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beauty is pop culture // sex rules the world 

  • KC Faulkner

AVAVAV FW24 and The Gimmick-ification of Fashion.

Updated: Apr 29

Does fashion need to be doing all that?

After the F/W’24 runway show from surreal Italian brand AVAVAV, discourse began stirring online when clips of models being pelted in the face by trash thrown by the attendees blew up online. The issue? The brand provided the trash. Waves of criticism followed, saying that fashion has become a cheap circus filled with gimmicks. Has it though?

Three models dressed as insects
Mugler Les Insectes SS '97 (Image Via PopSugar)

“Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this” - Ecclesiastes 7:10 

Declinism, a term popularised by German historian Oswald Spengler in 1918, has long been a facet of human civilisation, even dating back to the Roman Empire and the Bible. From criticisms about video games, phones, medicine and women’s rights, it has become ingrained in ‘Fuck Them Kids’ culture. 

‘The old days were so much better… back in my day we didn’t have [Insert current technology here] we just [Insert insane and unhealthy situation here] and we were fine!’ 

Parents will say this with their whole chest as they talk to a friend on their smartphone they upgrade every two years, meanwhile they grew up with double-digit inflation, the Cold War, Margaret Thatcher, and the AIDs crisis. Your grandparents might’ve even been in the literal Second World War - it was never better, it always turns out, you were just younger. 

Rose-tinted glasses eventually slip on everyone’s eyes, but fashion, and all art by extension, is a peculiar case that doesn’t quite follow. The older collections were universally good, even by today's standards, in a creative field that is garnering increasing critiques of artistic bankruptcy, idea theft and slews of racist blunders. Runway shows like Mugler’s 1997 Les Insectes collection, the original spray dress from Alexander McQueen - and who could forget Naomi Campbell with a gun for Versace? These are legendary time capsules in pop culture that transcended the pieces, elevating the model into an icon - the supermodel.

A gif of Naomi Campbell pointing a gun
Naomi Campbell for Versace SS 1998

What’s changed? Some say social media was the death of the supermodel, as the internet transformed modelling into an achievable full-time career, as well as moving the accessibility goal posts with the shift in beauty standards (a welcome departure from the dangerously skinny, eurocentric frames dubbed ‘Heroin chic’ by people with coke money). The internet changed fashion from head to toe, and the business approach had to change with it to appeal to a younger audience. Fast forward two decades and models are tripping over on purpose for AVAVAV, show attendees are stealing the headlines, like Kylie Jenner’s Schiaparelli lion head or Estonian rapper Tommy Cash’s absurd costumes, and brands like MSCHF are becoming hot topics over their satirical and purposefully divisive big red boots. Clips from shows that go viral get called corny and accused of social media pandering - the famous style over substance allegations.

Tommy Cash dressed in a long fur get up at PFW
Tommy Cash at Marine Serre SS '24 ( Image via Swan Gallet/Getty Images)

Major publications like Dazed, Artefact, and even the increasingly irrelevant Vogue, have begun throwing the word ‘Gimmick’ around lately. An anti-fashion mob seems to be forming, crying out in favour of letting clothes speak for themselves and an end to the tomfoolery of luxury fashion. Terry Pratchett famously said: “The IQ of a mob is the IQ of its most stupid member divided by the number of mobsters,” but what if the mob is right? Is it fair to proclaim that fashion is now reliant on stunts and theatrics - a claim that diminishes the artistic vision of new creatives? Or is fashion week now just a circlejerk of unscrupulous microcelebrities, who are invited to post the most viral moments from a pastiche of fashion's golden age?

Well, yes! (kinda.) At least, that’s what drag artist, fashion designer, Gr1n alumni and Geish Manifesto founder Cultofshane (aka Princess Pathojen) told me over DM: 

PP: “Because of the internet, brands feel like they have to pull a stunt to garner a following…back then it used to actually shock people because fashion was made for the upper echelons who were the ones buying the clothes.” 

It’s a good point. The average fashion consumer has become younger in the past few decades, with trust fund babies and rich kids vying for drip over a downpayment on a house and an investment portfolio - the hype beast era taught us that. 

PP: “To me, fashion has cheapened because it now needs to be able to shock everyone, not just industry people…the looks aren’t as valuable artistically as they used to be - it’s kinda shit.”

It all speaks to your interpretation of social media and how you feel as a consumer; Whether a gimmicky PR stunt feels like you’re being cheated or you’re in on the joke. In her book ‘Theory of the Gimmick’, Chicago University professor Sianne Ngai relates the human relationship with gimmicks to - say it with me now - capitalism! 

