When I was forwarded an email from our founder, Rachelle, with the simple subject line "BRAVO VULGARITY!" I was immediately afraid it was a sarcastic letter from an unhappy reader who found too many F-bombs in an otherwise unthreatening post. Instead, it was a reference to Leanne Shapton's brilliant new piece in the New York Times, titled "The Art of Vulgarity." Her deep dive into the term is thanks to an upcoming fashion exhibition at the Barbican in London, curated by Judith Clark and Adam Phillips. While the pieces set to be included in “The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined," which opens in October, span history (think: brocade from 1750, an Elsa Schiaparelli ensemble circa 1937, boots covered in British pound signs from the 1960s), the perfectly low-brow/high-brow aesthetic is now more relevant than ever. Especially en vogue, even.
When the world's once most disdained reality star is sitting front row at Givenchy and Balmain, rubbing elbows with Karl Lagerfeld, and on the cover of Vogue, it becomes blazingly obvious that the so-called gatekeepers of chic and declarers of déclassé have turned taste on its head. Consider the most coveted label on the runways of Paris and backs of street style stars today: Vetements. “The supposedly vulgar enjoy their art of imitation and excess, of pretending to be something they are not, of performing themselves as different," Shapton quotes from Phillips’s Barbican catalog essay. Vetements famously reclaims the designer knock-off, the Chinatown imitation, and sells it for thousands. Consider the return of Juicy Couture and the early aughts style we all tried so hard to bury. Consider celebrity stylist, vintage dealer, and Vogue-favorite, Gabriel Held who posts daily Instagrams highlighting the likes of Paris Hilton, The Spice Girls, and Mariah Carey. Perhaps, at first, all of our double-taps were driven by nostalgia paired with a bit of irony, but with his over 50,000 followers, Held's aesthetic proves how earnest the purveyors of so-bad-it's-good fashion really are.
Like most good trends, this bubbled up from the underground. French publication La Gazette du Mauvais Gout, which literally translates to "the newspaper of bad taste," dipped into the resurrected glitter graphics of Tumblr back in 2012 and has since acquired over 20K fans on Facebook. VFILES, which began as a social media offshoot of V Magazine, a sort of subversive platform where in-the-know users could canonize the looks of Lil' Kim and Marilyn Manson, has now become one of the most innovative names in fashion, with an A-list frequented SoHo boutique and reputation for being THE cultivators of cool. A couple of years ago, Vogue editors may not have heard of it, but the club kids and fashion outsiders were already bringing it to prominence.
Of course, the complete spectrum of tastefully tasteless vulgarity cannot be fully appreciated if it is not fully embraced. Vulgar could very well be a lifestyle - and a luxe one, at that. Today, vulgar is ordering an obnoxiously decadent shrimp cocktail at a place like the Madonna Inn and then shamelessly taking a #FlashFoodPic. Vulgar is recycling that vintage J'adore Dior tee without a hint of irony. Vulgar is a $4000 tulle-trimmed, terrible '80s prom dress by Saint Laurent. It's eurotrash-chic, it's fur sandals in the summer, it's the resurgence of an obsession with Fran Drescher (#praise), it's Absolutely Fabulous, it's Fendi in a Five Guys, it's the reason I'll never remove my 14-karat gold diamond-studded belly button ring. It's also the following, so bad, so good, so perfectly vulgar must-haves. Bravo is right.