Pale Wire (Popscene)

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Last night I finished off a collection of Kennedy Fraser's writings for the New Yorker magazine called The Fashionable Mind. It brings together all of her pieces on the fashion industry published between 1970 and 1981.

Never content to simply present the latest line (though she does display a well-trimmed knack for concrete description) Fraser, a British expatriate, used her column more as a place to take on the abstract ideas and larger trends underpinning the craft of clothiers.

Working in the now diminished tradition of journalist-as-sociologist (or is it vice versa?), Fraser wrote big. She made broad generalizations and drew sweeping conclusions, while also providing furious praise and trenchant criticism, in essays with such straightfoward titles as "Modesty," "Paris," "Couture," Fitness" and, of course, "Style."

Themes recurr -- the politics of dress length, Fraser's disgust with the empty "retro" trends of post-modernism, style vs. taste and art vs. commerce -- but when the fabric hits the floor it seems Fraser's writings are always aiming for insights the reach beyond the superficial, no matter the cut or quality of her subject.

Intelligent, literary and full of hyperbole, I found the collection a real pleasure. Fraser's sort of writing might be out of intellectual fashion right now, but there are few things like it to spur debate, inspire critical thought or prompt self-reflection.

It's a shame she's out of print. But seeing as the author has gone on to write numerous more pieces for the New Yorker and Vogue -- as well as publish another book -- I think that before long a fatter edition will be in order.