Daria Strokous was having her lips painted rouge by Fashion Unfiltered beauty editor-at-large Vincent Oquendo when I began interviewing her about the perils of excess. We were sitting in New York’s Milk Studios, surrounded by heaps of fashions, furs, diamonds, and armed guards (because, well, diamonds). Given that environment, and the people talking—a top model who’s stomped the runway for everyone from Christian Dior and Versace to Tom Ford and Rodarte, and a fashion editor with an overstuffed closet—our conversation felt more than a little ironic.
In our defense, our extravagant trappings were mere props (albeit fabulous props) that would be used to make a point. We were on set with photographer Sarah Silver and creative director Miles Skinner, who were shooting the above film, Self-Inflection, which happens to be Strokous’ debut as Fashion Unfiltered’s art director-at-large. The concept for the flick? A luxury overdose. “[My character] starts getting gifts and tokens, and I love them and want more and more. I can’t stop myself. But then at some point, I forget who I am and what really matters. And then it’s too late,” she explains. “But then, at the end of the video, it’s as if she gets a second chance. If you were given a second chance, would you do the same thing all over again?”
I wonder how today’s street style stars, social media mavens, and even designers would answer that question in a decade’s time. As a response to the warp speed of society—fostered by the Internet—fashion is moving faster and producing more than ever before. Creative directors are burning out, insiders are planning their lives around Snapchat and Instagram, and all too often, creativity is swapped out for quantity. I’m reminded of Hussein Chalayan’s Spring 2009 collection, which featured rotating models in aerodynamic dresses printed with crushed cars. “It’s about the speed in our lives, and how it can only result in a crash,” he told the former Style.com of his show. How much longer can the fashion industry move forward with this more more more, now now now attitude? A crash may indeed be inevitable.
“I’ve had thoughts about excess for a while,” Strokous continues. “Today, everybody’s a photographer. Everybody’s a model. If you could be a dentist just because you have a social media account, I’m sure there would be a million dentists, too. I feel like we’re abandoning the idea of craft.”
The popularity of social media has led to the rise of Instagram-friendly shows whose garments, sets, and front rows are more about “likes” than fashion. And with so many seasons to keep up with—Pre-Fall, Fall, Resort, Spring—is there even time to employ true craft and innovation? “Some designers do six collections in a year, and that means that they can’t be creative anymore. I mean, you cannot possibly sit down every day and spill designs on paper,” insists Strokous. “It’s all about ‘more’. The more handbags you sell, the more followers you have, the more It girls you can get, the bigger you can make your store…I feel like it’s a hamster wheel that started moving too fast and now it can’t stop.”
In addition to brands producing more, it seems that consumers feel they need to buy more. “A hundred years ago, you weren’t shamed for having maybe three beautiful dresses. Now, you don’t even consider wearing the same dress. We are drowning in things,” says Strokous. And when someone in the public eye does dare to re-wear an outfit, they’re mocked in the press. Take Kate Middleton, whose penchant for recycling dresses earned her the nickname “Thrifty Kate.” Never mind the fact that the bulk of those dresses were by luxury labels like Alexander McQueen, and likely cost a very unthrifty four figures.
But how does one working in our industry—an industry that counts on consumption to survive—reconcile her adoration for fashion with her disdain for excess? For starters, the focus should be on quality, not quantity—and that goes for designers (do we really need 50 looks in every collection?) as well as shoppers (maybe buy one beautifully made top, instead of five fast fashion versions). There’s also something to be said for living in the moment, and enjoying the creations we put on our bodies. Not everything needs to be photographed for Facebook and then swiftly thrown in a pile in the closet. Fashion is emotional, and if we think about and embrace how a garment makes us feel, perhaps the thought of wearing it more than once won’t seem so repulsive.
“I love fashion,” professes Strokous. “I don’t think I’d be happy wearing the same outfit everyday. Fashion is a big part of me. But now it’s so much about promotion, promotion, promotion,” she explains. “That’s not why I got into it. I started modeling because I liked being on the runway in a beautiful dress, and enjoying the beauty, the quality, and the fabric in that moment. It has nothing to do with the fact that millions of people might see me on some dotcom.”
A smile creeps on to Strokous’ face as she begins to recall the beaded black and mesh Versace gown she recently wore to a Golden Globes after party. “I remember walking around and thinking how much I enjoyed that dress. Someone passed by and said, ‘You look gorgeous in that gown,’ and that was cooler than all the people who wrote to me on Instagram because it was personal,” she pauses. “That was enough for me.”