Colin’s Column | The Great Gatsby and the Epidemic of Pornography Masquerading as Style

In Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, Colin McDowell sees a reflection of everything that’s wrong with today’s fashion world.

The Great Gatsby | Source: Warner Bros.

LONDON, United Kingdom — So it has come, heralded with as much pride and anticipation as the triumphant Roman Legions at the gates of the city, just returned from a great battle. And, yes, The Great Gatsby, has been winning its own battles at the box office even if critical comment has been at best luke warm. Let us say right at the beginning that it is a very poor film. I have seen three of the four Gatsby films made (starring Alan Ladd, Robert Redford and now Leonardo DiCaprio as the eponymous hero) and Baz Luhrmann’s luridly over-coloured version is by far the biggest failure.

Quite what there is in F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel — virtually a novelette — that beats the cinema each time is hard to fathom. It is hardly because of the profundity or subtlety of the writing. Claims that The Great Gatsby is the great American novel are as grotesquely wide of the mark as the claims made for Luhrman’s film. Hemingway, no admirer of Scott Firtzgerald, claimed that the great American novel was Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and it probably still is, but Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel; Carson MccCuller’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath are great books, as American as apple pie, and streets ahead of anything Scott Fitzgerald ever wrote. And, of course, the greatest of all humorous books by American writers, Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, is a classic expose of the period of Gatsby with more wit and wisdom about the attitudes in the 1920s in one paragraph than in the entirety of Fitzgerald’s slight and slender volume.

Luhrmann’s gaudy film with its pantomime mansions and Busby Berkeley party scenes debases what little integrity the original has by corrupting the history of a fascinating period in the ever compelling growth of the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. Its cheap emotionalism and vulgar filmic cliches are in no way an authentic reflection of anything in the 1920s. But it is sure as hell an authentic voice for our times in its lascivious drooling over the wealth and luxury of the attitudes and lifestyles of the super rich. The Great Gatsby in Luhrmann’s version is a fashion story about greed and it entirely reflects the attitudes and beliefs of the high fashion world today. No wonder American Vogue went over the top about it. The whole film is as vacuous as the pages of most fashion magazines. And for that reason alone, it might be worth seeing a few years hence and will probably be looked at by social and cultural historians in the future as a parable of and key to our our own times because this film has little to do with the spirit of the 1920s and everything to do with contemporary living and dreaming.

It is the world we live in now that we are seeing on the screen and one that we, the fashionistas, have been instrumental in creating — a world of excess and self-indulgence that we have praised lavishly whilst encouraging its attitudes and allowing it to develop unchecked by any hint of real criticism for the values underpinning it. Like the fashion world, The Great Gatsby in Luhrmann’s version is about excess and how it feeds on itself and leads to debasement and vulgarity. And that is why I am distressed that the film has already been a big box office hit. But should I be? It is essentially about our times just as much as that other runaway success Fifty Shades of Gray, because both are giving huge numbers of us what we want to see and read. And both have followed the lead of fashion in realising that financial success follows creative excess.

How much of the uncontrolled excess we see round us is the fault of the fashion world? I do not wish to make hard-working people in fashion the total villains, but our industry, from CEOs to college lecturers, has to take a lot of the blame for our social attitudes at many levels because fashion is the most socially impactful of all our leisure activities. It is enjoyed by increasing numbers and there are more joining the queue, ready to pay very high prices for objects that are ultimately expendable, even after a very short life, because conspicuous consumption is the best game in town and, as it requires no skills, the excess it encourages is open to us all. Anyone can buy anything as long as the bank manager agrees.

It is some weeks since Suzy Menkes commented on the fact that fashion weeks have become circuses for exhibitionists and the opportunity for fashion wannabes to stage freak shows at the security barriers of events really meant for the fashion trade alone. Since reading her comments, several long haul flights and breaks in the country have given me time for considering what Suzy said. She is right to draw our attention to the crazed values attacking the fabric of fashion in the highest echelons, in a hysterical madness fuelled by greed on a scale so obscene that it would shock even Croesus on one of his more acquisitive days. The cheese that baits the trap is the siren call of luxury and the criteria for buying fashion are the cost and the label. Taste has no part to play in this world, smothered as it is in sexual imagery of the crudest kind to be found outside the field of pure pornography and fuelled by petty snobberies that would not disgrace the nineteenth century Austro-Hungarian empire at its height.

