HASHTAG, HEDONISM ?
You may have read it at school in your troubled teen ages, you may have spotted it on luscious chocolates advertisings: „The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it” Dorian Gray’s quote has always been pointed as the hedonism manifesto par excellence. The shady paladin of the anti-Victorian dissolute lifestyle devoted his existence to enjoyment of carnal pleasures and beautiful things, something that could have made Epicurus and his research of a delight for ataraxic purposes frown. Despite the successful 18th Century revival that Penny Dreadful brought on small screen, abolitionism lost its imperious authority and - except the #freethenipple current online fight - it is sinking in internet waves more and more. Web is aleatory, but the fact is that it is real, and has importance - huge importance - right now. The net has been the cradle for new movements, and their value is perceived in real world with factual consequences. So, what is the role of hedonism right now? How the research of pleasure canalized and how fashion contributed to this in our time and economic situation? Expensive furs, precious jewellery, refined garments: these were the objects of which possession generated delight. Concrete things, you could have touched them. But, beside the rediscovered interest for a kind of opulent hedonism underlined by the Gucci’s Alessandro Michele beatnik bohemian style, pleasure-seeking is now finding other cunning ways to insinuate into our generation. Let’s understand why.
I’m almost sure you had the pleasure to meet Patrick Bateman, the subtle hero portrayed in the well-known black comedy American Psycho. The movie opens with a snobby welcome into his life, while he describes his daily self-care practices in minute details: „I believe in taking care of myself and a balanced diet and rigorous exercise routine”, his mantra declaims. But if the other major Christian Bale’s character, Batman, has a fictional origin, our ambitious banker is the product of an era that truly existed and left perceivable traces until today. Place: USA, time: the glorious 80s, name: Reaganomics. Actor turned president Ronald Reagan gained fame for his new political and economic initiatives based on a reduction of government spending, taxes and tightening of the money supply in order to reduce inflation. In this jungle law with no space for social solidarity, the term ‚Reaganian hedonism’ was coined: unbridled individualism and competition in order to achieve economic and social importance started to be the main trends commonly accepted. Post-modern period relied in the ‚everything at once’ formula, that turned concrete possessions in a showcase that aimed to reflect the owner’s essence: money, cars, expensive clothes, houses and luxurious lifestyles signified power, no matter the hidden ways used to achieved to them. Everyday essentials, that esthetes would have considered mediocre, and desire of auto-affirmation were monetized and elevated to a public expression of private pleasure, while the built of an empire of ephemeral started founding confirmation in the improvements of technology, diffusion of computers and images popularity. The most appropriate product of this society has been the so called ‚yuppie’ subculture, of which our dear Patrick Bateman is its best advocate. Young Urban Professionals were both men and women in their 30s, business degree holders and frantically active, strongly devoted to theirselves and obsessed with appearance; even though members that fitted in this group carried the label with proud, negative judgements pointed their narrow values, draconian spirit and aggressive longing for materialistic fulfillment out. Rediscovered interest for fashion had a strong impact in the foundation of a primordial gender fluidity: the counterpart of male’s suits and ties abandoned incomplete looks and mismatched clothing for a full jacketed sober suit, that enabled women to be taken seriously on the corporate ladder of her workplace. Armani, Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan found their way to shine, while, thanks to the fitness mania explosion, Nike saw a customer shift from running geeks to yuppies and managed to outclass Reebok’s primacy in leading the sportswear market. You could ask yourself what have these polish years in common with our times; well, you could be impressed of how things took the turn. The ephemeral factor had an enormous sprint since than and is turned out to set our current fast and furious global situation and every aspect of our daily life. Fashion and technology are exposed to really quick changing of trends that almost finish before they start; objects become obsolete in no time and the demand of being updated pushes more and more. Image gained the leading role of our generation and its fleeting essence has been implemented by social media: picture that once has to be developed from film found immediacy and impermanence in smartphones camera, due to Snapchat and the brand new Instagram creation, Stories. With this background under our feet, the concept of hedonism changed as well: pleasure that once relied in concrete things underwent a transition that bends to the imperial power of image, from the 80s ‚urge to have’, to the ambiguous ‚urge to show what I have, or at least, what you think I have, and therefore, I am’. A shift from hedonism to what I like to call ‚self-hedonism’: promoting a glamorous and desirable way of life based on nothing concrete but impressions of one-self that is possible to instill in everybody else’s mind thanks to the power of images posted online. What once dissolved in liquidity that could have bought anything, now fades in aleatory air, and pursuit of pleasure is going hand in hand with the number of likes a picture can get; Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame could be easily translated into 15 millions of likes, hearts and reactions, now. Of course, there is people that became famous thanks to random posts, from Rihanna’s girls in her videos, to Gosha Rubchinskiy models, but how is it possible to define if what we see is true or not? The psycho element that made Bateman lost his mind is now shaping in a real effort to find originality and uniqueness, that could get appreciation from others and pleasure to the single; however, if concreteness was touch-proof, image has an amazing range of possibilities of retouching, modifications and distortions that can easily trick without noticing. Appearance became the real product of pleasure, that can sell and make own money too: selfie phenomenon acted as the driving force for a crowd of new fashion bloggers wannabe and adverts-in-person influencers and acquired so much relevance in our daily life that somebody defined it a proper art. Selfies are the perfect tool to let everybody know where you are, with whom and especially how you look like: the ‚pic or it didn’t happen’ finally found its faithful right arm. Fashion is inevitably undergoing this process as well: tons of shoes, bags and clothing items appear in pictures, better if they are expensive, rare and hype; interesting fact is the clear references to subculture styles of the past, the ones with real values and beliefs, from the 90s trends to streetwear and niche brand, like skateboard dedicated Thrasher. What’s the point of everything? Uniqueness. Strive for being unique and envied; when it’s achieved it produces pleasure and self-love. But what is unique in our everything-everywhere world? What is true and what is not? Hedonism became even more subtle, but is there any form of positive seeking for pleasure nowadays?
