Steve Oklyn is not a real person. And he’ll be the first one to tell you that. He is a tool – a filter, to be precise, through which the fashion industry is refined to an essence that becomes both terrifying and simple. Using the platform NOT VOGUE, Oklyn and his collaborators objectively and yet poetically decode the thick, caked layer of aesthetics that hides a real, systemic, authoritarian objective. Like an unforgettable fragrance, the NOT VOGUE distillate allows us to perceive the mainstream fashion industry for what lies beneath the surface: a clandestine force of social control.
In one of the most unsettling scenes from the horror film They Live (1988, Directed by John Carpenter), protagonist George Nada has just found a pair of sunglasses that reveal the true ideology of the world around him. In the case of this film, that ideology is being disseminated by invading aliens. Using the glasses, aesthetics are filtered out of magazines, billboards and even paper money, unveiling their true messages: “OBEY”, “THIS IS YOUR GOD”, and “DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY”. The genius of Carpenter’s film is that this is an allegory about our culture. Like They Live, NOT VOGUE reveals an even deeper and more frightening attack at work.
”The Fashion-corporate-complex rewards obedience,” observes Steve Oklyn in one of the NOT VOGUE pentaptychs. And with this and other quotable, sound-bite-friendly analyses – including a recent analogy to global warming, which Oklyn refers to as “cultural warming”, the RED PILL ARMY FACTION, a fictional revolutionary arm of NOT VOGUE has emerged in a future allegory entitled THE RESISTANCE TRILOGY, which I premiere in its entirety below.
Oklyn requests that we experience THE RESISTANCE TRILOGY in the event order:
1. COMMUNIQUE #1 (audio)
2. TNF 2023 (website)
3. COMMUNIQUE #12 (audio)
I was able to arrange an extensive interview with Oklyn who remains anonymous at an undisclosed location – though it is theorized “he” may be prodigy teenager “Mark Even” or even a powerful fashion insider. Below is our conversation:
JOSHUA KATCHER: Your dystopian vision in THE RESISTANCE TRILOGY places fashion as a central, fascist power structure. In what ways is Fashion so effective and compelling that it could lead up to a future like the one you envision?
STEVE OKLYN: You are correct in that the RED PILL ARMY FACTION (a fictional revolutionary arm of NOT VOGUE) has structured a futuristic dystopian narrative where FASHIONWORLD is operating as a centralized authoritarian capitalist state. Beginning with the formation of globalized, publicly-traded fashion brand conglomerates in the 1980s, you can chart a series of corporate and personal relationships that all lead to the present: i.e., a tightly structured organization comprised of approximately 1,000 people whose goal has already been reached, but deepens daily. That goal is to control the idea of selfhood and cultural relevance on a global scale with absolute authority. This authority has been a constant in recent history, but with the new structures and strategies of world capital and social media, the interrelated networks of consent and control are now perfectly organized. The result is a constant stream of artificially created – and filtered – events. The scale and the amount of characters involved make this the largest fictional corporate process to date. The NOT VOGUE commune is in talks to create a visualization of the financial and cultural cells of the FASHIONWORLD power grid – and the uses and abuses of their power. This potential project would employ sociograms, a type of graph drawing used in the field of social network analysis, and would be dedicated to the American neo-conceptual artist Mark Lombardi, who died in 2000. Mr. Lombardi called his works “Narrative Structures.”
That goal is to control the idea of selfhood and cultural relevance on a global scale with absolute authority.
JK: You have referred to the fashion industry in more specific terms; the fashion industrial media complex and FASHIONWORLD. Explain what these mean to someone who might be a fashion outsider.
SO: The fashion-industrial-media complex is a globalized and inter-networked group of corporations, both public and private, that have organized themselves into a worldwide propaganda machine. The goal of a propaganda machine is to manufacture a societal narrative that is not based on truth. It is the strategy of the narrative structure to manufacture consent. The organization that processes and controls all global information related to fashion, fashion brands and fashion personalities is referred to as FASHIONWORLD by the NOT VOGUE community.
JK: What is the goal of NOT VOGUE?
SO: The goal is to create investigative reports using the visual strategies and philosophical concepts generated by the avant-garde anarchists of the last 50+ years. The pages posted on NOT VOGUE come from the focus of this research.
JK: Is there anything you love about fashion today?
SO: The word love is loaded with meanings and metaphors. It is characterized by an emotive structure on which we at NOT VOGUE try not to base any of our thoughts or postings. This detachment from the emotional realm allows for the analysis that we promulgate at NOT VOGUE. This is not to say that I cannot feel an emotional connection to a fashion expression. These emotions can be both personal and intellectual. For example, I “love” how structured the authoritarian parties have become.
JK: One of the most integral parts of the Fashion-Indistrial-Media-Complex camouflage is appearing to be only aesthetic, and therefore removed from the requisite of ethical obligations. Why should fashion be taken seriously by activists, academics, and anyone wanting to make the world a better place?
