So you want to be a fashion designer rock star

you rockToday is one of those days I spent five hours writing an entry that I then decided not to publish. It was one long rant. I’ll spare you the gory details but I’m annoyed when people think “clothing manufacturer” and “sewing contractor” are synonyms. One downside to transparency is that people are increasingly flinging words around -in the wrong context- so you end up baffled and confused. Worse, they treat you like you’re the stupid one. The dilution of terminology is making communication increasingly difficult.

Anyway, after five hours of flogging a dead end subject, I needed a new topic to churn out before the close of day. Handily, Penelope Trunk’s entry on Is your life happy or interesting is, well, interesting. It’s a quiz kind of. I scored a zero. -2 to 2 means one is suspiciously well balanced. Or lacking self-identity. She isn’t sure which one. I’m relieved. I am happy and I think I have a mostly interesting life and usually interesting work. Whether people who meet me at cocktail parties agree, I couldn’t say.

The reason I found this compelling is because it seems there’s an increasing number of people getting into the industry (or trying to beat down the doors) who want to be a designer rock star. That seems to be the goal. This is the career they envision when they picture themselves starring in their own lives. The idea that someone would actually want to be famous is just so alien to me. It doesn’t seem healthy wanting to be the center of attraction. Here’s the question from PT’s quiz that made me think of it:

3. Are you nationally recognized as being great at doing something or do you have nationally-recognized expert knowledge in something? Or are you reorganizing your life in order to achieve this end? Minus one

Interesting people raise the bar on themselves. They are singularly focused because they recognize that in order to be great, you need to be focused. They will sacrifice other things in life for this obsession.

I did assign myself the minus one for this question but not happily because I have never reorganized my life in order to achieve the (unintended) outcome. At least I don’t think I have. I mean, I didn’t reorganize with the intent of becoming an authority. I have a big mouth, it just kind of happened.

But you know what I mean about designer rock star wannabes. Is this a generational difference or fed by reality TV? Apparently it is increasing; according to Pew Research, 51% of Gen Y want to be famous. Says the NYT:

People with an overriding desire to be widely known to strangers are different from those who primarily covet wealth and influence. Their fame-seeking behavior appears rooted in a desire for social acceptance, a longing for the existential reassurance promised by wide renown.

A book called “The Fame Motive” is coming out soon. According to the book’s author, only one or two percent of people rate fame as their most coveted goal. That seems so low as to be all but suspicious (especially considering Pew Research’s conclusions) but I suppose they’d know being experts and all but from where I sit, fame seekers are a hefty percentage. I suppose this industry attracts an inordinate number of them. Maybe only music, modeling and acting are worse. You don’t get into sciences to be famous. We only have room for one famous paleontologist, one famous biologist, one famous anthropologist and one famous oceanographer. With all those slots taken, they have to go into fashion. Besides, fashion is not as much work. Heh.

There’s something else in the NYT story that isn’t clear; a psychologist was cited as saying our sense of mortality can be a fame motivator:

“We accomplish that by trying to view ourselves as enduringly valuable contributors to a meaningful world. And the more others validate our value, the more special and therefore secure we can feel.”

But I don’t agree. I think there’s legions of people aspiring to contribute in meaningful ways who aren’t motivated by validation to feel more special and secure. Validation is great but you don’t pick up the heavy end of anything if you’re an emotional cripple. Accomplishing something truly great requires centering and you can’t do that limping along on three cylinders.

So, do you want to be famous? Do you want to do good work? Do you have to be emotionally fractured to undertake a monumental task? And take Penelope’s quiz if you’re curious as to whether you’re interesting or happy. I’m neither. Or both. How about you?

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Brian says:

    -1 & thought provoking… I’d like to think I was both. I totally agree with your take on the fashion designer rock star phenomena. I wonder if/how the fashion industry is being affected by this hoard of next generation designers?

    If you check out Islander Sewing System’s newest Baja shirt you might recognize the pattern model… autograph anyone? am I famous yet? no? oh well….