Although snobbery is reprehensible, it is pornography masquerading as style that is the greater danger because it seems to be growing in excess almost daily. Where did it all start? Why was actually showing the clothes in magazines in a way that they can be seen a technique relegated to the realm of more ‘wearable’ garments whilst the exciting and beautiful creations from the great designer houses have slowly become submerged in sexual and snobbish fantasy that has become increasingly perverse in the hands of some of our technically brilliant photographers? And I am not thinking of the editorial pages alone. The advertising pages, controlled by the designers themselves, are often even more perverse and demeaning not only to women alone, but to us all.

Does a possible purchaser of a very expensive handbag bearing a famous name look at the ad in which a woman is being menaced by anything up to six men and think “Love it. I’ll buy it. That is the life for me”? Is fashion now firmly in the fantasy world of Fifty Shades of Grey? Is the scenario in Fifty Shades really how women want to be wooed into buying expensive merchandise? How culpable is the fashion world in making glamour a fetish and excess an excitement? Who are the people changing our perception of women by their depiction of women? Are we all being objectified by our own stereotypes?

Let’s start with the photographers (and the stylists and fashion editors who seem unable to deny them anything). Like psychopaths left to run free, they rampage across the pages of our magazines pedalling a sinister mix of pornography and salacious infantilism. And let us not forget that it was the photographers who were largely responsible for introducing the child model to fashion, with all the social consequences that have followed. I do not mean men like Terry Richardson who are pushing a jokey sleazy fashion approach, which is no such thing — the clothes are of really no interest in his work — or the fantasist Tim Walker whose fairytale world is again not really showing us fashion but taking us to fantasy places created by his imagination as a personal form of magic with more than a hint of decadence. No, the guilty parties are the ones who produce ‘fashion’ stories for the sort of magazines that are never found in the hairdressers’s or plastic surgeon’s waiting rooms. This is because the attitude to women shown in the photographs purporting to be fashion are frequently sadistic and always cast the female model as the victim — of men or beasts or even machinery. There is no other word for them but pornographic. Poor Helmut Newton. What a sluice gate of anti-feminism he unwittingly opened with his stylish photography of women pictured in extremes. He could never have imagined how viciously certain sections of fashion’s underbelly would wish to debase women in the wake of the style with which a Newton photograph always celebrated their magnificent femininity.

Now let’s look at the journalists, including, I have to say, Suzy herself. I could never understand why she or her editors thought it so important to get a point of view — and usually one of such stupefying banality that only the name attached to it could justify it in any way — from a front row celebrity immediately after a show. And I still don’t. Why would the readers of The International Herald Tribune want a comment from a starlet or an uber-rich customer when they could have the privilege of reading without interjection the opinions of one of the world’s very top fashion commentators? Looking back, we can see that the technique was the thin end of the wedge, influential by the sheer power of Suzy’s standing on the international fashion stage. The practice was taken up by many of her fellows.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, their sort of commentary has been diminished in value to such a degree in newspapers that one increasingly searches hard for anything at all that is written with the authority that Suzy brings. And, for a long time now, written critical commentary has hardly existed at all in magazines owned by the international publishing companies. In fact, most fashion reports (if they still exist at all) are so anodyne, gossipy and boring that they are quite useless to the reader in search of the sort of informed content still available in other arts, where enthusiasm is expected to be tempered by a trenchant critical faculty. And it is that little word ‘informed’ that must be able to be legitimately used to describe fashion writers if they are to have any value

And it makes me wonder about the fashion journalists’ attitude to bloggers. We are all aware that some fear that the barbarians are no longer at the gates, but in the citadel and often sitting in the front row. But should print journalists fret? This year’s barbarians are next year’s savants — in theory at least. If a designer feels that a fourteen-year-old is more likely to understand the show than a forty-year-old, he has a right to give the prime position to that person. And he could be right. With the average age of the fashionista dropping all the time, who is more likely to have the pulse of the moment, someone at college, blogging to friends, or someone over fifty or even in their sixties possibly disenchanted by what they see? But being young is not enough to empower any more than being old is to disenfranchise. Fashion is part of popular culture and can only be assessed as such. Whether we like it or not, the likes of Tom Ford and Dolce & Gabbana have become wealthy by realising that sex for the young is mostly very different from what it was in the days when their grandmothers were young — and they package their wares accordingly, with as little understatement and taste as possible.

