Every culture has its centre of gravity, every era its ground zero – a vanishing point that everything disappears into and flows out of. Often it’s an abstract idea like beauty, truth, valour, or honesty. And often that quality is personified in figures like John Bull or Liberty, Right now and right here, that might well be Kate Moss.
Last month saw the Kate Moss / Top Shop launch that had been anticipated in magazines as varied as Vogue & Take a Break. We’ve seen this kind of deal before – celebrity-designers with ghost-written collections for high street retailers, (most recently Madonna’s terrible Weimar lesbian outfits for H&M). We’ve had high fashion designers knocking out mass-market clobber causing riots at opening time. This time it feels different – and it’s a lot to do with the protagonists. Both Kate and TopShop fascinate because they scrape across the normal stratification of culture.
It’s a collision of the everyday with the singularly unique, of high style with high street of individual liberty and mass consumption. They are opposites that folds in on product like a Klein Bottle, a non-orientable surface with no distinction between the “inside” and “outside” that keeps on flowing into itself. Counter culture flows into shop counter.
Kate’s career has spun around opposites. She began a waif-like anti-supermodel from Croydon amongst the exotic Amazonians of late 80s fashion. Her face doesn’t give us a beauty of perfection or sexiness. Instead, she has a kind of ethereal translucence that overwrites ordinariness. She’s dressed, posed and framed by the sharpest eyes in town then heads off to swig booze, smoke fags and flick V’s at the paparazzi. She’s like Lady Emma Hamilton cast as a Warhol Factory superstar. She is – if you’ll forgive the cultural punditry – an icon of ambiguity.
It’s a quality perhaps best described by artist Alex Katz. “She’s completely ordinary. That’s what makes her extraordinary.”
And he’s not the only artist that’s been fascinated by her. Along with the hundreds of thousands of advert and editorial images, she’s been muse (and sometimes more) to the art scene she’s been made glossy and flat by Gary Hume, painterly and serious by Lucien Freud, and into some terrible sculptures by Marc Quinn. She’s duetted with Bobby Gillespie and Pete Doherty and pole-danced for Jack and Meg White.
So, after what might be the longest teaser campaign in history, Kate is delivering product. As Peter Saville – who designed Kates new logo says: “She’s a brand. And this next stage for her is the inevitable product realisation of that brand.”. For someone who has been so involved in selling stuff, the surprise is that it’s taken so long.
The product isn’t fashion as derived from haute couture traditions. These are things we’ve seen before (or almost seen before) – on the gossip and party pages of magazines. Their close alignment with paparazzi images gives them a freshness that is topical. Top Shop boss Phillip Greens 3 Million pound deal has bought a snapshot of what Kate has been wearing. It’s an attempt to capture the flow of desire, longing that media images create. They spring directly from an individuals life unedited and unrefined – apparently untouched by the hand of a designer. As though this lends a kind of innocence, free of professional manipulations.
The clothes tell their own story. There are wet look mini-dresses, a striped blazer that rolls hunting jacket into boating blazer for a double whammy of English aristo-sensation. Long satin skirts and skinny new wave jeans. Vests that look like military basics. Silk waistcoats that Dick Turpin might snap up, aviator sunglasses and gladiator sandals. A t-shirt striped with white sequins that leans toward minimalism and graphic logo-centric which nods toward rock band merchandise. There are flat modern textiles that contrast with folksy pansy prints and faux historical Jacquard patterns. It is balanced between the irony of kitsch, glamorous material aspiration and folk authenticity.
It’s a vision of the world that embraces cold futurism through geometric metallic, wet-look shine and historical ethic folk-rustic through pattern. It’s both brutal and sentimental, social-realist and romantic, crumpled and smooth.
The collection embraces schizophrenia of desire with the same ironic fatalism as the concept of mass-producing individuality. The clothes, like the process that created them, are caught between the humanistic and the mechanised.
As a symptom of media saturation, production lines have been retooled to churn out fragments of celebrity lifestyle. This endless mimicry is an escape from the curse of our own isolation. Perhaps the queue that stretched down Oxford Street wanted to disappear into Kate-ness. Not to become her, but to become less, to become somehow undone. We seek celebrity like moths around flames – we seek our own dissolution into other identities and the dissolving of our own identity into the media continuum. By dressing up, we cloak ourselves in narrative.
Certain tribes believe that having their picture taken could steal a piece of your soul. Perhaps it’s the other way around. Maybe looking at photographs steal a little piece of your soul.