should look like. I won’t tell you these ideas, because they are his. But my idea was that he design the Final Car, the last (type of) car anyone will ever buy, that they can simply buy another one of whenever the last one is worn out. I pleaded with him to do whatever he could to design the Final anything, actually.

Because what does an idea market do to the ideas? It runs with them until they become to ludicrous to support. Because it’s hard to come up with a something new and great over and over when you don’t need to; because when a new great idea isn’t available, the purveyor just makes the last idea more and calls that new. Millions of famous terrible ideas were arrived at for this reason.

When your pants are huge, you are embarassing. When your car is huge, you are hurting people. Greed in, greed out.

Guess what? People have good ideas when new ideas are needed. People have bad ideas when no ideas are needed.

Maybe we can start, as first-world people, to accept that as far as ‘things’ go, we are ok. The things we have are good enough. Because even if you don’t care about the design of things that other people buy, you have to care what the manipulation of your needs is doing to your psyche. People have nostalgia for retro candy bar wrappers, for chrissakes, and feel warm towards a jar of peanut butter or whatever, just because it hasn’t changed. Just because it’s not trying to trick them.