  2. Sabine says:

    I wanna be famous! I wanna be famous!
    well, not really, I blush when people I can’t remember recognize me in a crowd, I blush when I hear my companies radio commercial, I get anxiety attacks when I get publicly praised etc, so being famous would send me hiding.
    But, what I would like is for my clothes to be famous. No, not designer wise, who cares about courtier, but what I really want is to give Fruit of the loom and Hanes a run for their money! :D Good luck of that ever happening.
    Anyways, god knows what possessed me to use my first name in my business name. Eventually I will come up with a new one, or maybe just leave it, i don’t know.
    In the meantime I will keep studying and muddling along :)

  3. Britannica says:

    I think her survey is extremely biased because her own views on happiness versus interesting affects what she considers happy or interesting. For example, she claims “People with interesting lives do not get offended that they cannot be happy. Happy people are offended that they cannot have interesting lives.” Sorry? Happiness is not equal to complacency; nor interesting to non-complacency. Interesting is a completely subject idea. A good example of this is the short story, “Remembering My Childhood on the Continent of Africa,” by David Sedaris. Sedaris writes, “Theirs was the life I dreamt about during my vacations in eastern North Carolina. Hugh’s family was hobnobbing with chiefs and sultans while I ate hush puppies at the Sanitary Fish Market in Morehead City, a beach towel wrapped like a hijab around my head. Someone unknown to me was very likely standing in a muddy ditch and dreaming of an evening spent sitting in a clean family restaurant, drinking iced tea and working his way through an extra-large seaman’s platter. . .” This is just one of many comparisons.

    Interesting people aren’t necessarily the ones who are over-achievers, opinionated, clever, “maximizers”, obsessive either. I’ve met people who seemed quite complacent; mothers who were mainly homemakers, yet could tell me stories of living in South Africa or being forced to evacuate during a revolution abroad. They are adventurous despite first appearances, and they’re not the type to be nationally recognized, tell the difference in eyebrows, try on expensive jeans, or send their kids to the best schools.

    I got a zero too by the way, and sorry for ranting. :P

  4. The Pussycat Dolls said it best:
    When I grow up
    I wanna be famous
    I wanna be a star
    I wanna be in movies
    When I grow up
    I wanna see the world
    Drive nice cars
    I wanna have groupies
    When I grow up
    Be on TV
    People know me
    Be on magazines
    When I grow up
    Fresh and clean
    Number one chick when I step out on the scene

  5. Barb Taylorr says:

    It is a little odd that she equates being interesting with fame/success. Maybe she means that you care more about being interesting (ie how others perceive you) than about most other things.

    I think it’s more telling to ask, “Do you find your own work, pursuits, life interesting?” In order to be happy I would have to always answer that “yes” (which I do). I scored a -1. However when I meet new people they very often tell me how interesting I am. I am both pleased and embarrassed by that. It also makes me feel lucky that I was born with a desire to work hard & pursue new things. Doing that makes me happy. I love my job, my family, my home (this record-breaking midwest snowfall is awesome)!!!

    Being interesting (& sometimes even famous) can just be the reult of circumstances. It can also result from pursuing your own interests with zeal, as in the case of Kathleen. I expect we all know people that spend their whole lives seeking fame without success. I do not find these people necessarily interesting (some are, some aren’t). I would have chosen a different word for the article, but I still follow the point pretty well. It presents a lot of “interesting” things to think about!

  6. I admire Penelope but she gives away the major flaw in her quiz when she admits that a score of 0 is uninterpretable. This isn’t a single-axis question, it’s a two-axis question. Are you very happy, very interesting, both or neither? Many high achievers have no fear, do not second-guess themselves, and are happy. Other people are crippled by anxiety and are neither happy nor interesting.

    I think it was in the early 70s that Sandra Bem critiqued standard tests of femininity and masculinity. According to neo-freudian thought, both very masculine men and very feminine women would have correctly integrated their role expectations and should be prime examples of mental health. This did not turn out to be true, and as with Penelope’s quiz a score of 0 provided absolutely no information at all. Bem took the traditional one-axis tests and split them into two arms. If liking dogs is masculine and liking kittens is feminine, then with a one-axis score then kittens and dogs cancel eachother out and someone who likes both and someone who dislikes both are both 0. By splitting the test into two arms, she was able to demonstrate that a person who has a lot of feminine attributes and a lot of masculine attributes is flexible enough to make the most of life and glows with mental health whether they are a man or a woman. Someone with only half as many attributes has fewer options, so a man or a woman with only “masculine” or only “feminine” qualities will have trouble dealing with some of life’s common situtations. And someone with no attributes at all is a mess.

    I think that Penelope’s “bias” is simply her experience of living in New York. She concluded that people move to New York to be interesting, not to be happy.

  7. … and she concluded that the people who moved to New York to be interesting placed a very high value on interestingness because it’s so hard to be happy there. New Yorkers are people who are willing to sacrifice their happiness in order to be interesting.

    Which is a little different from saying that it’s never possible to be both.