Concreteness should be rediscovered, such as values, and the horizon seems the direction designated. Revaluation of raw materials and wise recycling are the key concepts that gave born to a trend called eco-hedonism, which aimed to reconsider the decadent tactility with a green approach that is oriented to unexpected sustainable resources usage and minimization of earth and animals exploitation. The idea underneath is that elevating humble materials and recycling should be an antidote to the over-use of social media and act as a reaction to our digital lifestyles, bringing a renewed appreciation of ‚the experience of wearing things’. Fashion apparel and textiles turned out to be the second most polluting industry after oil and energy: from sourcing of materials to extensive production wastage and massive unsold stock, each stage in manufacture and consumption is a tremendous strain on resources. Choosing renewable materials and sustainable options and minimizing the use of harmful chemicals for dying should be at least a good way for companies to face the big pollution problem of our environment and raise awareness of what is happening in the industry; eco-hedonism manifesto is quite appealing, but it had obstacles to face, though. Firstly, the great heritage of hedonistic glamour, that has been pushed by market through promotion of luxury and uninhibited consumption. The feeling of ermine fur that covers a gala dress in a wintery night can really feel quite hedonistic, right? Even if some designers push for faux furs and organic leather cruelty-free substitutes - Stella McCartney firstly, with her best selling tote Falabella - others seem to be not inclined to replace traditional connotations of wealth and luxury, considering this a sort of virtuous self-denial and obstacle for creativity. In second place an initial reluctance could be perceivable in customers, that can easily associate the ‚organic’ factor to oatmeal-coloured and oversize garments that lack in any sort of luxury, beauty and desirability. One thing to keep in mind is that fashion doesn’t limit itself to mere products, fashion is made of incredible ideas of dressing the body, so appealing that you want to buy them; this is designers’ job, and why not if they try to preserve the world in which we live? This is the moment to re-educate the consumer on the importance of conscious buying, from choice of materials to understanding of value added meaning. Somebody could think that eco-hedonism has been a tough pill to swallow also for more affordable retailers in the consumerist banquet of fast fashion, the ones that have always preferred quantity over quality. Even if brands like Zara, Bershka and Pull&Bear gained a not so good reputation due to their skill in recreating high luxury brands collections in no time - even just few hours, they say - they had to put stringent and innovative measures in place that ensure a low environmental impact. Facing the problem of unsold stocks that generates a waste in manufacturing, Zara started creating products in response to the market feedback via quantitative and qualitative data collected from stores in real time, following the principle of the so-called ‚lean manufacturing’ based on elimination of wastage within production process. The fast cycle of collections and fashion shows every other month implement this problem more and more, causing a huge need of production that inevitably originates environmental damage and wasting of money for things that we actually don’t need, except for filling the emotional gratification of impulsing buying behavior. Technology gives a big support to the eco-hedonism cause: fashion engineering aims to find alternative sustainable methods to produce clothes without affecting our planet, wasting money and materials. London based fashion and technology company Studio XO, for example, focuses on the role of body in the 21st Century and the possibility of implying digital innovations to clothes, from flying and optic fibre dresses to interactive clothes and digital bras, while fashion designer Suzanne Lee developed the so-called ‚Biocouture’ concept in 2004, based on the possibility to create living and biological materials by using a microbe to synthesize cellulose for making fibers rather than using cotton plants. Streetwear giants also look at the future of fashion now more than ever: after launching sustainable sneakers made of waste and plastic nets from the sea, German company Adidas started working on clothes that could monitor athletes’ real-time performing, by designing shirts with heart rate sensors integrated. If fashion designers’ challenge is to make green become the new black, by focusing not only on the organic production, but on the aesthetic pleasure for the eye too, fashion engineers’ task is to incorporate technologic improvements in a way that they could not interfere with the manner of dressing we are used to.
Forementioned Oscar Wilde also said: „An artist should create beautiful things, but should put nothing of his own life into them”; beautiful things are more than selfies, no matter how good they are taken. In our troubled times beauty should look at the future, finding a way to preserve what is left in our world; from climate problems to deforestation, while we’re taking selfies we’re losing the planet in which we live every day more and more. Pleasure should be found in good actions that could save environment and our lives too. And no, one thumb up or a heart emoticon more won’t make any difference.
Photography Stefan Dotter