Eugene Rabkin is the founder of He has contributed articles on fashion and culture to The Business of Fashion, Vogue Russia, Buro247, the Haaretz Daily Newspaper, and other publications. He has taught critical writing and fashion writing courses at Parsons the New School for Design.

Introducing: the StyleZeitgeist Academy History of Contemporary Fashion Summer Semester Course

Over the past fifteen years I have met with many students and fashion enthusiasts who have voiced the same complaint, that they could not find a comprehensive framework for learning about the history of contemporary fashion, that the world of fashion has become too self-referential and lacking in historical knowledge. Concurrently, with the rise of social media I have witnessed a large number of self-styled experts who spread an incredible amount of misinformation. Enter the StyleZeitgeist Academy and its first course – History of Contemporary Fashion. In this course I draw on both my knowledge of fashion history that stems from deep research and years of reporting, and my teaching experience at Parsons the New School for Design. Everyone is welcome to take it, from fashion enthusiasts who want to strengthen their knowledge to students who are entering Bachelors and Masters program related to fashion and want to prepare themselves.

Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty at the Met Museum

“Fashion does not belong in a museum,” Karl Lagerfeld told Andrew Bolton the first time they met. A fearless or an obnoxious statement, considering that Andrew Bolton is the most important fashion museum curator in the world. “Fearless” is what Bolton went for in his opening remarks at the press preview for the “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. “Fearsome” was another adjective Mr. Bolton used to describe Lagerfeld’s missives. Some observers may have stronger words for the late designer, who has been callous on record about feminists, people who are overweight, and victims of sexual assault. But the Met Museum is not in the business of criticism; it’s in the business of crowd-pleasing. Lagerfeld provides ample material. Besides Anna Wintour, who was in attendance but for the first time in my memory did not give a speech, he is the only fashion person who can claim to be a cultural mascot that transcends the narrow and insulated world of fashion. Ask an average person what Lagerfeld looks like and they will probably know.

Katsuya Kamo at Omotesando Hills in Tokyo

Katsuya Kamo was a brilliant artist who created what he called “head sculptures” for runway shows for Junya Watanabe, Jun Takahashi’s Undercover, and Anrealage. He also occasionally worked with Chanel and Haider Ackermann. You have seen his iconic pieces that contributed to the overall image and runway awe of those brands even if you did not know Kamo’s name.

Masahisa Fukase at TOP Museum Tokyo

Every art form has a notion of a cult work, that is something that is not widely known but develops a following, often amongst the cognoscenti. As I was developing my interest in photography, one of the first cult works recommended to me was a book called The Solitude of Ravens by the Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase. Around 2008 I snagged one online for thirty bucks or so, just before they went up in price tenfold. Without knowing anything about Fukase, the Ravens series immediately drew me in with its arresting depiction of the forlornness of nature via the birds in the title. I felt their pull anew on my recent visit to Japan – somehow on this trip I kept noticing ravens every day.

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Enoura Observatory

One begins to acquire a new level of understanding of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s work – especially his seascape series – as the train gets closer to Odawara, where his art foundation is situated, crowned by the Enoura Observatory, Sugimoto’s architectural project that opened in 2017 after more than twenty years of planning. It helps if it rains, as it did on the day I visited, which makes the water of the Sagami Bay and its bordering sky look like two sheets of gray steel that meet at slightly different angles. “Sorry for the weather but Sugimoto prefers a rainy day, because the stones are very beautiful under the rain,” wrote his press office as I mulled changing the day of my visit. But of course he does. The rain highlights the specific melancholy beauty that comes out when you pay attention to the minute details of nature and of man’s respectful interference with it. There is a lot of such beauty in Japan, and though cliches like “wabi sabi” and “Japanese esthetics” are hard to avoid, this specific beauty, one that whispers and demands contemplation and slowing down and paying attention remains unmatched in its subtlety. Read Junichiro Tanizaki’s quiet masterpiece In Praise of Shadows, and you will understand.

Op-Ed: New Media, Old Problems

The likes of social media-first media entities like Style Not Com and I Deserve Couture are hailed as upending the status quo, but what do they actually say, if anything?

“It’s literally NOTHING,” fumed an established street-style photographer on our shared taxi ride during this past men’s Paris fashion week, echoing a sentiment I had heard more than a few times from fashion insiders over the past several months. He was referring to Style Not Com, an Instagram account that documents fashion. Founded by Beka Gvishiani, a Georgian native living in Paris, it broadcasts fashion commentary to its 181 thousand followers. Though to call what Style Not Com produces “commentary” would be a stretch — for the most part the account provides a retelling of what most people with Internet access can see with their own eyes. To wit, on Rihanna’s recent Super Bowl appearance — “Rihanna, Loewe, Alaia.” Such snackable content comes in an attractive visual package — white san serif font on a cobalt blue background. The blue, repeated ad nauseam, has beсome a trademark; whenever Gvishiani is out and about fashion events, he is easy to spot by his ever-present “Style Not Com” baseball cap that advertises him to others.

Op-Ed: The Society of the Fashion Spectacle

“But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, fancy to reality, the appearance to the essence, …illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness.”

These words were written by the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, in the preface to his book The Essence of Christianity, reborn as an epigraph to Guy Debord’s famous critique The Society of the Spectacle, first published in 1967. In it Debord, one of the most famous French postmodernist philosophers, posited that we live in a world where the only thing that matters to us are appearances, which leads to an alienated existence, mediated and untethered from a lived reality. We conduct our lives for the sake of appearances. The result is a postmodern (Debord would say post-capitalist) personality in which acting takes precedence over living, appearing over being. To anyone who’s partaken in the contemporary culture driven by the social media, this is felt intuitively and does not require much persuasion. But it’s worth delving into the mechanics of this cultural system and fashion’s role in it in particular.

Welcome to the Post-Fashion World

Observing the changes in the art scene in the early 1970s, the great art critic Harold Rosenberg wrote, “The artist today is primarily a maker not of objects but of a public image of himself.” The model for this new attitude was Andy Warhol, who spent more time cultivating his persona than making art, which quickly stagnated after his overwhelming success in the ‘60s.

Fast-forward fifty years and we are witnessing the same state of affairs in fashion. For plenty of creative directors of major houses their own image trumps their creative output. At the same time, there exists a tug of war between the primacy of the brand and that of its creative director. 

This is, obviously, not to say that there is no fashion being produced — there is more of it than ever. It’s just that by and large it has become rather unmemorable – familiar garment archetypes with logos on them – eclipsed either by the personas of its creators or by the brand image. The winning formula for today’s successful creative director of a major brand is something like persona + merch = fashion; designer as celebrity pushing unremarkable product. Fashion design, as such, has taken a back seat to public image as a marketing device.