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Permanent style: What took you so long?

1 May 2009

How fashion writers do love a theme. Every time the shows roll around, there they are – in the front row (if they’re lucky), pens at the ready, all desperately searching for a theme that will tie all the different collections together.

They all have exactly the same brief after all: write an article reviewing the shows, telling readers what to expect this season. One article means one theme. With a few other observations tacked on the end. The complexity of designers’ thoughts is lost, the intricate suggestions boiled down to one idea.

This season, journalists are desperate to tie the fashion shows to the economy. What is ‘recession chic’? How have designers reacted to lower budgets? Is the rigour of big business dragging back the extravagance of design?

Everyone has reached the same conclusion. Depressed times mean conservative, worn-in investment pieces. The colour palette must be dark, the silhouettes simple and the items are classic.

They didn’t really need the shows to come up with that result; it was always going to be the same, no matter what came down the catwalks. Ignore the fact that Comme des Garçons showed pointy lime-green hats and leopard-print slippers; act with surprise when the winter collections are darker than summer. We need a theme and we need one now – a recession collection must be sombre and it must be conservative.

The only advantage of this avalanche of identical articles is that people are now talking about permanent style.

Permanent style is about investing in quality that will last – buying something that is actually cheaper per use, over its lifetime. Brogues, for example, that can be effectively remade every 10 years, resoled and relined for less than half the cost of the original. With the advantage of an upper that is moulded to your foot; with a patina that has been hand-painted by you through hundreds of polishes.

It is about knowledge of manufacturing processes and profit margins, so you know how to get value for money. Buying clothes that are rebranded, for example, by big chains that have the scale to offer bigger discounts in the sales.

It is about studying traditions, conventions and rules, so that your clothes are part of a cycle that goes around every 50 years, not every five. It is about knowing why those rules exist, so you can break them when their rationale no longer exists – like wearing white on a sunny winter’s day.

Permanent style is about longevity, taste and relishing the clothes you wear. To all those who, apparently, needed a recession to awake them to the virtues of this philosophy I say: welcome to the club. What took you so long?