Seeing as it is fashion week here in New York City, it seems fitting to give fashion's addictive features a scan. Yes, fashion gets an entire week to itself here, six more days than those other festivals of consumption, Mothers' Day, Fathers' Day and the birth of Christ. For these seven days of fashion carnival and carnage, thousands upon thousands of fashion addicts are urged by the communications, accessories and apparel industries to flaunt our not-altogether-healthy obsession with sartorial trends, past, present and implicitly -- since what is on show now is "Spring 2010" -- predictive.
Compulsion and obsession, shades from addiction's palette, are on everyone's lips. Designers along with their parent corporations whip up excitement about a style's "hook"; buyers try to predict what their customers "won't be able to live without"; wealthy shoppers try to figure out which styles and items they "must have," and street addicts like myself start wondering which styles they can fake or ignore and still pass as a serious user. Articles, documentaries, live events and, of course, blogs, document the entire process, work-room to catwalk, with excitement, snide amusement and not a little reverence.
So far this year's collections seem torn between girlishness, Grecian dignity and Scarlet O'Hara's summer curtains. I'm seeing fluffy, pretty things, but not anything I particularly want to wear, let alone dry clean or "die for." But, like any fashion addict, an absence of satisfaction only whets my appetite for more of what I crave. I continue to believe that any day now an outfit will come strutting along that can duplicate for me that first rush I got from some now-forgotten Calvin Klein collection -- a melange of fabrics and lines that let me in on the enchantment other women (including my mother) seemed to get from clothes and that I never before understood.
I dislike the puritanical streak in our culture that refuses to take fashion seriously merely because it is pleasurable, but we're all aware that the fashion business, although gentler than cocaine smuggling, isn't a whole lot prettier. Models not old enough to vote are smoking cigarettes, snorting cocaine and starving to make designer clothes hang well; assistants and underlings cower and squirm under the stilettos of temperamental creatives they are conniving to replace; paying enough for a dress to feed and clothe an entire third world village always smacks of heartlessness (no matter how many orphans one adopts), and The New York Observer reports that Vogue editrix Anna Wintour, panicked by recession sales, recently proposed that shops coordinate their mark-downs. She was reminded by Diane Von Furstenberg that price fixing is illegal.
But one's docile acceptance of the darkness of the trade is just another sign of that one is hooked, as is this eternally springing hope of a high. It's well established by now that drug addicts' dopamine pathways - the circuits governing memory and desire -- light up in anticipation of a fix, at the very thought of one, in the neighborhood of a past score, at the sight of the dealer or the dealer's girlfriend, or her new outfit, addiction being, in part, an inability to properly recall disillusionments past.(1) And it is in that festive spirit that I am eagerly anticipating the rest of the week's shows.
Next: Part II: Everyone's a fashion addict - mass market, sub-cultural and ubiquitous fashion -- the delusions that attend the human dependency on style.
(1) "The role of dopamine in addiction is now recognized as critical in anticipation and withdrawal as well. In an elegant series of experiments, Schultz (2001) found that in primates trained to associate a cue with a pleasurable experience (food), increased dopaminergic activity was seen in response to the cue and not to the food. If the food was not then presented, dopaminergic function dropped. Reduced dopaminergic function is thought to be associated with negative affect (e.g. dysphoria). Thus, an individual with an addiction may see a ‘cue' (e.g. a public house, mirror or needle) and if their drug of choice is not available may feel dysphoric, which is likely to increase the drive to obtain the drug."