Belfast Telegraph

Fashion: the industry that leaves us all wanting more

By Christina Patterson

Everywhere you looked, there were sandals. Solid, sensible sandals. But these weren't the sandals at that annual convention of comfy leisurewear known as the Lib Dem conference. These were in a massive room in the City, on a strip of shiny floor called a 'runway'.

The sandals, like a declaration of war, created a bit of a stir.

'It's been so long,' said the coverage in one national newspaper, 'since the fashion fraternity has seen a flat, cushioned, sensible sole that initial reactions assumed this was a rogue pitch-invader.'

But apparently it wasn't. Apparently, there were 'flat, cushioned, sensible' soles all down the runway.

Samantha Cameron, who was sitting in the front row, and who recently wore five-inch heels for a charity walk, must have been quite surprised.

So must Tilda Swinton and Anna Wintour.

They must have been surprised because people who know about these things think that 'flat, cushioned, sensible' soles are the fashion equivalent of an Arab Spring.

But 'an ultra-high heel,' said Christopher Kane, who designed them, 'just looks so old'.

People who know about these things think that the clothes in Kane's show were, as one review said, 'fresh and streetwise'.

I can't really tell if clothes are 'fresh' or 'streetwise', but they looked cleverly designed and nicely crafted and the people who designed them are probably very talented. What I can see is that the fashion industry creates a lot of jobs (1.3m according to the London Fashion Week website) and that it contributes a lot to the British economy (£21bn) and that you need things that contribute to the economy - particularly when you're in the middle of an 'economic war'.

If cluster bombs and leg shackles and other things on display 10 days ago at another show - the Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition - are so good for the economy that our Prime Minister can combine a trip to promote democracy in the Middle East with arms-selling to some really quite undemocratic Middle Eastern states, then there's no reason why his wife shouldn't be an ambassador for handbags and ultra-high heels.

The simple truth is people have always wanted to wear nice clothes and they have always wanted to change those clothes more quickly than they wear out.

They have always wanted to say something about themselves through the clothes they wear, even if what they're saying is that they just want to look like everyone else.

But something changed when people - and not just very rich people - started wearing their labels on the outside.

It changed when people started thinking that what mattered wasn't whether the suit looked nice, but whether people knew that it was Prada and that the handbag was Mulberry and the raincoat was Burberry.

And it changed when even the poorest children in our society, who live on inner-city estates, and often on benefits, think that what matters isn't whether you have clothes or shoes to wear, but what label is on those clothes.

And some of them think it matters so much that they're prepared to smash windows and wreck their future in order to get hold of them.

When Vince Cable spoke about grey skies and difficult times ahead at the Lib Dem conference, he wasn't joking.

There are grey skies and difficult times ahead, not just for this country, but throughout the Western world.

It's a fact of life that most of us won't be able to have the kind of lifestyle that we've enjoyed, or that we've aspired to, for the past 60 years.

As global economic power shifts to the East - an East which keeps workers in semi-slavery to make those clothes with those labels - we'll have to work out the things we think we need to make a good life. And the things we can do without.

If the result is less power in an industry that exists to create a need you didn't know you had, and tells you to throw out things that don't need throwing out, and makes you feel you're never thin enough, or pretty enough, or rich enough - an industry, in fact, that exists to create mass-scale dissatisfaction - then some of us won't be shedding too many tears.

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