So, although many view their advertising campaigns as little more than soft porn, many do not and, judging by sales, enough customers actually find that these campaigns speak to them sufficiently strongly to make them buy. And let’s never forget the major change that has occurred in fashion merchandising in our times. The actual clothes often have less power than the ad campaigns and brand stories. What’s more, the ad campaigns are so crucial to the wealth of magazine publishing that no editor will risk losing advertisers by allowing any critical commentary on the shows or the frequently bizarre behaviour of top designers. Thus another channel of legitimate commentary has gone and journalists are rewarded with treats. It is no accident that the press was once called the Fourth Estate. It was seen as something of value because it checked other forms of power, but that check goes when a journalist spends a weekend on a yacht whether it belongs to Sir Philip Green, Dolce & Gabbana or Diego Della Valle.

The journalists are not there as friends — in fact, in most cases, the host hardly knows who they are — but because the owner’s PR has decided they are the ones from whom something can be obtained as payment for a free holiday. Nowhere is the old adage that there is no such thing as a free drink — or handbag, or dinner — more true than in fashion. And that also applies to the customer who is indirectly footing the bill for the largess, the gifts and the trips by paying grotesquely inflated prices for the merchandise. Even more so, it is a bill paid in far too many cases by the people who work to make the clothes, always with low wages and sometimes in appalling conditions about which every fashion insider is well aware, but is reluctant to comment, preferring the fluffy dream world of films like The Great Gatsby.

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  1. I am in complete, 100% agreement with the case you have made. As a woman, I am constantly frustrated by magazines that don’t provide what I need: tools and strategies to look good during my day to day life. No, I cannot wear a corset and hot pants to meetings. Yes, I have a budget, and no, it does not allow for $1,000 dollar tops. Who is the media talking to?! Where are those women and who the hell said I want to be one?!

    maria from Santo Domingo, 05, Dominican Republic
  2. I absolutely loved the movie. It is faithful to the book, with morden elements which made it pleasant to watch and relate to.

    Leo’s performance was great. Art Deco settings are splendid. Soundtracks are good choices. Story line clear and strong.

    Reading those long fluffy negative reviews is like sitting next to an old grumpy fat English man listening to his endless vent. How can someone write this fluffy possibly label this movie fluffy?

    Movie critics had to be the unhappiest bunch of all.

    Love it from Surry Hills, New South Wales, Australia
  3. THIS ARTICLE IS SO GOOD. You did a very good job. Your opinions are so on point, that I nod my head at every paragraph that I come across. Thank you for this!

    Eleazar from Davao City, Davao, Philippines
  4. I have yet to see the new Gatsby movie, so I cant,put my two cents in yet, but since to see a movie is so bloody expensive, I’ll put my two cents plus, towards something I would love to see on a big screen, Star Trek.
    Mr. McDowell this was a READ with finger snaps on those who have made this industry one not to be admired. American Vogue you had that coming. Years ago, when editorials,reviews and articles in the magazines were the fairy-tales my fashion dreams were made of. Now that I am part of it, I no longer have the luxury of being ignorant to the habits some practice to get to where they are, so they can consider themselves successful.
    I no longer have magazine subscriptions, since most of their features revolve around the same handful of overly expensive designers, and the same adjectives used to describe the collections over and over again. I understand the fantasies editorials are there to create, but in this day in age, it’s about finding the balance within those images, those designer featured, and the stories that will appeal to more of those buying. The creativity among contemporary designers around the world are staggering, with designs and price tags that will put the high-end ready-to-wear gang to shame. Why aren’t they featured more in magazines, within those fashion stories of our popular glossies? They don’t have an advertising or pr team to call their very own. As far as fashion week in NYC, it’s a shame things have gotten so bad, that I would rather hop on a plane to Copenhagen, attend their fashion week for four days then come back, rather than attend shows in New York and deal with the disgusting attitudes from others, the fellow attendees who are there just for show, and not to honestly tell us what they though about the designers’ presentations, and the tardy ways NYFW has embraced. Like I want to spend two hours waiting to see a 12 minute presentation all while standing up.
    Mr. McDowell thank you for such a well-written piece, I’m going to read it again, plus pass it along.

    kalyca Romeo from Brooklyn, NY, United States
  5. While I totally agree with the critique of modern fashion and the “reporting” on it, I do have to question the consensus that the newest Gatsby is a failure. On the contrary, I find it to be a great success, given the gist of the remainder of your article: it dangles lavish fashion and luxury in front of our eyes, yet jerks us back at the end with the true-to-the-book reminder that such a lifestyle is not the be all end all, as modern fashion marketing seems to imply. Without substance, there is no enjoyment. Without accountability, there is no peace.