  8. Brina says:

    Wow, as someone who used to be a New Yorker, I would hope that stereotypes about folks who move there would not come out of PT’s quiz. Maybe it’s who PT runs with or her own expectations about the limitations or not of life. Most of the people I know who moved to New York did so because there were opportunities there for them that they did not have else where. And I knew people moved there so they could be their own self without a lot of conflict with others. I knew people who moved there because they had family or friends or a community there. Yeah, I did know some people who moved to New York to be New Yorkers–so they could do things for the sake of doing them or to show-off or such, but these folks were the minority.

    New York can be a hard place to live but while I was there I had a good life. I don’t know if I was interesting but I was happy. I was doing things I was interested in. And there is a lot of interesting things there–

    I read but did not take the quiz because I thought the questions came from a false premise. A person is interesting because they want to see how a pair of $200 jeans look on them? What if you don’t even like to wear jeans?

  9. Sandra B says:

    Hmm, I got confused a bit trying to get the interesting vs happy thing straight in my head. I consider I’m both, so I won’t do the quiz in case it tells me I’m wrong. I’d be quite devastated to discover that I’m actually depressed and boring.

    However, I have a little insight on fame for fame’s sake, as I grew up (late 70’s, early 80’s) as the daughter of a slightly famous person. In the sense that Dad had a reputation in his field that preceded him, and he never made a clear distinction between family and work life, so it was not uncommon for me and my siblings to be recognised by apparent strangers. I know I sometimes felt entitled, like I had a little more authority or social permission than others. Because that was my “normal”, I seem to put a lot of energy into getting back there, and I’ve noticed my sister and brother do as well although we never admit it, even to each other. Well, apart from now, obviously :-) But I want to get there as an authority, not just because my 15 minutes of fame have arrived. I actually didn’t like the empty fame. I felt a little violated. And admitting to chasing fame now feels like a shameful secret.

    My son, however, aged 9, is very keen to be on TV. It turns out he has a talent for acting (thank goodness – I’d be appalled if he wanted to chase fame with no talent) so he takes classes, has an agent and attends auditions. He got the shock of his life when he asked me how much you have to pay to be on an ad ;-D (I got the shock of my life when I found how much they’ll pay him!!) I try very hard to make him aware that being famous is a reward for hard work, not a right given to those with attractive bone structure, but I’m not sure if he really gets it. Many of the teenagers my husband teaches don’t get it.

    Interestingly, I read an article this morning in Juxtapoze magazine, about an artist named Kenhinde Wildey. He talks about celebrity culture and the difference between finding his young male (artists) models in America vs Nigeria. In Nigeria, the kids he approaches are wary, and wonder “why me?”. The American kids’ attitude is “Of course, it’s about time you found me, what took you so long?”.

  10. Kate Rawlinson says:

    I haven’t done the quiz, but I did read a quote somewhere recently (sorry for the vagueness) from one of the famous designers – if I recall correctly, it was someone I actually have some admiration for, such as Alber Elbaz. He was saying that all the kids want to be big-name designers, no-one aspires to being a seamstress anymore. It seems everyone’s interested in the kudos, no-one wants to do the work.

    I think there’s a massive sense of entitlement among today’s kids (and this is a generalisation, obviously, before every parent jumps on me) – they’ve been brought up to believe that they can do whatever they want to do (you can achieve anything!) and seem to think it should all be handed to them on a plate. I’ve seen kids on work experience (interns) in more than one highly competitive industry sit there and sulk when they’re asked to do something they consider too menial. Whatever happened to starting at the bottom? Oh, and actually doing the work….

  11. ginevra says:

    I think there’s a difference between fame and professional recognition. I’d like to be recognised by any industry I’ve entered as good at what I do, for my name to be listed amongst the “Best …” for my specialities. Is that seeking fame? I certainly DON’T want to be recognised on the street, to sign autographs or whatever…

  12. Edt says:

    Wanting to enter this crazy industry since age 5, I realize I am one of the few who actually am willing to do the stuff others won’t do in order to move up – this means..actually doing what my employer/mentor/clients ask cheerfully, being polite and courteous and above all, NOT a…though Ironically those IN my class who did…sigh seem to be moving ahead faster than I am.. But I guess their goals and mine are different, I wan to build a lasting legacy of my work/brand as a designer…they want to dress Paris Hilton NOW.
    – therefore I want want to be famous FOR good work…that’s it. Not my private life or who I dressed, but for creating innovative/beautiful designs.
    PS, they really need a new fashion reality show…one that shows how it ACTUALLY works…maybe then there will be less HS kids so eager to be designer’s because of a TV show( I know a large no. of these…sigh)

  13. Amanda says:

    Oh yeah… “kids these days,” right? That’s not a cliche or anything.

    Come on, now: what is so terrible about wanting to be recognized without having to work very hard? Grandiosity and laziness are human.

Leave a Reply

You have to agree to the comment policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.