‘Gimmicks are fundamentally one thing: overrated devices that strike us as working too little (labour-saving tricks) but also working too hard (strained efforts to get our attention)’

Ngai sees the negative reaction to theatrics and PR stunts as a consumerist entitlement complex, even though many fashion critics and commentators don’t have the funds or qualifications to pass judgment in the first place. She says gimmicks fill us with a sense of mistrust because we feel a dissonance between what we expect versus what we see and its relation to monetary value. A good example is the MSCHF big red boots (retailing at a humbling 350 American doll hairs) which are foam injection oversized red boots designed to look like Astro Boy’s cartoonish kicks. The internet was furious, not because of a TikTok allegedly showing the $5 production line in China, but because they were ugly. $350 is some people's weekly paycheck, so the idea that a whole week of manual labour is being thrown on some tacky boots is crazy. These are the pinnacle of gimmick to Ngai, simultaneously working too little and working too hard.

This fits gimmick fashion to a T though. The clothes aren’t good enough to be doing all that, which is what people are saying. When in conversation with designer Jayson Ringer, whose teased drops have garnered a lot of hype and attention, he turned his attention to what it is about AVAVAV specifically that keeps people coming back for more.

JR: “It’s an easy-to-watch show, which helps people outside of fashion to become interested in it and potentially get eyes on new designers”. Ringer (formerly known as streetwear brand Skarcity, famous for their star ties) has gone viral on TikTok and Instagram, as part of a wave of streetwear designers being lampooned for gimmickry. He has designed hoodie sweatpants dropping this April, a simple baggy grey sweatpant with a functional large hood in the back and other hoodie details. The comments are predictably filled with jokes and mockery, which they say is intentional of course:

JR: “I try to make stuff that hasn’t been done before. It’s practical gimmicks that are still functional and I’d still be out here wearing them every day If I wasn’t making videos. If you aren’t making stuff that will get online attention, you won’t succeed.” 

Jayson Ringer modelling his hoodie sweatpants
Image @jaysonringer via TikTok

Ringer thinks the younger generation and social media have led to our taste for the gimmicky, “You are what you consume. The 2000s was full of gimmick products so now the new generation has developed a more gimmicky, fun taste.” We have seen this in the rise of the poorly-named Y2K aesthetic revival and, in a similar vein, ‘Aliyahcore’, the eponymous, undeniably hot, bastardisation of alternative fashion popularised by popstar and TikTokker aliyahsinterlude. People want fun, kitsch and vibey stuff which is why brands like Mugler and Marc Jacobs's stolen sub-line Heaven are spending so much time on cinematography and getting the coolest models for ad campaigns as opposed to making high-quality clothes that look good. Even returning to AVAVAV, Ringer seems to see through it: 

JR: “[Beate Karlsson] definitely thinks about the show idea first - the clothes are just there..”

What’s all this getting at anyway? You can take a spectrum of responses on the issue, but it comes down to creativity and artistry first vs realism. If all art is valid then all art is valid. Devaluing something because it’s not to your taste is childish and reductive. PR stunts and viral trends are a form of marketing and fashion is a business at the end of the day - does that not make sense? Alternatively, It’s all stupid and any meaning gleaned by prohibitively expensive pseudo-intellectual theatrics is an insult to ‘true art’; Desperate and shameless social media pandering because you don’t have the belief that the clothes can stand on their own.

In terms of AVAVAV - the clothes weren’t even that bad. It was hardly Plato’s Atlantis, but there were some nice pieces shown that got completely overshadowed by those poor models falling over on garbage and getting twatted in the face by coffee cups. The show was explained as a response to criticism lofted against the brand, with what I assume were fictional tweets scrolling on screens in the background. It’s such a ham-fisted metaphor. Even if the message was about haters, it’s something that has been done to death and shouldn’t have to be expressed via a humiliation ritual of models who have nothing to do with the criticisms of your brand. Nobody gets paid enough for that. Even if they were paid double, AVAVAV can’t have given them more than around €1000 based on what we know about general model rates, which would NEVER be worth it - for me anyway.

An AVAVAV model getting a cup of coffee thrown at her head
Image via AVAVAV FW '24

Great art speaks for itself and shouldn’t have to come at the expense of the model, the product and the audience; All this leads you to ask - who is AVAVAV even for? There are so many great examples of kitschy and boundary-pushing art in the fashion scene right now from Terrence Zhou to Windowsen - would I say AVAVAV is one of them? Not really…

 Are you passionate about exploring the intricate worlds of beauty, sex, fashion, wellness, and culture? Do you belong to a marginalized community and have unique perspectives and stories to share? If so, Nightstand Service is eagerly seeking contributing writers like you! Get in touch:


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