Updated: December 13, 2021 7:46:22 am
In his brief but illustrious career, Abloh’s signature sweatshirt with three diagonal stripes became deeply aspirational for teenagers around the world — with a $650 (Rs 48,500) price tag, apparently, a worthy buy-in for clothing that accurately represents the zeitgeist of our times. Abloh’s imprint was graffiti style text on oversized hoodies, an ode perhaps, to youthful rebellion. Or, a savvy move to tap into a new generation that has rejected formal dressing. There is a statistically small but quantitatively large number of young Indians whose parents can afford to buy them the latest trends in Off White, business class air tickets, and custom-made sneakers. Whether they should be, is a matter of opinion.
Putting down that extra bit of cash for a logo and other luxuries, generally speaking, begins later in life, once one is well established. As I see it, self-indulgence, on one’s own buck. It is one of the few privileges of adulthood, blowing up money you have earned, as you see fit. Youth, in any case, doesn’t need embellishment. When you’re bursting with vitality and optimism that experience hasn’t chipped away yet, you look good in anything. If values have fallen in place correctly, the young have an innocence uncorrupted by a need for projection. It’s not important, yet, to wear clothes that make a statement about a financial background. That is the sad plight of middle agers, who need acquisitions to cheer themselves up as consolation for their unfulfilled hopes and dreams. We fool ourselves by justifying expensive purchases as growing discernment for the finer things of life. But it’s always about something else, ennui, or existential dissatisfaction.
Generation Z, unfortunately, has grown up on social media that fuels a thirst for something other than what we have. Historically, there’s been an unbridgeable chasm between the lifestyles of youth and middle age, but nowadays the lines between teenage and adult lives are blurred. They are faced with the same daily barrage of advertisements we are, that insidiously suggest this or that product will make them happy. Considering how difficult it is for mature people to handle peer pressure, the younger lot are not equipped to resist being told what they ought to have. Brandishing the right labels has become the yardstick of self worth too early in life. At an age when exploring the world and notching up experiences should be a priority, the focus has moved to building a wardrobe. There’s an age to covet handbags, shoes and other fripperies but it’s not the early 20s.
Climate change activists like Greta Thunberg, briefly, took the shine off conspicuous consumption. It didn’t last. There will come a time (when the end of Earth is nigh) that the uber cool will look down on shopaholics, but currently, aping the obscenely rich is an international pasttime. Shows like The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives and Succession fetishise wealth and the audience can’t get enough. There’s a lot of dark comedy thrown into wealth-porn shows, almost a warning to the viewer not to take the rich and famous too seriously. In one episode of Succession, the son-in-law presents the Murdoch-like patriarch a Patek Phillipe watch, and jokes, “Every time you look at it, it tells you exactly how rich you are.”
It’s a sermonising cliche to say that materialism and consumerism are terrible wastes of time. That’s something we discover for ourselves along the way. For mostly everyone, there’s a frustrating gap between what we think we need and what we actually need — relationships, a vocation, good health — which are all worth more than anything money can buy.
The writer is director, Hutkay Films