May 25th – The Cooperative Fashion Show

If it is sunny today, brilliant bright light will stream in through the windows of the Grand Atrium, through the diaphanous clouds of butterfly and moth wings like a great fluttering stained glass window. If it is not sunny, no matter, the Fashion Show organisers will set up a few large lamps and mirrors outside the tall glass ceiling, and the effect will be almost the same. You’d think it gets awful hot in there, beneath all that glass, but the climate is controlled by a number of near-silent fans and tunnels which connect to icy underground rivers, in order to keep the temperature constant for the butterflies.

Buentoille has a long and glorious history of producing clothes, with some even claiming that the City was founded by clothes makers, as the name ‘Buentoille’ comes from the Old Buentoilliçan words for ‘successful’ and ‘garment prototype’; an experimental habitation that went right. For most of its history, the Buentoilliçan fashion industry was controlled by three main fashion ‘houses’: Earl Stockfort’s, Vedaime’s and Morana Trapp. All three clothed the higher echelons of society, (the court and aristocracy mainly, but also the landed gentry and industrialists, to some extent) and the other fashion producers took their cues from them. Of course, there was actually a larger section of the industry devoted to making traditional working clothes for the working classes, but this for the most part did not call itself ‘fashion’.

All of this changed when the Revolution came, and two of the three fashion houses closed down, no longer having the clientele to sustain them. Morana Trapp, always the most forward thinking of the three, decided to attempt to move with the times, restructuring so that it created stylish pieces based upon working outfits for mass consumption. A new market was beginning to flourish as workers had more leisure time (so were not always in work clothes) and had higher incomes, yet the pieces created by Morana Trapp were considered patronising and artificial, and they did not do well. Faced with poor sales, mass worker walkouts and higher labour costs for those they did manage to maintain, Morana Trapp eventually shut down too.

Nature abhors a vacuum, so it wasn’t long before something else filled the space the fashion houses had left. There was a sense that the world had changed fundamentally, and new ways of working were being adopted all over; it wasn’t long before the Buentoilliçan Fashion Cooperative was formed. The Cooperative was made up from a number of designers, artists, machinists and a large variety of representatives from each stage of the clothes production process. Faced with shortages of materials in those first few years after the Revolution, when the Seven Cities Trading Company’s effective embargo of the City was in full effect, the Cooperative had to ensure what they did have was used effectively. It was then that the first Cooperative Fashion Show was held.

A huge variety of styles are shown in the Fashion Show each year, but there are, of course, some trends and themes which stand out or are more prevalent. In those first few years the shortage of new materials meant that recycling was a key part of the production process, and many designers sought to play this up; was it not, after all, indicative of the Revolution? They were restructuring an old, broken thing, breaking it apart and making something new and beautiful. There were of course those who argued that Buentoille must be done with the past, that we must burn it and begin anew, and as such entirely new styles made from new materials (one such newly discovered material, morphose, made from the fibres of a woody, bioluminescent mushroom, was particularly prevalent) were also very popular. The cultural historian, Urlham Venn, sums up those first few shows well in their essay Style and Fashion as Revolutionary Battlegrounds:

There was a definite sense of antagonism in the air, yet not in the brutal sense that had characterised the past decades. This was a more gentle, competitive antagonism, more akin to the disagreements of academics than of soldiers. And rightly so, for those first few shows were live-action theses, cloth dissertations on what direction the Revolution should take. Fashion became one of the battlegrounds where the Restructuralists and Erasers clashed.’

Of course, the Restructuralists eventually won that battle (tradition is ultimately too important to Buentoillitants for them to let it be erased), but the new ideas formed in the dialectic from both sides both went on to reinvigorate the Buentoilliçan fashion scene. Quilted, patchwork clothes were some of the most popular items from those first few shows, but the difficulty of producing large quantities of new material such as morphose meant that they featured less prevalently despite their popularity. Nowadays with access to more materials and better production methods, luminescent clothing is staging something of a comeback, but the legacy of recycling fabric has also left its mark.

The fashion cycle in Buentoille is much slower than neighbouring cities such as Litancha, where throwaway fashion is king. Buentoillitants find this approach somewhat distasteful, and most Buentoilliçan clothes are made to last and look good for a long time. Quilted robes and jackets are still popular, though nowadays they appear less motley as recycled components are bleached a re-dyed; whilst recycling is still valued highly, drawing attention to the recycled nature of a garment so obviously is less common.

Today the most popular items are likely to be long, squarish robes and dresses, alongside baggy trousers and padded jackets, although there has also been rumours that the Cooperative is releasing a line of floaty morphose capes. Hundreds of thousands of Buentoillitants will turn up to watch the catwalks and flick through the catalogues today, the moths and butterflies flickering through the air above them throughout, occasionally resting on the head of a model. The models are, as always, randomly selected from a pool of volunteers, who will have been fitted with a perfect prototype garment in the preceding weeks. The audience will then vote on which garments they would most like to see in the shops, and in this democratic way, the most efficient use of material is maintained.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Myth of the Undone Bride Festival
  • The Festival of Acids