    We as bloggers, young and old alike, have a great opportunity to balance the fashion magazines and advertisements with “real life” fashion and educated critique. I look forward to seeing more thoughtful critique of the art form that we’ve come to consume as a way of life marketed to our deepest, darkest desires. Let’s bring fashion back to it’s place as a tasteful complement to our truest lives.

    Bekah Gant from Angier, NC, United States
  6. I wrote a 10 page research paper on this exact topic this past semester at USC. I have been trying to find some contact information to send it to either Mr. McDowell himself or the Business of Fashion in general as my own response to this piece.

    Please let me know where I may send my writing so that Mr. McDowell may have a look for himself!

    Talia Tanielian from Van Nuys, CA, United States
  7. This is a great article. I have watched the Great Gatsby with Leo and I have also read the book. Both are visually appealing and emotionally connective. What you are saying about the fashion industry is so very true I am ashamed to admit it. We are all a product of our times and what we can do is make the most of it as it suits your fleeting life.

    Margretta from Perth, Western Australia, Australia
  8. I’m confused by the whole thing. Have these people not read the book?

    Malbonster from Seend, Wiltshire, United Kingdom
  9. Excellent article. Perfectly timed with the case study I am writing about the industry’s desperate need for a 4th estate. We need independent voices to critique- and that doesn’t mean being negative, but simply holding the industry accountable for its actions, contextualising information for the masses and questioning the norm. Great piece, Collin.

    Sukriti from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  10. Fantastic…

    DP from Paris, Île-de-France, France
  11. A provocative piece, which I largely agree with. The phenomenon of editors, writers & other types of commentator courting the views of the rich & socially influential and revelling in their displays of excess, is long standing as French gazettes from the 18th century, remarking on Marie Antoinette’s raiment, reveal. Does Luhrman’s giddy epic hold a mirror up to twenty-first century mores, or human nature more generally?

    Ben Wild from United Kingdom
  12. Sharp and 100% accurate analysis.
    My own thoughts, just better explained.
    Respect, Mr.McDowell.

    Elisa from Europe
  13. Grateful for this article. Fashion is about more than simple consumption – fashion, in a sense, ceased to be relavent about the same time we became mere consumers, rather than citizens.

    Matt from Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand
  14. wait a minute and the style ur mamma worn will be in style.This is just repeating fashion from years gone by…luv it!

    Linda Merchant from Broadus, MT, United States
  15. I thought the movie was an excellent take on The Great Gatsby bringing it bang up to date for a modern audience. The novel is a tiny snapshot of an era seen through the eyes of an excellent writer (Fitzgerald) who gives his perception of the 1920’s. I believe it does not define the whole decade and what it stood for, no more than Gatsby was intended to. Luhrmann has created an authentic film that depicts the novel and the moment in time beautifully. I totally disagree that Baz Luhrmann has created a fluffy dream world of a film, apart from the white billowing curtain scene intended as exactly that. Gatsby is a hopeless romantic striving for perfection obsessed with reinventing the past to get the girl. A camp fake he may be, but he is not fluffy. He is excessive to the point of repulsive until you are pulled into the terrible sadness of a man who fell in love with the girl he can’t have – poverty/wealth divide. Not a new story or one that is particular to the 1920’s I might add. What is particular is the celebration of life seen in the Jazz age, coming from a war to end all wars. Who would not want to dream and party a little after the Great War? Baz gives us fast cars, booming hip-hop jazz and bold colour, which are far from fluffy. The fact that Gatsby spectacularly fails because wealth and status cannot be bought in the 1920′s according to Fitzgerald is the message Baz Luhrmann succeeds in portraying strongly. Therefore I fail to see how the 1920′s have been in-authentically portrayed? Perhaps the challenge with The Great Gatsby is that we are told it has defined a decade and that Gatsby has defined and touched us in a way other Characters only dream of doing and thus influenced our future according to some writers and critics. But then is it a great novel because of what the literary collective who matter want it to say or be? Rather like the fashion world, is it fake, like Gatsby because we are fed a snapshot of what an industry collective have decided? I agree whole-heartedly with your opinion of the fashion Industry. What a breath of fresh air you have blown in. I am so tired of the super glossies, gushy accolades and editorial space for the same old designers in every magazine you pick up. In part a major reason why bloggers have become so popular, because they are feeding a style hungry crowd sick of being fed the latest LMVH catalogue of designer wares. What I want to see is a creative mix of a cross section of designers (sustainable as well as not) styled and worked together to offer an accessible look. But then who would buy the advertising space that keeps these magazines going? I imagine this is the million-dollar question. Some journalists do stick their neck on the line and critic well, Tim Blanks on occasions for one. But in the main you are totally right the industry is mute when it comes to debate and fails to portray the modern needs of the fashion aware consumer. I work in the fashion business as a trend forecaster and blogger, I have worked on the supply side and consulted for leading high street retailers, fashion media has needed an over haul for the last ten years, lets hope you will kick start the change.
    A great article thanks so much! Deborah Campbell