SO: The FASHIONWORLD aesthetic camouflage is hiding massive concentrations of wealth and cultural control. Our investigative approach allows us to see that there is an underlying propaganda hidden beneath the visible messaging of youth, glamour and societal hierarchy. That hidden virus is what we call THE TERROR OF THE INFINITE, and its purpose is to instill a deep sense of fear and mistrust of an organically evolving selfhood and consciousness. How is the goal of controlling global selfhood any different from wanting to control the world’s financial system or political orientation? Jonathan Newhouse, Anna Wintour, Bernard Arnault, Francois-Henri Pinault, and many others have organized themselves into a narcissistic and megalomaniacal superpower with a single purpose: to take absolute authoritarian control of the world’s youth by fabricating a world of deep psychological weakness and ineffectiveness.
How is the goal of controlling global selfhood any different from wanting to control the world’s financial system or political orientation?
JK: The societal, political and especially environmental impacts of the fashion-industrial-complex can be measured globally at a staggering scale, yet most people perceive fashion as a harmless, fun frivolity that is ultimately inconsequential. This is one of the most dangerous illusions generated by the FASHIONWORLD. Do you think this illusion is intentional and what do you observe Fashion doing in order to maintain this insidiousness?
SO: FASHIONWORLD has created a fairytale narrative of creativity and poetic genius. The truth is that today’s fashion brand conglomerates are run exactly like any other global financial institution. There is only one true agenda: margins. Billions are spent on creating the delusion that this institutionalized sedative for the consumer masses is a creative industry. This goes back to the idea of the 1,000 people who are in control being controlled by 100 people with the ultimate power, which is financial by nature. Does the model Cara Delevingne have any true power? Obviously not. She has been championed by those in power as the next embodiment of a now deeply ingrained meme: Kate Moss. And within the next ten years, the British FASHIONWORLD operatives will find the third iteration of the Kate Moss meme. It would make perfect financial sense to create a hologram of Kate Moss at this point (à la Michael Jackson and Tupac Shakur). Regarding a subject at the center of our personal philosophy and community interest: FASHIONWORLD is a giant global polluter and 100 percent unsustainable. The process of rolling out new products on a continuous basis runs counter to any reasonable thought and discussion. One could author an essay on designer sneaker culture that would be equal to anything written about carbon emissions and the damage that has been irrevocably done by both. For the record, I have never owned an automobile and will never own one. Most of my clothing was purchased in the 1990s – over a decade ago. Basics, like socks, are replenished periodically. I bought the shoes that I am wearing today in 1998. To be fair, the past 25 years have seen a few geniuses at work within the fashion arena. At the top of NOT VOGUE’s list would be Martin Margiela. In the 1990s, there was a moment of genius within the HELMUT LANG brand investigations. Alexander McQueen was possessed in the truest sense. Of note is the fact that all three have left FASHIONWORLD – Margiela and Lang for unexpressed personal reasons, while McQueen completed his own narrative in his own manner.
FASHIONWORLD is a giant global polluter and 100 percent unsustainable. The process of rolling out new products on a continuous basis runs counter to any reasonable thought and discussion.
JK: Can anti-fashion truly exist in a culture where seemingly all forms of dissent are appropriated? And how then do we dismantle a colossus like fashion that turns every weapon against it into an accessory for it?
SO: A possible solution to authoring an anti-fashion lies in viewing fashion not as an aesthetic process, but an industrial design process. I stated this once before. Whoever created the HANES cotton t-shirt three-pack was a true fashion genius. SILENCE WILL SILENCE THEM (MARK EVEN). The most interesting approach to modern identity – and the role that fashion plays for us at NOT VOGUE – is to dress in such a way that no one can ever remember what you were wearing. This is conceptual. Since the 1960s, conceptualism has been the only truly radical position – i.e., an opposition to the commercialization of all aesthetic projects. BALMAIN has created three-packs of cotton t-shirts for years that are sold for approximately $620. The HANES version is marketed for about $13. The less selfhood one has owing to FASHIONWORLD control, the more it will cost to purchase a self (as defined by FASHIONWORLD). That FASHIONWORLD self is a construct – and in this century, an irrelevant construct. THEY NEED YOU YOU DO NOT NEED THEM (STEVE OKLYN).
Since the 1960s, conceptualism has been the only truly radical position – i.e., an opposition to the commercialization of all aesthetic projects.
JK: But the reason Hanes can charge $13 for a three-pack if shirts is that they are using toxic conventional cotton and sweatshop/slave and/or child labor. I’m not defending or saying that Balmain has a mission of fair labor – but since workers in developing countries are some of the worst affected and most heavily silenced victims of the Fashion Industrial Complex, should part of our resistance involve supporting brands with missions of fair labor, ethical production and sustainability?
