What is talent, anyway? (And what does age have to do with it?)
“Who has real talent and staying power or merely the ability to sell themselves effectively?” That’s what the New York fashion scene wants to know. Not that I’m part of New York’s fashion scene — okay, I have some Calvin Klein briefs, and I once saw Tommy Hilfiger at Macy’s. But I wouldn’t know Vera Wang from Veracruz. A fashionista, I’m not.
Fortunately, we have the New York Times’ Thursday Styles section to keep us in the loop. Yesterday, they ran this cool piece about how the fashion scene is going gaga over young “runway darlings of the moment,” including a “heartthrob” with the mildly sadomasochistic-sounding name of Simon Spurr (who happens to have the Hollywood good looks of a young Matt Damon). There’s grumbling that the people who decide who’s in and who’s out are picking young designers, not because they’re talented, but because they’re cute.
“Just because you’re cute, connected, rich and famous doesn’t necessarily mean you design great stuff,” one Kim Hastreiter said in a talk at a recent Council of Fashion Designers of America gabfest. (This was taken as a swipe at Sarah Jessica Parker, who was named a fashion designer for Halston earlier this year.) Even Prabal Gurung, another “runway darling of the moment,” told the Times that he was “in complete agreement” with Hastreiter. “Talent should not be instantaneously celebrated, but rather nurtured and grown steadily.”
Well, steveheimoff.com isn’t going to insert its nosy nose into a catty New York fashion war. Those rag peddlers have sharp claws! But I am going to make the (not very difficult) leap over to two other areas in which “runway darlings of the moment” vie with more established stars. Consider Project Runway’s 51-year old Michael Kors, who told the Times, “I waited three years before I ever had a fashion show…Today the spotlight is so quick that…I don’t know if you can still let a business percolate and grow naturally.”
One area in which we see the same sort of overnight rush to stardom, or unnatural growth to use Kors’ words, is with instantaneously created “cult” wineries that pop up almost overnight, charging a fortune for wines with absolutely no provenance, except that the same old, tired, famous-name consultants are hired to give them the aura of — I was going to say “quality,” but it’s not that. To give them an aura of celebrity. In this sense, having David Abreu’s or Michel Rolland’s name attached to a wine is pretty much the same as Halston hiring Sarah Jessica Parker. The famous name pushes the brand, not vice versa. If this seems calculating and cynical, hey, it’s just business. And it works.
The other area where these “runway darling” rules of the road apply is with wine blogs. We do have something approaching the fashion wars in the wine blogosphere today. On the one hand are establishment figures who’ve been around the block a few times, and taken their hits. Like the Times said about Michael Kors, “his journey has not been without its bumps, including a bankruptcy…When Mr. Kors was starting out, he…went in and out of business with the seasons.” I suppose I’m an establishment figure, but that doesn’t mean my career has been easy. It hasn’t. There are ups and downs, and every up seems like it’s immediately followed by a downer. I guess it’s just human nature to think, “Hey, I earned what I have the hard way. If you want it, go out and earn it on your own.”
And then there are the young wine bloggers, our heartthrob equivalents of Mr. Spurr and Mr. Gurung. Heady has been their rise to prominence. The entire wine industry is gazing upon them with admiration, and perhaps even envy, certainly with a degree of, yes, lust. Their entrée into the realm of importance has been amazingly rapid, satisfactory (for them), and complete: not a serious wine company in the world dares to ignore them. They are “playaz” (as we say in Oaksterdam), our own runway darlings of wine writing. Yet even Mr. Spurr told the Times, “It may be easier to become a designer [today], but it’s a lot harder to make it as a designer.”
Becoming vs. making it; aye, there’s the rub. There’s a big difference between launching a successful wine blog, which instantly turns you into a published wine writer, versus making it as a wine writer, which implies, yes, staying power. It’s not that difficult to get off to a flying start anymore. Nicole Miller told the Times, “All these new designers start out and they immediately have showrooms and accessories lines.” With bloggers, they too start out, and almost immediately get free samples, paid junkets, book contracts, advertising, speaking gigs — the industry’s way of showing its love. To the establishment, it looks like it’s all happening too fast, too easily. Don’t you have to earn your stripes anymore, go to the School of Hard Knocks? Michael Kors spoke for all establishment types when he told the Times, “Just when you think you know the rules, the rules change.” On the other hand, maybe they don’t. We will, at any rate, know sooner or later who has staying power and who doesn’t.