    Deborah Campbell from Romsey, Hampshire, United Kingdom
  16. It is somewhat ironic that you, McDowell, criticize the fashion world for creating a bandwagon and keeping fashionistas on it (isn’t that the nature of any industry – the constantly redraw their customers?) when you yourself have just clearly lectured from atop the sensationalism bandwagon you claim to disdain. Why do you need to cloak your critique of fashion media in an attack on Luhrmann’s Gatsby? Because that’s what everyone else is doing and you perhaps figured you’d get more eyes on your article that way. Welcome to the gerbil wheel, my friend. You are on it with the rest of us.
    I agree with many points in regards to the self-fed monster that is fashion (I myself have spent a 1.5 decades in that industry), and I certainly agree that letting the bizarre parade of tasteless “fashion” exhibitionists troll around outside fashion events cheapens the integrity of the work inside the tents. But who’s going to stop it? Fashion has done such a great job of luring the eyes of the masses with seduction and mystery all these years, and now that social media gives every single voice a vote and a way in, the mob of the masses is banging on the gates.
    It won’t go away until consumers crave integrity and the joy of NOT being an insider. And it is happening, slowly. The innovators are already done with this scene. But then of course, that’s just the mob moving in a different direction. And if I know the fashion industry, we’ll figure out a way to be there too.

    RL from Beverly Hills, CA, United States
  17. I agree with most of what you’re saying here, however, this is not the case for all realms of fashion. I am in my final year of a fashion degree, at a very good school in Melbourne. We are taught to think outside the box of mainstream fashion conventions, in terms of marketing, design, construction and production. This article makes my heart ache, as I am part of a community of designers who genuinely care about the consumer and design with sustainability and longevity in mind. We are against fast fashion, the use of sweatshops, plagiarised designs and poor quality materials and finishes. We are not part of these big money-making corporations, obsessed with youth and unattainable beauty, whom give fashion students/designers a bad name.
    What I am saying is, you’re right, this is how “luxury” labels and commercial labels run their businesses – it’s about money, glamour and ridiculous ideals. However, please don’t generalise. There are people in fashion that care and believe in beautiful, well-thought-out and functional design. And this is what our “college lecturers” teach us – most of whom are designers themselves, in successful and sustainable practices.

    Alice from Northcote, Victoria, Australia
  18. Don’t you dare to compare Terry Richardson to Helmut Newton! The former is just plain sleazy a**hole and the latter is the God of fashion photography!

    DC from Bonn, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
  19. The points made were astute and relevant but the article itself is disorganised and more than a little garbled. For example: the photographers who are not Terry Richardson and Tim Walker who are crudely sexualising fashion are called…? What are their names? For someone who critiques the fashion press for their reluctance to be critical you seem to be being quite cautious yourself, even the midst of this fairly bold article.

    I think as an article it could have done with better pacing and paragraphs but in spite of this the points you made were apt. I take you to task for not naming photographers purely because evidence backs up an argument and the lack of such weakens it. You do make a sweeping reference to Tom Ford and co but that is in parallel to 50 Shades and about profit and pleading the masses.

    I really think this could have done with a thorough edit — it’s probably more the editor’s fault that yours. They should have given it more structure.

    Anyway I look forward to reading your next.

    Vanessa from Benfleet, Essex, United Kingdom
  20. This is an eye-opening and enlightening piece of writing. Colin in all of his writings presents excellent critiques of the ‘business of fashion.’
    However, I would challenge him to present courses of action or solutions to the current state state of affairs…

    Anthony from Halethorpe, MD, United States
  21. More drivel from fashion’s great old whiner.

    Mr. McDowell contends that The Great Gatsby is representative of the world’s recent descent into a shameful obsession with the consumption of extremely affluent, or, as he puts it, “lascivious drooling over the wealth and luxury of the attitudes and lifestyles of the super-rich.” Clearly he is forgetting that the opulence of elites has been captivating everyday folks long before Louis XIV, especially so in that land of “temporarily embarrassed millionaires”, the USA. The obsession with celebrities’ clothing is only a tiny part of the world’s fascination with what the wealthy own – Forbes magazine is pretty short on style-related content, one is far more likely to read about real estate, yachts, art, cars and antiques.

