Say hello to ‘avant-normcore’

Fashion moves fast and K-HOLE's term for stylised blandness is exploding on the runway

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This week I’ve decided to add a new term to my tired list of fashion week vocabulary: normcore. The phrase, coined by the trend forecasting collective K-HOLE, sums up the spirit of the consciously bland where normal + hardcore = hardcore normal. It’s boring fashion for interesting people and the self-aware, best explained in the phrase: “everyone is so special that no one is special.” Oh, and it’s trending.

In the often-superficial world of high fashion, this new fetish for normalisation comes as a relief. Normcore hasn’t just tapped into the spirit of the streets; it’s infiltrated the runway too. The proposal of the bland, the mundane and everything average that exists in-between is exciting, especially when elevated in hands of the right designer. But you have to remember, the greatest fashion names rarely just accept a new trend; the truly innovative subvert it. Fashion has a new proposal on the table and it’s best described as ‘avant-normcore’. 

If ‘avant-normcore’ had a poster boy it would be Rick Owens. The ever-rebellious designer put it best when he revealed after his Paris show this week that, for him, “indifference is the biggest aphrodisiac.” Call it sex appeal and allure in the mundane. Replacing traditional fashion models with members of his own Owenscorp studio team, the designer presented a new, fearless and powerful woman – one that you’ve probably passed by on the street. They were stripped back and gloriously average (and I really do mean that as the biggest compliment). Owens even made the monotonous appealing by repeating the same looks on the same models, something that would fall flat in the hands of other designers. With sculptural headpieces inspired by warriors from cave paintings, Owens presented us with a hybrid of the futuristic, the primitive and the bland.

"Indifference is the biggest aphrodisiac." – Rick Owens.

Back in London, J.W. Anderson has been challenging his own version of the term. Every season he presents us with a stylised version of the mundane – something he dubbed as ‘avant-bland’ in his SS14 womenswear press release. His AW14 menswear collection was call centre power dressing for the boys (a mix between nylon and chunky heels), whilst his most recent womenswear collection was made entirely from ‘bad taste’ fabrics like corduroy and felt. As Anderson explained during menswear, the bland – or avant-normcore – doesn’t mean ugly: “I don’t see it as being sexless, I see it as being fragile.”

J.W Anderson aw14 menswear
Backstage at J.W Anderson Menswear AW14 Shot by Joe Ridout

Even yesterday, at the Comme des Garçons show, Rei Kawakubo presented a collection that conceptualized the average. Casual wool cardigans in grey, black and beige were reconstructed on the body to form bulbous and slightly monstrous 3D silhouettes (each one engulfing her models). Via her partner and the company’s CEO Adrian Joffe, she explained that the collection was about the “the absence of ordinariness, expressed by something extremely big.” Of course, the collection was far from the mundane or the ‘ordinary’ – it would be the last term you would use to describe her work – but underneath the volume, the layers and the manipulation of fabric, was something recognisable.

comme des garcons aw14
Comme Des Garçons AW14

The thing to remember is that these are all very specific designers and there’s a bigger picture in all of this. On the streets, Normcore has become representative of a mood and an almost anti-fashion attitude, as Fiona Duncan explained in recent article for The Cut: “Mall clothes. Blank clothes. The kind of dad-brand non-style you might have once associated with Jerry Seinfeld, but transposed on a Cooper Union student with William Gibson glasses.” But how has that been subverted in the context of high-fashion? If it’s not about ‘anti-fashion’ it’s about a subversion of normcore. 

I can’t help but ask, why now? It's not a question of why these designers are channeling this mood on the runway, but why are we – or at least I – genuinely excited by it. Social media has warped our cultural landscape, none more so than in the context of fashion. The once exclusive world has become normalised – shows are live streamed and tweeted in real time for all to see. Like with obsessive celebrity culture – cue the Rihanna storm outside the Comme des Garçons show, where I witnessed a teenager in tears because she had almost touched her icon – our online access to fashion offers a certain sense of false engagement. Fashion will always move in circles and will always rebel against mass hysteria. Is 'avant-normcore' a response to this circus that surrounds fashion? Who needs to stand out when you can just slot in.

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