Sir Bob Jones

Commentary on issues of the day from the property tycoon, author and former politician

Sir Bob Jones: Fickle fashion suits a mindless mob

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Did this catch on? An outfit from Trelise Cooper at last year's New Zealand Fashion Week. Photo /  Babiche Martens
Did this catch on? An outfit from Trelise Cooper at last year's New Zealand Fashion Week. Photo / Babiche Martens

Once, I berated a girlfriend for wasting money on clothing. She taught me a valuable lesson. "What you don't understand," she said, "is I never buy fashion. I buy classical lines and hopefully will wear this jacket in 40 years' time."

It was a eureka moment, as I realised nearly everything can be divided into two categories, namely fickle fashion and timeless principles.

In my office-building field it's certainly true. There's a safe rule of thumb. If a new building receives an architectural award, then you can be assured that functionally, it's a dog. Ninety per cent of our office buildings in their salient functional considerations are ill-designed.

In my 50 years of involvement I've known only one architect who understood the important matters, David Lough of Wellington. He died, unheralded other than by his clientele, a decade back.

By contrast, Ian Athfield, an affable chap, is fashionably acclaimed as a national treasure, his own house described as an architectural marvel. In fact it's an unsightly joke. Ian's own description of it in a recent interview: an unruly mess. Sited on a north-facing hill overlooking the harbour, its sunny and view sides are both substantially concrete. Need I explain?

It's fashion-following that leads to self-scarring tattoos, an absolute giveaway of a non-independent mind. It's fashion-following for male underclasses worldwide to adopt as role models the West's biggest failures, American black males; 50 per cent of those aged 20 to 30 are in prison.

So losers everywhere walk about with their pants down, a baseball cap on their unused heads, dark glasses and a hood over the lot, night and day and in summer.

When a bunch of New York lay-abouts took up the "99 per cent" cry and slept in the streets for six months or so, the fashion-followers sprang up worldwide, proclaiming, "We are the 99 per cent." Nothing could be more wrong. They are the true 1 per cent, specifically the 1 per cent of society looking for an excuse to do nothing at others' expense, and it's a preposterous misuse of the language when the media describe them as activists - activity of any sort being utterly alien to them.

It's fashion-following for every unthinking lightweight, and sadly our Prime Minister, to protest about the so-called Pussy Riot trio's imprisonment for hooliganism. "Blame Putin" became the catch-cry, as if he instigated their action.

If three untalented American women, wearing balaclavas, burst into St Patrick's Cathedral in New York during a service and pranced about at the altar chanting obscenities, they would be arrested, and in Irish-Catholic New York, you may be sure, they would be thrown into prison.

The same outcome would ensue if, instead of St Patrick's, it was New York's principal synagogue in the world's largest Jewish city. And following their arrest and incarceration, there wouldn't be a peep from anyone anywhere.

"We were only protesting," the Russians now snivel. No they weren't. They were deliberately trying to offend. Protest in Red Square where they're free to. But better still let's have a go in Tehran's main mosque. Now that would be fun.

It was fashion-following to laud the ghastly Assange as a hero for publishing stolen American Government documents. Yet when someone wrote a tell-all biography, he hypocritically whined about a breach of his privacy.

Fashion by definition is fickle. Certainly the clothing industry is dependent on endless arbitrary change. This is harmless silliness of no moment. This year, blue is in, skirt lengths are lower, pants are down, up or off, and so on.

Currently there's an attempt by menswear shops to introduce wearing brown shoes with dark suits. It won't work, and for me it's deja vu. Two decades back, when they foisted grey shoes on the mindless, it took only 18 months to ridicule them out of existence.

In his 1930 novel Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh had a newspaper gossip writer mischievously promoting green bowler hats to the London fashionable set by reporting various socialites he had invented all wearing them. The point of this hilarious satire of 1920s London society was all those vile bodies looking for the latest trend to follow.

Nothing has changed. The passing of time invariably makes a mockery of fashion outbreaks.

In 1887, the Parisian arty-farties threw their arms up in horror when they saw the Eiffel Tower design, even though it was to come down after two years. A committee of 300 pseuds was formed to protest. Today the tower is the world's greatest tourist attraction.

So, too, in London when their literati fashionably sneered at Dickens a few decades earlier. Look what became of him, while his critics - Trollope excepted (although he was motivated by financial jealousy) - are all long-forgotten.

All of this points to a simple truth, namely that fashion, arguably the biggest single factor in ever-changing mass behaviour, is simply subjugation of one's mind to the unthinking mob.

- NZ Herald

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