The September, which is to say "fall fashion", issue of Harper's Bazaar is out, and it weighs in at a hefty 468 pages. (Vogue, as usual, is half again as huge.) And as usual, the arrival of the magazine opens up a lot of questions, perhaps chief among which is "Why do I buy this damn thing?"

The short answer: It's fun. Yes, the editorial material-to-advertising ratio is even lower than usual, and few articles have much of a focus beyond "You need this [fill in name of garment]," but the point of Bazaar — indeed, almost any magazine this side of Foreign Affairs or Consumer Reports — is to show you all the latest ads, and in the land of haute couture, or even not-so-haute couture, the latest ads are packed with all manner of high-level silliness. And not even the ads are as far over the top as the featured fashions in the ostensible editorial section. The amusement value of almost any fashion magazine is, if you ask me, positively astounding.

No, I mean it. In the first place, fashion is considered to be one of the primary weapons in the beauty arsenal. Arming yourself with some of this stuff, though, is the practical equivalent of buying used Acme gadgets from Wile E. Coyote's garage sale, albeit at a price that would make even his nose bleed. There's a green leatheroid jumpsuit from Givenchy (page 64) that could pass for upholstery in Austin Powers' car. On page 365, a dervish (I guess) is caught in mid-whirl with her $4095 Dior jacket defining some vague geometric shape. The stern young woman in Cambio (page 273) apparently swiped the curtains and accoutrements from a Wild West saloon in a theme park somewhere. And everyone is a size 3, 5 at the outside, on the far side of five foot seven, and while I'm the last person in the world to object to legs that go on for days, it would be nice if they actually got somewhere in the process.

Not to say that everyone in this magazine is hideous or anything. Kelly Gray, the model for St John's (and daughter of designer Marie Gray, I understand), actually manages to look sort of sultry, which doesn't seem too difficult until you look at the pages surrounding her and see everyone else with the same highly-uninterested, decidedly-non-sultry expression: "Are we done with this shoot yet?" Now I understand some of the reasons why women get bored — over the years, I've done my part and then some to bore them — and maybe drawing four (maybe five) figures for getting half-dressed and putting up with some character with a Hasselblad for the day is high on the list, but I really don't think it sells the product.

Selling the product, though, may be incidental. What fashion sells us is fantasy, and for some of us, fantasy defines the limits of our aspirations. And there are worse things in life than unreality, or than paying $155 (plus postage and packing) for a Dolce & Gabbana denim newsboy cap. (Proceeds to Rudy Giuliani's Twin Towers Fund, so it's not like you're doing this for the sake of a brace of overpaid rag sculptors.) It's possible, even plausible in some locations, to sneer at all things fashionable, to make a point of appearing only in denim and Birkenstocks, but the difference between the fashion statement and the anti-fashion anti-statement is a lot less than you'd think. (And have you priced Birks lately? Sheesh.) Besides, if the couture houses didn't put out this hyperexpensive stuff, we'd never have the cheap knockoffs available to mere mortals who might wear an 8 or a 10. Or a 16 or a 22. And the mere mortal, though she may have a line or two in her face, the occasional vein that isn't what it used to be, and years between pedicures, is at least as plausible an object of fantasy as the typical underfed stripling in Bazaar, with the additional bonus of being sort of accessible. (Not to me, of course, but that's another story entirely.)

The Vent

9 August 2002

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 Copyright © 2002 by Charles G. Hill