A Fashion Perspective – Gutter Romanticism

(Info by electronic beats with text by Jan Joswig and Illustration by Dörte Lange)

Forget ethnic, forget gothic, here comes the gutter. Fashion focuses on a new exoticism: Gutter Romanticism.

Gutter Romanticism is the most cynical form of romanticism. It’s not your swollen heart longing for an Arcadia. It’s your angry heart heading away from where you are. To show romanticism for the gutter is just an attempt to escape the privileged class you’re from – and all the untruthfulness and arrogance (or whatever) you hate about it. But you don’t want to become part of the unprivileged world. You just want to shock the privileged one. In a way you exploit the aesthetics of the poor and dropped-out. But on the other hand the Gutter Romanticism is the strongest symbolic ANTI against anything established. You show that you give a fuck.

Generally people believe in the trickledown effect. The rich, famous and mighty set the fashion standards, the lower classes adopt them step by step. This may be true for the Mods of the sixties, who over-emphasized the business suit, or the Poppers of the eighties, who developed their style out of the casual Friday look of Wall Street. People play with the dress codes of a higher class. But there always has been the opposite movement. People pretending they’re from a lower class, from the gutter.

That dates back to the times of Napoleon in France. The Parisian ‘Incroyables’ and ‘Merveilleuses’ at the beginning of the 19th century wore ill-fitting clothes in a used look as if they had found them in the trash. This was the most elaborate form of decadent elegance. High society stressed its love for antique times, high values and the Olympus, while the Incroyables and Merveilleuses pretended they were more into low pubs without any past or future.

In a similar situation – just after escaping violent times, but 150 years later – the Beatniks used Gutter Romanticism for an equal statement. After World War II the kids from the white middleclass houses checked the black ghetto neighbourhoods and adopted the style of the poor, oppressed, but vital black community. Perhaps you got the money – but we got life, is the statement of their ragged cool ghetto wardrobe against their parents. The Beatniks revitalized Carl Spitzweg’s Biedermeier painting Der Arme Poet with the poor but inspired artist in his cold and wet attic room – only in the updated Afro-American version.

The trailer park people, the unemployed victims of the decline of US-American industry, are the blueprint for the Gutter Romanticism of the Slacker movement of the nineties, those students with the bad posture and the holes in the checked flannel of their shirts. Their hero, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, couldn’t stand the cynicism of this attitude and shot himself (at least that’s what the hobby psychologists around the world say. Sorry, dude, I might be totally wrong on that …)

In recent times the western European youth chooses the opposite way and adopts the Preppy style. They enjoy the new pleasures of looking like neat and clean aspirants – without being completely sure if it’s really still a game or serious bloody preparation for the restraints of capitalist society. In turn, this mainstream movement of dressing-up compels high fashion, the catwalk world of fashion, to sympathise with the aesthetic of those who have stopped having any aspirations at all. For summer 2009 Lanvin showed ripped and torn straw hats as if directly imported from the ‘Gammler Look’ (the ‘Bum Look’, as conservative critics called it in Germany) of the Beatniks.

The same season Munich enfant terrible of fashion, Patrick Mohr, invited real homeless people to show his collection “Is the rhomboid ragpicker homeless?“ on the catwalk next to professional models at the Berlin Fashion Week. And the line between abstract inspiration by a group of people and usurpation of one single person was definitely crossed when the mentally ill Chinese bum Brother Sharp became a fashion icon via the blogosphere this spring.

A slightly, but importantly different, approach on Gutter Romanticism offers Gosha Rubchinskiy. The 26-year old whiz kid of Moscow fashion concentrates not on the inner city dropouts, but on the suburb kids. The kids from the projects in the UK, from the banlieues in France, the Trabantenstädte in Germany are under- privileged for sure, but they haven’t stopped struggling to get out of their situation. Here the Gutter Romanticism becomes more fierce and uptight. It’s not the attitude of those who give a fuck but the attitude of youngsters who will fuck anyone that stand in their way to the top. Gosha Rubchinskiy’s Gutter Romanticism is a modern post-perestroika version of the ‘Halbstarker’, the young rowdies from the fifties.

It has much more in common with the Beatniks’ fascination for Afro-American sharpness than with the sentimental idealisation of the apparently contented poor people. This Gutter Romanticism is not flirting with the idea that it’s much greener on the non-capitalist’s side with no wealth but no rat race, above all – as long as someone lends you an old straw hat. It romanticises Gutter Capitalism, the style of kids who have to be tough and streetwise from an early age if they don’t want to get robbed of their lollipops. His shiny sportswear transcends the vulgar hunt for wealth much more honestly than the virgin white collar of the business suit. Perhaps that’s the only way to escape the cynicism of Gutter Romanticism.

SD…to feed the soul!


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