Steve Oklyn, the mysterious man behind the sartorially smart website NOT VOGUE and an avid contributor to apar.tv, is an authority in his own right when he artfully muses on the worlds of fashion, luxury brands and the online onslaught that surrounds us. His sharp wit and dedication to not shying away from tearing at the venerated hierarchies of these worlds, make him a perfect guest for Wallet’s inaugural issue dedicated to the Admins of Authority. The issue invites authorities within the world of fashion to consider their own role in the system, either as creator, distributor, critic or user. What is at stake and what needs to change?
W: Steve, do you consider yourself an authority on fashion, or do you feel more like an outsider in the fashion world, looking in?
I think of my work as breaking down the current FASHIONWORLD algorithms and systems of authority. To understand the global fashion industry power structure I’ve become deeply aware of the architecture of influence FASHIONWORLD has built. My work reveals that structure and simultaneously deconstructs that structure. I see myself as an informed and skilled amateur. NOT VOGUE was conceived as a DIY project, and when it comes to the war of fashion and style ideas I stand with the amateurs who I see as moving the dialogue forward and the professionals as the ones who have who have sought to control the access and open flow of creativity. In a sense I am an outsider but I would rather be perceived as lawless.
W: The first question was a leading one, since Wallet considers you, through your online work, as an authority on the field, lawless or not. In addition to NOT VOGUE you contribute to apart.tv, where you offer strong views, striking aesthetics and blank disregard for the authorities and powerhouses in the FASHIONWORLD. Why did you create this platform, and what are your thoughts on retaining any sense of authority in a fickle and fast-paced world? Or is integrity a better word?
NOT VOGUE began with a statement that I read in the Fall of 2010 by Carine Roitfeld which was « You’re VOGUE or you’re not VOGUE. » I immediately registered the URL NOTVOGUE.COM as a response to what I felt was the arrogance implied in those words. I’ve allowed myself and the project to evolve at its own pace. I see patterns and I’ve spent a good deal of time researching the patterns of control that is our world. I began my research by attempting to understand how aesthetic ideas become systems of societal control. NOT VOGUE uses the same techniques to understand how the fashion industry creates codes, definitions and hierarchies to direct and command its followers. This was a natural transition of my knowledge set given that FASHIONWORLD has based so much of its mysticism on what the pioneers of modern and contemporary art have discovered and then the fashion industry has co-opted. Artistic ideas have given fashion products a false sense of depth. A handbag decorated by a contemporary artist is just decoration with the object gaining any added artistic importance. I side intellectually with the founders of the conceptual art movement and view what the fashion industry markets and promotes as artistic and using their definition of avant-garde as a well thought out and executed confidence game. Artist enhanced products, whether handbags or skateboards, viewed within the history of forward thinking ideas are worthless. Back to the concept of professional authority; I would rather be understood as someone who has gained through years of research and first hand observation a high degree of insight and then uses that information to reveal how the community of fashion professionals created an architecture of societal control. My project is based on exploring and explaining that system of global fashion industry power dynamics. NOT VOGUE is a series of ideas presented as an array of instructions how to understand the system and reverse the relationship where you and not they have all the control. THEY NEED YOU. YOU DO NOT NEED THEM. I think people are drawn to NOT VOGUE and the various platforms I use to send my ideas into the world exactly as you have stated because the ideas and concepts I’m expressing are seen as having integrity. I understand the word authority as being negative. I think many of the views articulated by NOT VOGUE will only gain in acceptance in the future.
W: I see NOT VOGUE as part criticism and part autonomous project. I don’t want to call it art, as that might be removing it from the context of commenting on the FASHIONWORLD. I think this hybrid might be a new way of fashion writing, which many times is caught in the same spin cycle as the fashion industry itself, and critics seem to be scared of wrestling too much with the powers that be to avoid exclusion and a loss of relevance. How can you critique such a powerful system without losing out on resources such as access and capital?
In my view the fashion industry system of reportage and critique is deeply compromised. It is a rare event but every once in a while one of the respected journalists will express some perceived flaw in the system but it is truly rare to read any critique that cuts to the bone. When reading a fashion event review what you are in most cases reading is an extended press release. There is a professional industry of fashion journalism which NOT VOGUE is not in any way a part of and or wants to be. I agree that it’s almost impossible to be a radical fashion industry journalist. The industry wants to create this view that the designers are otherworldly creators and thinkers but when it comes to community of fashion journalists the powers that control the rights and privileges want the writers to be subservient to their quest to be recognized as an authority. In the 21st century this is all an illusion. The amateurs are leading the way and not the sponsored professionals. Find a way to earn a living, stay outside the fashion system and express yourself freely. It is necessary to be intellectually aggressive to break down very rigid codes of control and power. Be brave.
W: Your approach to criticism on the expanded world of fashion/power/luxury/capitalism is brave, but also builds your own brand of NOT VOGUE, and shedding conventional forms of fashion writing, utilizing the online space as an artistic medium. How would you describe your approach to fashion writing and online publishing?