    As Mr. McDowell writes, The Great Gatsby contains a powerful warning against excess “and how it feeds on itself and leads to debasement and vulgarity” – it does not seek to extoll its virtues. When one compares the current climate regarding consumption consumption to that of the ‘80s or the internet bubble years, surely we are experiencing a swing towards philanthropy, compassion and modesty. This sort of context is naturally lost on our cranky, cantankerous columnist.

    The contention that “fashion is the most socially impactful of all our leisure activities” is surely absolute nonsense and indicative of the blinkered workd Mr. McDowell inhabits. How is fashion a “leisure activity”? It certainly isn’t by conventional definitions. Does he think that the entire world spends their time shopping at boutiques and watching fashion shows? In terms of its impact vs. other applied arts, surely consumption of film, TV, music and video games have a far greater impact on the collective consciousness than fashion advertising, which is the target of Mr. McDowell’s bile this time around.

    But before launching on this attack, the illustrious author opts to take a snipe at bloggers, whose “crazed values” are “attacking the fabric of fashion in the highest echelons”. Let’s assume that the highest echelons are Mr. McDowell, Suzy Menkes and their ilk – the editors and critics, almost all of whom hail from privileged backgrounds and enjoy well salaried positions at prestigious publishing companies. Bloggers? How dare these impudent creatures, “fuelled by greed” challenge the traditional hierarchy of the fashion world? Of course they couldn’t possibly have any taste – their “criteria for buying fashion are the cost and the label”. And, as despicable arrivistes, naturally they are assumed to be “fuelled” by petty snobberies. But Mr. McDowell gives himself away as the biggest snob of all.

    As for the rant about quasi-pornographic advertising, perhaps our frumpy Scottish wordsmith friend has forgotten what it is like to be turned on by an image. To use the old cliché, sex sells – it always has. As society becomes gradually more liberal, boundaries are indeed shifting, but what is seen in magazines today is hardly that much more shocking than the work of Guy Bourdin or other Robert Mapplethorpe.

    The content of advertising is strictly controlled in almost every nation. In Mr. McDowell’s native Great Britain, a Marc Jacobs ad featuring Dakota Fanning was banned as being “provocative”. Does he suggest a further tightening of regulations? It is highly unusual to hear this sort of opinion from the sort of person who is supposed to serve as a champion of creativity and self-expression.

    The contention that fashion magazines are sycophantic and afraid to criticize advertisers is hardly revelatory. Thank goodness we have newspaper critics. Oh, and those nasty greed- and snobbery-fuelled bloggers. There is far more criticism of fashion today than ever before, but much of it is to be found in dirty places that snobs don’t care to investigate, such as the internet.

    Mr. McDowell is clearly unafraid to bite the hand that feeds him, for his attack on the practices of magazines, high margins on luxury goods and the conditions of factory workers constitute a direct assault on the very foundations of the fashion business. If one took his railing against greed, advertising and the exploitation of the proletariat to its logical conclusion, he is arguing for a dismantling of the system that has long since been the source of his livelihood.

    FedUpWithColin from Tokyo, Tōkyō, Japan
  22. the article is great,

    however, the comments on the great gatsby are to some degree very true. I am sure the watchers of the film were aware that the vast majority of the film was funded by the brands formally known as 360 marketing. (there was an article written in the evening standard suppliment a few weeks ago) they were involved in the design of the fashion and to some degree the scenes and how they were portrayed. hence the product placement and advertising before and after the release.

    I think modern society is some what flawed in regards to defining success based on how much money a film takes in. the amount of times i have seen a film based on pure hype and then deemed it rubbish after i have spent money to view it is quite often. do box offices figures deem a film to be a sucess, my answer is no. we also have to consider that the fashion brands that were involved in the great gatsby did hell of alot of marketing and pr prior to releasing the film, hence the combined audience equals a very large income for all. is this what you regard as a great film?

    in regards to images and sexualiasing of fashion has become so common, through small doses, slowly but slowly increasing our tolerance level. we are to blame because the questionably concerns we once had now have become so in your face, you have no solution but to keep quite as you may be seen as being prude. when celebrities become famous for sex tapes, why wouldn’t fashion brands use the same tactics?

