“Ugly is human. It touches the bad and the dirty side of people” or while Insta-stars are using it for likes, designers are using it to sell.
Acting as the antidote to refinement with family photography backdrops and ugly sneakers, and new-found uniqueness; anti-fashion shows us that ugly talks.
Miuccia Prada has been using ugly to sell for years. She became somewhat of a pioneer for ‘ugly chic’ in the mid-90s when she literally named the SS96 Prada show, that featured stiff and un-flattering silhouettes in dull shades of green and beige, ‘Banal Eccentricity’. However, as of late, ugly fashion has been a phenomenon on a much larger scale. Fashion houses that have always been considered to be high luxe, have challenged this preconception.
We can all call an ‘ugly’ pair of trainers when we see them. Giant, usually block coloured, clumpy things like the Nike Air Monarchs your grandparents might wear on holiday. From Balenciaga’s Triple S sneaker, to the Gucci Apollo, ugly trainers have become a designer staple in the last two years. Even Crocs, the shoe that everyone loves to hate, have made an appearance on runways thanks to Christopher Kane. Who would have thought Balenciaga could drop a textbook, fuck-ugly sneaker, for them to become the most hyped footwear of 2017.
Rihanna’s Fenty x Puma punk-style, creepers have been a huge success, while the Vetements x Reebok InstaPump Fury hybrid sold out in a matter of hours despite their garish appearance.
The same, however, cannot be said for the Vetements x Manolo Blahnik heeled, satin boots. We’ve gone from crisp white Stan Smiths being fashion’s only accepted sneaker in a world of tiny heels, to geriatric trainers and punk rock era shoes making appearances on high-end runways.
And it’s not just ‘ugly trainers’ that are making a comeback. Remember when matching tracksuits where considered fashion blasphemy? The world of fashion was dominated by the superior class and so those who could not afford to keep up were considered unfashionable. And the optimal affordable gear for the lower classes was always sportswear; which has made a major jump in to the high fashion realm this past year. Sportswear brands like Kappa went back to their 80s roots last year, with football apparel and tracksuits being the main focus selling out storewide, determining how ugly fashion has become so sought after.
Why is ugly-fashion such a success? Is it a marketing ploy or is it just that we’re bored? It wasn’t so long ago that the appearance of a pair of shoes designed to be worn for comfort and athleticism on a catwalk would have caused outrage among the masses. Fashion to most, is synonymous with refinement. It’s about crisp, high heels and couture dresses, and for a while the industry had conformed to this minimalist, beauty stereotype that garners little controversy.
However, in a time when Instagram likes are almost as important as actual sales, ugly talks. A look can be shared around the world in a matter of seconds via the internet and so trends are born and die at a much faster rate than ever before. Things can become mainstream almost instantly, so individuals are forever striving for the next thing that can make them unique. The aim of the game is to stand out. Fashion week street style is the perfect example of this. You often come across street style photos where the subject’s outfit is eccentric and often completely over the top - but that’s exactly why they’ve been photographed.
Whether you like the look or not, they’re the ones that get noticed and they’re the ones whose ‘ugly’ style will be talked about and shared across social media. Perhaps this is why anti-fashion is such a success right now. High-end fashion labels have caught on, and while Insta-stars are using it for likes, designers are using it to sell.
Balenciaga has topped the list of ugly fashion with the fashion houses’ latest menswear campaign, that they dropped on Instagram in December, was as banal as banal gets. Yet the social media buzz it created was through the roof. Many loved the old-school nostalgia that came with the boxy-cuts and wide legged denim shot against extremely dated, 80s style, family photography backdrops.
Others felt the brand had strayed too far from its high-fashion roots. But all publicity is good publicity, right?
The influence of anti-fashion is even translating to the models on the catwalk. Shortly before his SS18 Gucci show, creative director, Alessandro Michele, revealed that he likes his models to be ‘as diverse and unpredictable as possible.’ The rise of the ‘unusual’ looking model may simply just be a result of designers finally creating a more eye-catching and culturally representative show. It’s becoming more common in mainstream media also.
Model Jazzelle Zanaughtti, known as @uglyworldwide on Instagram, has risen to fame for her quirky, unconventional, androgynous style and the idgaf attitude that comes with it. She’s walked for sportswear brand Gypsy Sport at New York Fashion Week, been shot by Nick Knight, and has over 100k followers on Insta so it’s safe to say her Slim Shady buzz-cut, shaved eyebrows, and smudged makeup haven’t been an issue, but rather a look to be celebrated.
Alongside its ability to sell, perhaps an element of the anti-fashion trend is a backlash against the artificial, dystopian world we have found ourselves living in. Everything is manipulated to appear perfect online when reality can be far from it. Ugliness challenges this fascination with synthetic lifestyles. Going back to Miuccia Prada, in a 2013 interview with the Telegraph she described ugly as holding much more potential than beauty. “Ugly is human. It touches the bad and the dirty side of people,” she went on, likening it to a more accurate representation of humanity.
Ugly fashion is a combination we never knew we needed until we had it. Whatever the reason for this unlikely friendship, it’s a brilliant business strategy, it’s damn comfortable, and most importantly it’s bought with it a greater representation of everyday life and a much-needed shift in the politics of the industry.
WORDS: Caitlin Lower