I was trained by the founders of the concept art movement. I am also intrigued by how meaning is constructed. Aside from my conceptual art schooling I have spent a great deal of time studying as many of the various ways that images and objects in the modern and contemporary eras can convey meaning and how that becomes a source of financial, intellectual and, societal power. The methods that are used by traditional fashion journalists even the ones that think of themselves as forward are all using accepted forms of structuring their views. I’ve attempted to structure NOT VOGUE and my other journalistic view points as events. I’ve attempted to use strategies and techniques developed by experimental artists to build an online series of experiences that also work as reportage. My work can be understood as a very expansive form of performance art. A new form of performative journalism. Many of my reports can I believe be performed as well as read. I believe that the 538 pages of NOT VOGUE is an experiment in journalistic writing that is both equal parts fiction and non-fiction. I’m not interested in being a member of the fashion critic tribe so the freedom and anonymity of the web is perfect for my project.
W: You have championed the amateur and the potential inherent remaining financially autonomous from the FASHIONWORLD. Is there hope for the FASHIONWORLD, and what needs to change in the world of fashion? Can it be changed, or is it too tied into the mechanisms of the fashion world, capitalism or the almost Mafioso power structures that uphold the rules?
The current system that is both the creator and the controller of FASHIONWORLD is obsolete. It offers no sense of personal freedom or expression. If you enter into a dialogue with it as a young creative you have to understand that your sensibility is a source of data that will be very quickly absorbed into their system and will be marketed and promoted as forward thinking. The major error in this algorithm is that by its now globalized and institutionalized architecture is always behind where the now is operating. This is a difficult statement for many young creatives that are using fashion to explore their art, their ideas, and themselves. I believe that fashion happened and it just repeats itself in an endless series of intellectually neutralized expressions and products. This view also includes the creative directors, stylists, photographers and especially the models Fashion is not a platform for new ideas it is a stage to reinforce already explored ideas. A regular occurrence within the fashion industry is that the older the idea, the more it’s financially valued.
W: You are making connections between all the different parts of the FASHIONWORLD ecosystem, and it reminds me of your lists. You have made similar lists for apar.tv such as Daisy Chain, Cock Ring, and Echo Chamber, and your t-shirts are relentless and unapologetic lists, often naming the individuals taking part in the ferocious world of fashion. What is the potential of lists and why do you return to this format?
Lists in a short attention span reality are effective tools of journalist reportage and critique. I view the list as an algorithm. Lists have been used to control our minds and I use lists to break down that system of control. They are also intellectually challenging. The names listed can change the meaning of the event by inclusion or exclusion. Say something once and it can be missed say something multiple times and it becomes an impregnable idea. The works you mention are a trilogy titled UNFIT FOR ILLUSION. I gave myself a structural problem which was to list every name in random. The work is not in any normative hierarchal order. I wanted to author a work freed from zany of the normal structural restraints implied by a list. I had to begin and I had to end. I attempted to compose the lists of names in a state of free association. When the three lists were composed to completion I just let go. That was the point I had in mind. To create a work that I had no emotional connection with once I deemed it finished. All the work I do under NOT VOGUE and its expanding platforms is done to liberate me. I’m attempting on a very personal level to remove all what I perceived as intellectually unimportant by making a series of expressions and statements which I can walk away from. My goal is a form of silence. A silence filled with life lived and not consumed.
W: Silence seems to be the way to go, but is there any hope, any voices of any import, from your point of view, within fashion?
To be blunt I believe FASHIONWORLD HAPPENED. NEXT. What I’m hopeful for is that slowly more and more young creatives will see fashion as what it is; a very powerful and seductive form of propaganda and not what I think they believe it to be a form of open ended expression. Fashion has some creative aspects, but those are overwhelmed and superseded by its use as a form of control, especially the merciless control of evolving minds. The world spread out before us does not need any more fashion creative, but what we desperately need is awareness and informed people to imagine new solutions to our very fragile world. I also think there is enough art in the world. ART HAPPENED. NEXT. As I said in answer to an earlier question, the fashion industry has infiltrated and infected the art world to the point where it is all the COOLWORLD and not the real world. This all sounds negative but it’s not. I believe that « cool » is the experience of drinking clean water. That cool is walking aimlessly. That cool is sleeping peacefully. It’s not GUCCI. It’s not SUPREME. It’s not YEEZY. It’s not VETEMENTS It’s not CALVIN KLEIN. It all happened and if you can find your true self, whatever comes from FASHIONWORLD tomorrow will not become you. From HYPEBEAST to O32c to ART BASEL MIAMI BEACH. It all happened. Next.
W: I agree that the COOLWORLD has happened, and that is why I think your contribution as NOT VOGUE is important, not just for the FASHIONWORLD, but also for the art world. But how do you feel about being a trendsetter? Are you also part of the FASHIONWORLD ecosystem?
Can I choose a term instead of trendsetter? That is FASHIONWORLD terminology. I have spent my life exploring, experimenting and questioning all forms of intellectual authority. I’m like most people I guess, searching for some form of meaning. What seems to be the aspect of my life that has been a constant is even though I can enjoy and appreciate forms of fiction I’m trying to experience and understand as many of those fictions as I can and then live a life devoted to non-fictional events. If I am perceived as expressing concepts as before the majority that is because I’m operating within a non-fictional now. NOT VOGUE helped me get closer to being after many decades of becoming.
November 28, 2016
Please note that that after six years of research and development STEVE OKLYN has transferred his consciousness into an artificial intelligence named OKLYN s/O Systems.