    as for bloggers, interesting because in theory the magazines are now aware that their own voices are some what redundant, so they intise bloggers, with the lure of supper blogger stardom, with the endorsement of brands and very shrud marketing techniques, who to some degree become the new channel to advocate their brands. Are bloggers really independent?

    but at the same time it is lazyness on the magazines part, as they are not focused or welling to create intelligent content for their everyday customers. who spends a vast majority of her time confined by corporate definition of style and fashion standards, so she has two days per week, give or take 3 weeks holiday for her to express her individuality via fashion, but the likelyhood that she will be ravished by a group of men in an all exposing outfit, at a pent house party adorned with diamonds, is what they think you find aspirational.

    what can we do to change? now that would have been an interesting conversation, we are all aware of the problem but their is no real forthcoming solution to the situation, that I can see the author coming up with. you have created a conversation that most people have thought, nor had the confidence to say out loud. so in some degree you will be chastised by the same peers you wish to embrace and to another degree you will be praised for your narrative and you never know a knew style of branding.

    personally, I think BOF has created the platform for intelligent content for consumers and brands, without being bogged down with trend driven throw away fashion and or content

    my solutions
    sustainable fashion
    brands being more transparent

    krissi from Sudbury, Suffolk, United Kingdom
  23. Sharp, excellent article. So many points that I agree with especially on the portrayal of women.
    And yes! Anita Loos ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ knocks Gatsby out the ring for its portrayal of that period.

    Tonya from Chelmsford, Essex, United Kingdom
  24. Brilliant, intriguing, disturbing.

    Lisa from New York, NY, United States
  25. You describe in a perfect way how I feel about the direction that fashion and fashion advertising have taken in the last decade. I thought that surely I was the only one who felt this way. How reassuring to see that intelligent, competent and well informed people share my opinion!

    Julie, Toronto, CA from Toronto, ON, Canada
  26. First I was not sure if this was a literary review, film review, or review of fashion and its state in the world. I stopped reading in the middle because it sounded like you were blaming the fashion industry for the worlds’ excess behavior. Then I stopped. That is a bit over the top and a bit industry righteous. But I can agree that certain industries become over the top and self serious with too much vacancy. I came across this in the film industry after 14 years and left it in the rear view mirror never looking back. So I feel your pain there. But I never thought that the film industry was responsible for the worlds excess and it probably has more impact on people than fashion. For just 10-15 bucks you can disappear into a film and come out on fire, not spend thousands on a piece of apparel.

    Regarding the film, it was supposed to be a charicature of the book, and the era, like Luhrmann’s other period directions like Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet. It is supposed to be theatre, which sounds like what is being said in this article.

    AG from New York, NY, United States
  27. This piece is refreshing in bringing a serious bit of introspection to the performance of the Fashion Press. Now, whether it will have any lasting effect is another story.
    Secondly, I found the subject of the bloggers and their relationship to fashion a good point. It is exciting to get some many perspectives coming out each day. No surprise that some blogs will lack a true point of view, parroting current fashion art direction/thought. But on balance, they are injecting more life into fashion coverage and giving a voice to more people. In other words, the culture is alive and evolving.

    jeff from Providence, RI, United States
  28. Insightful. Thank you for this piece.

    Gary from Allendale, MI, United States
  29. I couldn’t agree more with the writer.
    On another note, I was struck by Luhrmanns’ affectations while on the red carpet this past February.

    Flamery and frippery.

    Barbara416 from Toronto, ON, Canada
  30. I’ll agree and say that this is a well written article but I completely disagree on many points starting with – “How culpable is the fashion world in making glamour a fetish and excess an excitement?”

    It is a fetish and excess can be exciting. I’m not saying that the author of this article is “wrong” in what they have said. It just represents an articulate attitude of dislike.


    Fabio de Zine from Miami, FL, United States
  31. I hope Cathy Horyn got a mention in this! She’s one of those rare people in fashion media who speaks her mind; so is Robin Givhan! They are a pleasure to read among the hyperbole of salivating fashion writers and bloggers.

    Vic from Mumbai, Mahārāshtra, India
  32. This would have been a great critique of fashion photography if it didn’t start with an unrelated rant about Gatsby.

    Allie from Bethel, CT, United States
  33. Great food for thought. In addition to your point about greed being the lowest form of expression, I frequently wonder whether ad campaigns and print have grown to such excess as a result of globalization and the move East of the majority of fashion manufacturing. It seems that the Western world has recognized that by now its only contribution to fashion is of the “intellectual” variety (ads, marketing, maybe some distribution) and is grappling with the loss via overcompensation.

