Fashion ‘n’ Fiction
By MC Browne
Predicting literary trends is akin to doing an impersonation of Joey from Friends and saying to the publishing community in a darkened nightclub, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ Such is the fey coyness of the publishing world.
2013 was the year of the big fat book – Donna Tart’s tome of beautiful craft The Goldfinch came in at an eye watering 800ish pages – and although it won one of the highest literary award’s – The Pulitzer Prize – and – maintained a not too shabby No #1 rating on The New York Times bestseller list – it was clear. The literary world had ate itself – both metaphorically and physically. Although, wait, it’s reported to have sold just shy of 2 million copies – so far. Although, my guess is the publisher needed those sales just to break even? Who wouldn’t have have wanted to have been a fly on the excel spread sheet when the publisher discussed potential for profit margins. One can only imagine – ‘It’s very good – but can’t it be smaller?’ The echo being felt that year in the fashion industry, who were said to be screaming – ‘Can someone please, please bin the plaid’ and ‘Just how do I differentiate this skater dress?’ The need for profit was reflected in fashion the same year when our very own Nicole Farhi went into administration ( thankfully the brand robust again) and in retail music when HMV had to close many of its doors.
Flash back to c1910 – when fashion became softer, dresses slightly shorter and women sat on the cusp of a new fashion – sportswear. The author EM Forster published Howards End and was slugging it out for fictional dominance with Florence Barclay’s, The Rosary – a mere slip at 288 pages. Interestingly – both books can still be bought today.
Eighty years later, John Grisham was ‘handing off’ his competitors, with sales of 20 million or so, per book – all averaging a healthy 570 pages. Fashion was dominated by Prada, Alexander McQueen and Dolce & Gabana and supermodel’s got paid for telling us how much they needed to not remain in bed. Looking back at the 90’s, a mere twenty five years ago, consumers were sheep, loving every minute of the follow. Over 10 million Brits were listening to either Oasis ‘What’s the story’ or Simply Red, ‘Star’s album – followed closely by Robson & Jerome who now willingly admit – Jesus did indeed weep.
June 30th 1997 our very own JK Rowling bucked every trend when she hit the shelves with a new genre- a family book spanning an average of 850 pages – which went on the sell over 50 million copies. Tom Ford was the Creative Director of Gucci and YSL and we, the great public, just began to use a thing called the ‘internet’. It opened our eyes. I guess. In music, fashion and our reading choices. We began to diversify.
Harry Potter dominated publishing for the next ten years just as Tom Ford drove fashion, style and fabric – making couture for us, the average size 14 women, and not just the size 0 supermodel who sold it to us. Then in 2012 we suddenly grew up – Fifty Shades of Grey sold over 100 million copies – all that sexual revolution tied up into a mere 530 pages. Stella McCartney shook off her industry’s aloofness by deciding it was cool to dress Olympians and the music industry fragmented and thankfully shattered into 1000 different directions.
So where next? 2015 will undoubtedly see a plethora of ‘me too’ in publishing as people rush to Amazon to ‘hit up’ on more of ‘Fifty anything’s’ please, straight after the release of the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ movie – 14th of February 2015. But the publishing industry is in trouble – the internet is more part of our lives than anything else – so – for the first time – books have to make money. And the volumes being sold are tiny. To be a best seller in Ireland during the first two weeks of January 2015 I would have needed to sell around 500 copies. Isn’t that tempting? In the UK – to be a bestseller in The Sunday Times, it’s a few thousand copies in a week. My guess is that fashion will continue to dumb down, alliances with department stores to make us aware, labels following Mulberry into the mainstream. Print books will have to remain at around 350 – 400 pages. We might even see the short story make a fabulous comeback, for the Twitter generation. One thing is for sure. We are all gorging on a cultural diet of small and varied, in music, fashion and fiction. Fifty Shades of Anything – as long as it’s varied. For the first time ever anyone can be on a best seller list – in music, fashion, books. 2015 – The year we untied ourselves and culture became a level playing field.
Written for Tunes, Trends and Threads by MC Browne 26/01/2015