Between Two Men

March 13, 2014 • Culture, Fashion


President Barack Obama appeared on the satirical send-up to local access TV “Between Two Ferns,” with Zack Galifianakis to plug (Seriously go sign up, idiots. Sorry if it means you won’t be able to afford that Balenciagaaa, but you’ll sure be happy when you have a heart attack after an all night bender.)

The results were exactly as expected: mixed. (The results for his push for younger voters to enroll in his health care program will not be known until the final figures are in on March 31, but boy is he working for it).

There were those who hailed the hilarity as such: “INCREDIBLE”; and others who declared it déclassé—a tarnish to the sterling silver serious work on Pennsylvania Ave. The ribbon of Facebook posts were endless, but despite the moans of the besotted and the cheers of the captivated, Obama played along gamely—duck soup for a dude who enjoys “House of Cards” just as much as the rest of us.  Throughout his two terms he’s retained a sense humanity that makes us believe that if we happened across POTUS swaddled in a tiny white towel in a gym steam room he might discuss politics, but he also might engage in the gossip of the day. He might not even wear a towel.  Commando-in-chief, right?

Likewise, Galifianakis– no stranger to asking guests crude and uncomfortable questions, played no favorites and pulled plenty of below-the-bent punches, asking Obama if he was planning to erect his presidential library in Hawaii or his “home country of Kenya.”

Long jabbed as the celebrity’s Pres, Obama has certainly done his fair share of glad-handing with Hollywood, hanging out with Jay and Bey, and attending dinners at George Clooney’s Studio City home. He has “slow-jammed” the news with Jimmy Fallon, bantered with Stephen Colbert , and, as of this week, showed up to the GAP to purchase a few normcore pieces for Michelle (a navy blue zip-up workout shirt) and his girls (crewneck sweaters!), and in the interim praise the company’s plans to raise the wage of their employees.

All of this outreach and plugging is done with an informal purposefulness (even though we know all of the stunts, appearances, are choreographed down to the point of a toe), but they nevertheless remain an effective way to reach younger demographics and engage those who find that politics have forsaken the people—or those who pay little heed to politics at all. This is a new era and some get with the times better than others.

The others are those who feel infinitely threatened by this—this being the less formal direction the President has chosen to take his tenure at the White House. Duck hunting is not on his agenda.

The same can be said for Hedi Slimane, now creative director for Saint Laurent, a fashion label founded by the eponymously named French designer who has been credited with not only “spurring the couture’s rise from its sixties ashes” but also “with finally rendering ready-to-wear reputable.”

Yves took haute couture out of the Le Grand Hotel, into the streets, and in effect, between two ferns—or Parisian lamp posts, if you will. He preached the allure of streetwear and proletarian garments (pea coats and peasant blouses executed in more luxurious fabrics), and goosed fashion’s transformation– loosening the reigns of couture from the jeweled hands and Cartier bangled ladies on front-row highs to the inalienable right of the masses. And in this way Yves Saint Laurent became an enduring brand. And Yves, the man, became legendary for his body of work.

But when Slimane took over the fashion label in 2011, his first collection was met by extremely mixed reviews and front row faces scrunched in all kinds of ugly stepsister contortions. It may not have been the fashion industry’s cup of tea- they prefer a 12 dollar cup of oolong from ooh-la-la to a five-cent tea bag from Trader Joe’s, and yet Barney’s New York reported a 60 per cent sell-through on Slimane’s first spring collection. (Likewise, the number of uninsured Americans has dropped significantly. As of February, over 4.2 million (only 1.8 million to go!) people had signed up. SERIOUSLY JUST SIGN UP.) Unmistakably, the clothes had hanger appeal, and so naturally the press snarked that the pieces were “TopShop,” “H & M,” and the ultimate déclassé insult: “Forever 21.” Noses went up (coke probably went in them. Designer folks, designer drugs.) Anything for the masses—or say for the people, by the people—was not good enough, is not good enough. It lacked decorum, they said. And though Saint Laurent will never have the mass distribution of say, the QWERTY keyboard, the clothes are –at least aesthetically—relatable.

Saint Laurent Fall 2014

Saint Laurent Fall 2014

But what is so terrible about this?

Slimane and Obama are equally plugged into youth culture, and as such, neither of them courts the fashion press or the press core in the matter in which those groups feel they deserve. So those on high revert to calling decisions these men make, tacky and cheap– missing the mark entirely. But to find these tactics unimportant or dismiss them is regressive, because even if these men are simply projecting the illusion of attainability, there is an inherent element of community banding together that’s part of that process.

Whether that is over a must-have headband or taking to task the band of crooks on Wall Street.

For too long people have complained that fashion is inaccessible. And for some time, especially when the economy was better, this was OK. Couture houses are meant to be escapist. Couture was (is) art. Not available to the plebs. That’s cool. Gives us something to aspire to, to dream of. And for some time, the President was also as such: untouchable. He flew Air Force One. He traveled via clandestine passageways under Pennsylvania Avenue. He didn’t invite just anybody into his home. But now he’s showing up on talk shows, hanging at the GAP, and refuses to stop being just a normal guy (or at least affecting one) who happens to run the free world.

And it’s this illusion of returning power and fashion to the people that has the potential to empower those who feel like those worlds are not for them. To get them involved. To sign up or subscribe to a way of dressing that doesn’t involve mass-produced crap made in Bangladesh factories.

And though many may shout “impropriety!” this shift feels distinctly democratic and at least temporarily, much needed.

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