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Much Ado About Bling

Much Ado About Bling

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Published by: Miguel Paolo Celestial on Jul 24, 2008
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Much ado about bling

By Miguel Paolo Celestial Published in The Philippine Star, 9 November 2007 The fashion world still hasn’t gotten over its mania over gold, stimulated by Comme des Garçons’ 2007 Homme Plus spring/summer collection. Entitled “Golden Boy”, it flashed gold in shirts, shorts, jeans, shoes, hats and belts. A year after, collections still had remnants of its reign. Such is the influence of Rei Kawakubo, who became famous in the ‘70s by making black the color of fashion, when she defiantly decided to make gold the new black. In a previous interview, Kawakubo mentioned the Catholic Church, Dubai, shopping malls with marble floors, and teapots as references. She remarked that gold for her meant “medals, money, religion, authority and power”, and expounded: “It is very rare, and because of that, has come to denote richness, and then because of that power and authority and of desire and ambition and ultimately success, and Hollywood and the Olympics…” It was gold’s depth of meaning that interested Kawakubo, its multiplicity of connotations. She deployed the color for its significance to society, but not to pay homage; like all great visionaries, she utilized the element to turn it into something else. The invitation to the 2007 show had a picture of a clenched fist, a symbol of achievement in Japan, against a gold background. With the invitation, Comme des Garçons already referred to the use of gold as a sign of wealth and success. Prevalently the practice in previous societies, such displays today are seen as taboo, extravagant and often out of taste. Evidence of this is the term “bling”, which refers to the flashy display of gold, other metals and precious stones in men’s jewelry. The word “bling” instantly brings to mind thick golden chains and rings, multiple rows of diamonds, and expensive jewelry worn big, clunky and obvious, usually by American hip-hop artists, but also associated with gangsters and criminals, pimps, rock stars and celebrities. If Kawakubo caused a stir when she colored her collection gold, men who “bling” do more than offend when they stick gold in their teeth, have watches submerged in the metal then personalized with diamonds, tie their shoes with 18k laces and wear their necklaces like chain mail. But the negative connotation of “bling” does not come from the show of wealth itself, but from its ostensible display. Men have proven that there are many other ways to wear expensive, shiny jewelry unobtrusively, yet certain to attract the notice of a discerning eye. The search for luxury has long since driven gold, together with silver, platinum, titanium and precious stones into ordinary menswear. Yet even so, the mentality of men who wear single diamond stud

earrings, onyx rings, jeweled cufflinks, pearl-buttoned tuxedos, diamondembedded dog tags, or platinum chain bracelets may not be that removed from that of pimps or the mafia. Both types exert their own distinction and claim a level of status in society—to maintain themselves above the crowd. Ambition and desire shine in their jewelry, intent on influence, authority or power. But these were not the symbols Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo intended to portray by her use of gold. “I cancel out the actual meanings of gold by using it as if it were just another color.” As a precious stone, gold held high value, and shared this with whoever possessed it. By disregarding gold’s scarcity and therefore luxury, Kawakubo turned the tables on the “sanctity” of money and success. She plucked gold out of its hallowed nest, removed all the revered associations, the psychology, and the social interplay of envy and competition. “All these things I thought about and then made them abstract, and then effaced all the direct meanings using it as a mere color, as if it were black or red.” The designer returned the color among other colors, and the metal among the ranks of other metals, like placing diamond “bling” alongside glass, beads and trinkets—simply as ornament, because of its sheen and not of its meaning. Though market prices were obviously undisturbed, much was done against the enigma of gold, precisely because the color had been made ubiquitous and therefore seemed less precious. On the runway Kawakubo democratized gold, humiliated it and discredited its snobbery. “This is what is subversive.” Until the end of the show and a year after, fashion has treated gold like a toy instead of a medal or a coin or a plaque, its self-importance all but flouted. Rei Kawakubo has rendered it dispensable, like a bauble—exactly what she did to her gold trend after the fashion world bit her bait and went crazy over it for more than one season. As intended, she quietly left the commotion and moved on.

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