I was never particularly engaged with fashion. Oh sure, there was that period in the early 1980’s when my hair was so feathered, frosted and fab that it would slip out while I slept to go party with Duran Duran. And I often wore bias-cut clothing so asymmetrical that I appeared to be askew even when standing upright. But such youthful dalliances soon receded, and by my mid-20’s I began to view fashion as nothing more than a superficial divertissement of the supremely shallow.
In fact, many of my choices were so far outside the dictates of current fashion that society didn’t even consider them to be unfashionable choices — just “eccentric.” For example, by the mid-80’s, I’d shunned pop music entirely and was listening almost exclusively to a potent cocktail of 19th century bel canto opera, 20th century classical avant-garde, and all manner of music from the early Middle Ages — from plainchant to monophony to those heady heterophony grooves!
Being fashionless isn’t without its downside, of course. Paucity of choice and lack of availability plague anyone whose interests don’t align with mall mentality. But I soon came to realize that having eccentric tastes was far preferable to having those tastes become validated by fashion.
This fact first came to my attention in the early 1990’s when banded, collarless shirts become trendy. I had taken to donning collarless shirts in the mid-80’s after deciding I liked wearing sport coats but disliked wearing ties. Pairing a sport coat with an open collar looked ridiculous — pairing it with a buttoned collar, sans-tie, looked even more so. Turtlenecks were a non-starter. So, having seen some period films showing men in the 1930’s wearing collarless shirts, I set out an a mission to find them. It wasn’t easy. Mostly I was limited to scouring costume and period-wear mail order catalogs (pre-internet days). Inevitably, if I found one, it was offered only in white — but collarless was “my” thing, so I’d order it. Not once did anyone suggest I looked “out of style,” because few had ever seen this style.
That all changed in the early 1990’s when the collarless look hit the fashion magazines. Suddenly, collarless shirts were available everywhere, and in any hue and pattern I desired. It was wonderful, and for a couple of years I felt like I was in heaven — until the fashion tide turned and heaven revealed itself to be a facade for Hell.
Wearing something no one has ever seen is one thing. Wearing something everyone is wearing is something else. But wearing something that’s “last year’s” or even “last decade’s” style is tantamount to having the word “LOSER” tattooed on your forehead in Comic-Sans. I was forced to abandon “my” look because, once the trend subsided, it had become synonymous with “clueless, backward dweeb.”
And this is how I discovered that fashion has a way of destroying everything it touches.
Now, take the phrase “banded, collarless shirt” and replace it with “black & white, candid ‘street’ photography,” and you’ll see what I’m currently struggling with. How do I make a difference in a genre that was once merely an obscure photographic sub-classification, but which has become increasingly trendy, over-done, under-thought and watered-down?
Sometime in the last year or two, I stumbled upon a list of “50 Vancouver street photographers you should follow.” Now, not to be arrogant or anything, but I think I’ve been doing it long enough, well enough, thoughtfully enough, and with enough of a following that my name should have appeared somewhere on that list. It didn’t. But that’s not actually what I found troubling. Rather, it was that a town as small as Vancouver even had 50 street photographers to follow — 51 if you count the guy who didn’t make the cut. But that’s fashion for you. And so, much like the collarless shirt debacle, I’m feeling the necessity to abandon the very style of photography I once thought to be “mine” because fashion has claimed it for itself.
Similar issues hold sway in my music career. Forty years ago, I built my sound on synthesizers, and I steadfastly stood by their use — well after they ceased to be “cool.” By the time I was writing and recording as “Grace Darling,” the grunge movement was in full swing, and guitars (once shoved from the limelight by synths) were back on top. Grace Darling’s use of synthesizers was, in fact, the primary reason the alternative music press gave for ignoring the band. “Synths are out of style,” the editor of one major music publication told my band’s label owner, Woodie Dumas. “Truth is, all our editors really like that Grace Darling album, and we listen to it all the time. But we know our readers won’t like it because of the synthesizers.”
Electronic music is once again popular — perhaps more so than ever. Which is thrilling, because it means I have a cornucopia of choice when purchasing new musical equipment. But today’s trend is tomorrow’s punchline, and synth-based music will inevitably face a swift and vicious backlash. Knowing this, and having witnessed it so often in the past, I’ve opted to get in front of the situation. If the music I create today is enjoyed precisely because of its reliance on synthesizers, then it’ll be despised tomorrow for exactly the same reason. So I’m working overtime to write the sort of music that I hope fans of modern electronic music will dislike. That way, though I limit my potential audience today, I insure those who do enjoy the music actually enjoy it for what it is, and not simply because it’s fashionable. That way, “my” thing can stay “my” thing, and it doesn’t become a victim of fashion whim. I haven’t yet figured out whether this is a clever strategy or a stupid one.
So this is why ULTRAsomething seems to be a little less focused lately — why the photos seem more “experimental” than “street,” and why the music strives to avoid commercialism, when it would be so easy to just churn out catchy, danceable pop tunes. It’s just me trying to put as much distance as I can between passion and fashion. ‘Cause lets face it — the only thing sadder than chasing fashion is having it chase you.
©2017 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THE MEDIA:
“Ab Fab” and “Harajuku” were both photographed with a Leica M (Type 246) Monochrom fronted with an old v4 35mm Summicron-M lens. “Facts and Fictions” was shot with a Ricoh GR digital camera. All were chosen to accompany this article for painfully obvious reasons. “Four Year Window” is my most recent musical composition, and has absolutely nothing to do with fashion — save for it being unfashionable enough that it’ll never be played in any dance club anywhere and at any time now or in the future. It’s also my favorite composition of 2016, suggesting my dogged determination to avoid popularity is beginning to find its musical voice…
REMINDER: If you find these photos enjoyable or the articles beneficial, please consider making a DONATION to this site’s continuing evolution. As you’ve likely realized, ULTRAsomething is not an aggregator site — serious time and effort go into developing the original content contained within these virtual walls.