the shein industrial complex; influencer anxiety; free britney
off brand june 30 round up
Have you ever been on Shein?
The Chinese uber-fast-fashion mega-retailer recently overtook Amazon’s spot as the most-downloaded shopping app in the US. Uploading several thousand new items a day, it gamefies shopping to tempt people to spend more, giving users points for uploading photos and reviews – like the 9999+ on this one £5.99 dress. On TikTok and YouTube, people do Shein hauls – spending $200, $500, $1000 for item after item after item. They present these clothes to the camera, speaking in that canonical haul voice (“I’m gunna go ahead and…”), and I almost feel like their purchases don’t really exist to be worn as must as they exist to be content. Maybe the same goes for a lot of things these days.
Look: I get it: that desire to buy buy buy more more more. I know the fog of depression has descended when I find myself, like I did this week, blankly scrolling Zara – a store I haven’t bought anything from in years – at 1am, trying to find something to take the edge off. When I’m there, shopping feels like being lost in a supermarket, compulsively wandering the packed aisles, stomach empty and unable to find anything to fill it, but grabbing things and putting them in the basket anyway. In my hungry fatigue and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket… Whatever I want, really want, I’m not going to find it in Zara. (I did not place an order and instead opened the Google doc containing this draft. Small victories.)
Sometimes, when I’m out in the world, I think about how every single person I can see is wearing a different outfit, made up of individual pieces of clothing, that someone once designed, wove the fabric for, stitched together, packaged and probably put on a boat around the world, to sit in a warehouse or make its way to a shop floor. It’s a scale of global consumption that’s almost impossible to comprehend – like trying to think about how big the universe is.
And somehow, fast fashion only gets faster and cheap clothes only get cheaper. Where does it end?
Olivia Rodrigo may have pissed off Courtney Love with a lookalike photoshoot (altho let’s give a nod to Carrie here) while Halsey has revealed that her new album is being produced by TRENT REZNOR! The return of rock, sagely predicted by Sean Monahan, is in full swing.
It’s… fashion week! Yes, real, IRL fashion shows are back on. Sort of? There have been highlights, like the Louis Vuitton Metalheadz crossover (!!!!!), but I gotta say, I found the return of street style pictures slightly surreal, and weirdly… idk, melancholic? There’s something quietly jarring about the empty streets, or a mask + Dior bag combo. I can’t really place the uncanniness. I just feel like the world could end and we would be left with cockroaches and street style galleries.
Britney’s conservatorship hearing happened, where the singer gave a testimony that was a devastating indictment of her father and legal hold she’s been under for 13 years, likening her situation to that of a trafficking victim. It reads like a 70s feminist horror movie scenario; a true gilded cage, Stepford daughter, ‘hysterical’ woman nightmare that should make us think long and hard about celebrity, mental illness, and how such exploitation has been allowed to take place. Free Britney.
Influencers are shilling meme crypto with names like MILF token and Titscoin– but are these just pump and dump scams? And what happens when inexperienced investors try to make money on crypto? For the Guardian, Sirin Kale speaks to those who’ve risked it all (and then some) over the course of the pandemic.
If you read literally anything I recommend, make it this Harper’s article, in which Lit professor and writer Barrett Swanson hangs out in a TikTok collab house. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever read on the influencer economy. “The scary thing is you never know how long this is going to last, and I think that’s what eats a lot of us at night,” one heartthrob confesses. “It’s like, What’s next? How long can we entertain everyone for? How long before no one cares, and what if your life was worth nothing?”
There are a thousand things I could say about Lana Del Rey but I’ll summarise: someone once said that if your frontal lobe was still developing when Born to Die came out (👋) you are entitled to compensation. My heart-shaped sunglasses days may be behind me, but the hold of LDR remains. Her universe is simultaneously sincere and camp; myth and reality. I never listened to her album that came out in March, Chemtrails Over the Country Club, until now. And it’s… so good. What strikes me the most about it is how essentially Lana Del Rey it is – for all the criticism about her perceived inauthenticity, this is as authentically Lana as you can get. To me, she really is that bitch. “My gift is the warmth I live my life with and the self reflection I share generously,” she once scolded critic Ann Powers.
A good moment to revisit this ecstatically brilliant piece Audrey Wollen wrote about her back in 2019…
Del Rey pledged allegiance to wide roads, fast cars, open borders, dead presidents. But now, like so many who were born nowhere, she’s moved to LA, just before fire season. Many people are saying her new album is about the end of America, but I think it’s about living in a place that has already ended, living in its memory and the carcass, which is to say: America’s been dead a long time.
What I missed in the last dispatch’s discussion of Nine Elms and the Sky Pool horror was what that landscape was like before – primarily, that it was dominated by the Nine Elms Cold Store. This giant concrete carapace sat behind Brunswick house; a nocturnal destination for teenage exploration, the odd occult ritual, and gay cruising where some people even recorded an EP, an eerie paean to the liminal space. “Only now, with heavy pinion of the Cold Store removed, have bourgeois aspirations begun to soar,” wrote Will Self, who I mostly find annoying, on its demolition. Quite.
Thinking about the Cold Store reminded me of Building Sights, the 90s series of BBC architecture programmes where people visit buildings they love. I have no idea how I found this show years ago, but it’s really good: soundtracked by Aphex Twin, a baby Damien Hirst goes back to the Worsley Medical Building in Leeds where he sketched cadavers as a student and notes his ‘nostalgia’ walking through the dissecting rooms; Simon Armitage speaks pure poetry as he scales the Humber Bridge; and Richard Rogers discusses the Corbu inspired Alton Estate, raising the exact concerns about the state of public housing that the very existence of the Sky Pool does. It’s all on iPlayer.
And also Love Island. Thank God for Love Island.
Zara misadventures aside, I did, however, pick up something recently that I’m thrilled with: a SKORT! I got it from Girlfriend Collective in Selfridges. It’s made out of recycled plastic bottles, and has THREE hidden pockets, allowing me to carry my phone strapped to my thigh, or tuck a mask away. I wore it with a Westwood corset on my best friend’s birthday and with a Louisa Ballou mesh long sleeve to sit in the park. I co-opted this tiny Chanel bag from Olivia (thank you Olivia) which is possibly the most absurd yet oddly practical accessory ever, and for the first time in ages felt excited about getting dressed, altho you wouldn’t really get that from my energy below, lol.
Kraftwerk: Future Music from Germany by Uwe Schutte
I’ve been listening to this book about electronic music pioneers (and cycling fanatics) Kraftwerk, who have inspired everyone from Raf Simons to Daft Punk, and how their work was an act of building a post-war German identity, a gesamtkunstwerk that sought to continue the legacy of the Bauhaus aborted by the Nazis. Good if you like this sort of thing. RIP Florian!
This pod from Maintenance Phase on the wellness to QAnon pipeline – where and how do healthy living and anti-vax, anti-semitic conspiracy theories intersect? (Spoiler alert: on Facebook!)
One last thing before I go….a big ty to Louise Benson for including Off Brand in her Elephant Mag round-up of the 20 best culture newsletters. “(It’s) part diary, part zeitgeist temperature check.” Mood!! Read the full article and fill your inbox with delights. I know I will.
See you in a couple of weeks xx