The Ordinary in Fashion

Rottingdean Bazaar’s Reinterpretation of Normcore

Normcore’s Wilful Sameness

Since Normcore first intrigued and confused the public and fashion press alike in 2013, ‘the ordinary’ has been accepted as commonplace in fashion. Cutting edge designers are, however, co-opting and testing the boundaries of normalcy to create new spaces that hybridise individuality and uniformity.

The term ‘Normcore’, coined by trend forecasters K-Hole, was summarised as a move “away from a coolness that relies on difference to a post-authenticity that opts into sameness.” The trend explored an individual’s freedom to become a ‘someone’, freed from the need to be new or unique in an age when everything has apparently already been done.

Despite being picked up by both high fashion and the high street, the trend—characterised by nondescript, unbranded, and thoroughly conventional clothes—has been surprisingly controversial for something defined by its wilful blandness. Described by some as a positive democratisation of fashion, others regard it as a depressingly non-creative reaction to consumer culture—a result of high-speed trending placing emphasis on style over craft.

vetements-grey-logo-pulloverThe Normcore ethos of blending in as an act of rebellion or as a more functional way of expressing oneself has survived in the work of young designers such as Vetements, Gosia Rubchinskiy, and Hood By Air—all heralded as some of the most interesting up-and-coming designers in the industry. These designers reimagine Normcore by taking over-familiar silhouettes and garments, which already pose their own cultural narrative, and reinventing them—most notably classic casualwear such as hoodies, denim and t-shirts.

You’ve Been Branded

Vetements and Hood By Air also received widespread press coverage of their use of print, famously sending t-shirts branded with the logos of DHL and Pornhub down the runways of Paris and New York, with Pornhub even acting as Hood By Air’s sponsor for a season. This exploration of everyday branding displays a strong sense of immediacy and glorification of consumer conformity. Appropriation of quotidian logos on the runway encourages us to either question or celebrate our everyday banality. Ironically referencing another brand to reinforce one’s own highlights the importance of branding across the board.

faustine-steinmetzThese expressions of the ordinary within fashion are a creative progression from Normcore’s beginnings, although the reinvention of classic silhouettes and appropriation of iconic garments for effect is nothing new to fashion. There are other young designers who are challenging convention with convention differently. The laboriously beautiful craft-based work of Faustine Steinmetz for example, who has dedicated much of her work so far to transforming denim fabric from the ordinary into the extraordinary. This stands in stark contrast to the immediate utilitarian approach of the more trend-led designers.

The Status of Everyday

Rottingdean Bazaar exemplifies another alternate approach to the ordinary. A design duo made up of two graduates of the renowned MA Fashion course at Central Saint Martins, James Theseus Buck and Luke Brooks began working together a year ago after moving to Rottingdean in East Sussex, UK. Their work combines fashion and fine art to produce clothes and objects that display and distort the ferociously boring and functional. Rather than creating clothes that mimic the uniform of normality, the pair instead use the objects of it—picked from the home, supermarket and pavement—with purposes so practical or images so commonplace that ownership can be claimed by rich and poor alike, making them reference points relatable to everyone.

Starting with their Instagram collaboration, Badgetaste, the pair created an online shop stocking only badges, which captured and preserved everyday objects such as cigarette butts, sugar packets, condoms, and even pubic hair. This whimsically honoured what would otherwise be thrown away, making status symbols out of the products of everyday life.

The use of badges—traditional symbols of rank, membership, employment or achievement—to display dirty knickers and found receipts not only provides these objects with a new, heightened importance, but symbolically creates an offer of inclusion to the wearer and invites them to brand themselves with a playful sense of involvement in the boring, squalid everyday.

Out of this grew Rottingdean Bazaar, a brand that is more a curiosity shop or gallery than it is a Paris showroom. A brand that offers the buyer a less intimidating, more inclusive experience both ideologically and financially. However, the brand also manages to maintain a space within the young high fashion community of London and is becoming increasingly well-known for its unique and mischievous take on fashion and the banal. The brand’s first season took the form of a presentation sponsored by Fashion EAST as part of London Fashion Week at the beginning of the summer.

Rottingdean Bazaar
Rottingdean Bazaar

Held in a basement off Oxford Street, the collection contained both made and found objects as well as a wall of badges mounted onto paper plates. The clothes themselves used classic white jersey silhouettes as a backdrop on which to display the stars of the show—hotel slippers, marigold gloves, beige tights and pressed flowers, to name but a few. This everyman approach to fashion, in which the objects rather than people are positioned as muses, imposes no sense of a specific target audience. It encourages the inclusion of all, rather than a rich and beautiful few. How refreshing to be reassured that, as comfortably as a pair of hotel slippers can sit on a jumper, so too can that jumper sit on any person.

Detritus of Modern Art

Both confrontational and whimsical, this unique spin on utilitarianism and democratisation of fashion can be seen to run close to the underlying ideas of Normcore. However, the introduction of craft and a developed, practise-based approach contrasts heavily with the ‘post-Internet’ immediacy of other brand’s engagement with the ordinary.

Rottingdean Bazaar go a step further, into an almost Dadaist exploration of fashion. The act of combining unrelated functional objects, rendering them purposeless and subsequently redefining their meaning as an art object, originates from Dadaism and is now a familiar language within Modern Art. They playfully subvert this idea, taking objects whose purpose has already been served and creating a new one for them. Rebellion from the ‘Norm’ through appropriation of the everyday and the anti-elitist ‘DIY’ attitude towards creativity established by Dadaism was echoed by the punk ethos of the ‘70s. Both movements resonate visually and conceptually within the work of Rottingdean Bazaar which creates a use for the useless, thereby adding value to the detritus of life.

Contradicting its punk connotations, Rottingdean Bazaar’s relationship to the ordinary also ties in with a new form of conservatism emerging most noticeably in middle class society in both the UK and the US. The growing proclivity for handmade products and food items is a pushback against the immediacy of contemporary life, signalling pleasure in humble sustained effort.

The Everyman of 2016

This conservatism is in stark contrast both with the visual identity of the brand—the pleasure it takes in presenting its playful squalor—and with the uniform concept of Normcore. Could this throwaway craft occupy a space somewhere between the two? The most important realisation of the summer of 2016 may be in acknowledging the everyman and the experience of ‘real life’ in the arts and society. As designers and artists choosing to make the brave step outside of London-centric culture, Rottingdean Bazaar (consciously or not) are addressing this need.

Rottingdean Bazaar Commonality and rebellion against the classically beautiful continue to be recurrent themes in their regular contributions to magazines such as Dazed and Confused, The Gentlewoman and Pylot. Their most recent shoot for Man About Town magazine stands as a prime example. The piece, shot at various locations around Rottingdean, starred performance artist David Hoyle alongside the children from a local arts club. The editorial showcases clothes from the SS17 collections of brands including Moschino and Givenchy alongside the work of the children, including a fabulous replica Louis Vuitton bag made from cardboard and sugar paper. The use of the children’s work, rather than seeming kitsch, feels like a celebration of everyday creativity, something especially valuable in today’s Britain.

This editorial is an admirable and refreshingly unselfconscious example of a democratisation of role models within the typically limited view of fashion. The combination of innocent naivety with established creativity depicts a surreal and humorous honouring of diversity within the ordinary, which is anything but uniform.

Rottingdean Bazaar’s strength lies not only in their obvious talent and craft, but also in their willingness to engage with the normality of real life in a way that goes beyond Normcore’s reinvention of its most practical silhouettes. Their humorous jabs question the role of beauty in life and art and, dissatisfied with today’s norms, are attempting to change the fashion industry from within.

—Roberta Graham, Artist and Designer