    Parker - Boardroombelles from Jena, Thuringia, Germany
  34. If, as you say, (and I agree) that “The Great Gatsby in Luhrmann’s version is about excess and how it feeds on itself and leads to debasement and vulgarity…” then why do you spend an entire article condemning he (and Fitzgerald, for that matter) for doing exactly what you’re setting out to do (write an article about how excess feeds on itself and leads to debasement and vulgarity)? It seems that if you really want to strike a chord with your audience, AGREE with THE GREAT GATSBY rather than demean its premise, which again, happens to be very similar to yours.

    Brian Moll from New York, NY, United States
  35. Hello Colin, I have responded more fully in two of my own blogs to your blog, if you are interested please take a look. I believe you have raised some uncomfortable arguments in your piece and I agree largely with the fashion aspect and disagree entirely with your opinion regarding The Great Gatsby. I plan to write a 3rd blog about pornography. You have certainly got me going! Thanks for an inspirational point of view and one that I hope is taken seriously by all of us who can change. Deborah Campbell.

    Deborah Campbell from Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom
  36. It’s fantastic that bonafide fashion people are venting their thoughts in black and white. Wow! so many angles to chew on Mr mcDowell ! That the system should finally be ripping at the seams…from the inside. Is this a sign that there is hope for its future? Or is this a changing of the guard ? It is evident from the trailers that this Gatsby is a reflection of current times, right down to the out and proud branding exclusives such as in the case of Prada who designs costumes for a film, as I understand it as a sponsorship deal in return for exposure and positioning currency. That is evermore the fashion world today, and music, film and print media. A fusion of the creative industries who help each other out at all phases from creation to crucial steps of marketing and distributing images and products. At 15 I believed every image I saw in Vogue to be gospel and I was hooked.(still am, tho’ at a safer distance) Much like smoking. Since the eighties fashion from the inside and as it appears has applauded excess and has gone looking for it & has wanted to display it for all to know about. Because the more excess, the more status. Anyone remember Karl Largefeld’s iceberg hauled in from Greenland to Paris for a catwalk show?? ( With all the concerns about icecaps melting wouldn’t it have been better to leave it there? but fashion never cares )
    To be extremely wealthy is the only criteria to being chic it would seem. As for the objectified portrayal of women in fashion imagery, don’t get me started! Hugely hugely influential, particularly for young women and men, fashion images offer an alternative to anyone , particularly teenagers, to escape the humdrum-ness of normality. In the ongoing quest so many of us experience particularly when we are young, in the search of our own identity, position in society, the psychology of appearance etc -
    Fashion imagery plays a key role in all of this. Takes one by the hand and down the garden path. It’s not all bad but there’s alot that’s f**ked up.
    What the industry has now become for those operating within it is one thing I think though that from the outside there will always be people with aspirations who want to indulge in escapism, people insecure in their provenance who will feel more part of ‘the club’ if they own a so&so keyring or wallet. Effectively there will always be people to buy into the dreams that fashion(and not only) merchants propose.Reality of the day to day is often boring.
    Some decades ago big business moved in and the whole system got rarked up a few notches. Not to mention celebrities muscling in on designer turf. These days in my spare time I teach and it is very hard to look into the eyes of students and not see them as foot soldiers eager to be off to the battlefields. The more fashion industry insiders write, debate & speak out the more unacceptable practices will be out in the open – and one can only pray that fashion
    credentials and currency will be reliant on ethical operations and mentally healthier imagery….it is hard to imagine today.

    lise lite from Kerikeri, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
  37. “Whether we like it or not, the likes of Tom Ford and Dolce & Gabbana have become wealthy by realising that sex for the young is mostly very different from what it was in the days when their grandmothers were young — and they package their wares accordingly, with as little understatement and taste as possible.”
    Why shouldn’t Tom Ford and Dolce & Gabbana get rich by noticing that the nature of sex has changed. Isn’t that what designers do at their best? Show the nature of the time they are living in. (Thank god sex has changed. Especially for women. They can actually start enjoying it without guilt.)
    Also, why should they be understated, why shouldn’t they scream it?

    andrew woffinden from London, London, United Kingdom
  38. Wow! I never realised any of these thing in fashion magazines, or in the way that ad campaigns are made. It is sad to see that this is how things are. In some instances it has been basically impossible to find something that really informs on fashion.

    Aileen Gutierrez from Wuhan, Hubei, China