"Teboul is creating and showing, selling items for them to remain unworn, or to grace the cover of a magazine."instagram/loudebetoly

Flying back to Cambridge at the beginning of the term I picked up the German magazine brand eins. Skipping through the articles, one particularly caught my attention: ‘aristocratic punk’ - an interview with designer Odély Teboul on unwearable fashion.

Looking at the pieces presented in CUCFS or shows by up-and-coming designers, one thing seems to be common: the more provocative, unwearable and questionable, the better. Recent years have brought with them a change, as many independent brands choose to construct their fashion shows in a highly performative way, rather than using them as occasions to provide inspiration for the average person’s closet.

Edward Mohney's "camp surrealism" (Vogue) in the Central Saint Martins MA autumn/winter 2018 ready-to-wear showinstagram/flashartmagazine

In her interview with brand eins magazine, designer Odély Teboul (from the brand ‘Augustin Teboul’) comments on why she designs clothes that no one will ever wear. For her, the function of fashion extends beyond the wearable. She is “fascinated by the material, the techniques of the craft and making something new out of the old”. The production process and the creative visions behind the production are what becomes intriguing, not solely the final product. Teboul is creating and showing, selling items for them to remain unworn, or to grace the cover of a magazine.

Teboul is aware of the controversy of her craft: “it really is egotistic, just like it is egotistic to produce music or write poetry. On the other hand, one does not want to live in a world based solely on functionality. Perhaps my art has a value in that aspect?” The key word is art. Teboul distinguishes between the unwearable and the wearable pieces, both of which she includes in her collections, thereby fusing art with clothing under the grand label of ‘fashion’.

Teboul’s pieces are unique and her fashion shows provide a stage for these items, thereby presenting them as more than clothing, but as objects of artistic value. Regardless, the message sent by avant-garde fashion is controversial. On one hand, it opposes brands such as Primark, H&M and the like, whose main focus is production – as much, as quick and as cheap as possible, without regard for environmental consequences.

"It is the manifestation of the natural, egotistic desire to create without restrictions"

Yet similarly the outcome of fashion shows is waste, simply for a presentation of clothes that will most likely remain in a showroom forever – perfectly installed, yet never worn. Or perhaps they will be bought by the rich minority, where the single piece of art drowns in a heap of clothing. From this pessimistic perspective, useless, functionless fashion seems to be solely fueling consumerism in a different way. Teboul acknowledges this, saying that “the grand contradiction of the fashion industry remains: it is based on endlessly selling something new to those that have everything”.

With our current concerns about sustainability and reduction of waste, the question arises as to what extent unwearable art can be justified. Whilst we might not be able to say that ‘unwearable fashion’ engages in the fight against fast fashion and wastefulness, perhaps this is not even the point. In fact, like other designers, Teboul does not focus her collections on the unwearable; she too has to make a profit. The need to sell remains in any industry, and designers use these unsellable pieces as their chance to engage in their craft, experiment with textiles and free themselves from the pressure of fashion to serve a purpose.

Sculpture by Kris Lemsaluinstagram/radiator_mag

Observe it, reject it or feel inspired – useless fashion is forcing no one to wear anything. It is simply the transformation of materials into art. We are not required to understand a modern sculpture, such as by artist Kris Lemsalu, instead we simply look at it without the pressures of attributing a function to it. The main need is the need to distinguish: unwearable fashion does not need to serve a political, practical or environmental purpose, but it is the manifestation of the natural, egotistic desire to create without restrictions. 

Unwearable fashion is visual art, whereas wearable fashion exists to clothe. Brands like Reformation or Veja begun the movement against harmful production, and high-end brands such as Sea NY contest the fast fashion movement. To renounce unwearable fashion for redundancy would be to renounce all art, forcing us to live in a somewhat apocalyptic world in which our awareness of climate forces us to suppress culture. Perhaps, the problem of ‘unwearable fashion’, ‘absurd trends’ and ‘pointless clothing’ is not its existence and purpose but the labels attached to it. Classifying it as art offers it the freedom it desires: the freedom to exist independently, instead of serving others.