SO: Ideally, yes – regarding the production and labor practice issues. This is a key moment in our conversation. What NOT VOGUE has focused on is the unethical war that the fashion-media-industrial complex has been waging on the world’s consciousness – with specific regard to its manipulation and engineering of the world’s emerging youth. The editorial discussion and statements authored and distributed by NOT VOGUE are attempting to reverse engineer the codes which, in our view, are virus-like in construction – and attack the structure of an individual’s identity. We believe that individual identity should be allowed an infinite space within which to experiment and align itself. The fashion-media-industrial complex wants the exact opposite to happen. Its goal is to program the individual as early as possible to believe that existence in an infinite state of mind is socially undesirable.
We believe that individual identity should be allowed an infinite space within which to experiment and align itself. The fashion-media-industrial complex wants the exact opposite to happen. Its goal is to program the individual as early as possible to believe that existence in an infinite state of mind is socially undesirable.
The F-M-I complex’s aim is to limit the mind’s experiential process, thereby causing it to seek balance through a controlled life process. The individual identity needs to be infected with the concept that balance comes from consumption. Not an informed consumption, mind you, but a delusional level of consumption geared towards supporting the interests of the F-M-I complex. Now, what I am illustrating with the HANES to BALMAIN product-to-cost analogy is the massive increase of financial valuation, which is supposed to create an increase in the individual’s sense of self and social status for what was conceived as an essential. We have to agree with you that once HANES corporation moved from being an American brand (creating products for the American market) to a globalized brand sourcing and manufacturing to create the lowest price per unit, a beautiful idea became just another product contributing to large-scale economic and social injustice. I do admire the design construct of three simple, unbranded garments delivered at a low cost, and consider it a fine example of what was best about American thinking in the postwar period of the 1950s and 60s. That this American-made item of clothing became a symbol of alternative and even counter-cultural thinking also makes for compelling cultural terrain in any deep discussion about clothing’s relationship to identity – and who controls that process. Here again, we must agree with you: A brilliant idea was ruined. From a humanistic view of laborer’s rights, HANES does seem to be using its industrial power in a non-humanistic manner. That is why the ideas and opinions discussed and identified on NOT VOGUE need to be aligned with the views promoted on THE DISCERNING BRUTE. There are two ecologies that are being destroyed by the fashion-media-industrial complex. At the manufacturing level, especially with mass brands, the planetary system and the human rights system are both secondary to the cost of the manufactured unit. That, we believe, is what your project addresses so well. NOT VOGUE is focused on the ecology of human identity and consciousness. We have discussed mass brands and youth-directed brands, but the majority of our work is zeroing in on the globalized luxury brand conglomerates. Experienced together, both your project and our project create a clear picture of two wars: GLOBAL WARMING (socioeconomic war) and CULTURAL WARMING (identity war).
JK: NOT VOGUE seems to be filing a grievance with the big, powerful brands, but what roles do you see smaller designers playing in FASHIONWORLD?
SO: NOT VOGUE has stated before that the project is attempting to map the activities and the relationship of the large global fashion conglomerates, i.e., FASHIONWORLD. Independent designers and brands involved with sustainable philosophies and products are commendable, and need as much consumer respect and support as possible. What is unacceptable from a philosophical stance are those independent designers and brands that are specifically created to be absorbed by FASHIONWORLD interests. An example: The Irish-born designer J.W. Anderson went from being a fashion underground icon to a tool of global propaganda within six years thanks to his appointment as creative director of the Spanish luxury fashion house LOEWE. The value of the brand lies in its history and manufacture of leather goods. The brand is owned by LVMH. Per its function in FASHIONWORLD, CONDE NAST covers every moment of Anderson’s life and career in overheated journalistic hyperbole. Now just 30 years old, he is perfectly positioned to act as a viral propaganda agent for LVMH – supporting and spreading the message that NOT VOGUE has titled THE FEAR OF THE INFINITE on a global scale. Here we see that THE FEAR OF THE INFINITE is realized as both a network and a process in action. Upon hiring J.W. Anderson, LVMH immediately engaged the Paris fashion graphics team M/M to tweak the LOEWE logo. Viral cool-factor strategy number one. Now that Kendall Jenner is working within the LVMH/CONDE NAST system of viral agents supported by FASHIONWORLD intelligence operative Katie Grand, we can foresee J.W. Anderson’s announcement that Kendall Jenner will be the face of some advertising campaign for LOEWE. Katie Grand will be the visual engineer of this campaign. The photographer will most likely be either Juergen Teller or one of the two new heirs to FASHIONWORLD’s photographic throne, Lachlan Bailey and Michael Avedon. A precedent can be found in the Juergen Teller/LVMH connection, which started with Marc Jacobs and continues with Nicolas Ghesquiere for LOUIS VUITTON. The predictability of these occurrences is what is so troubling. Suki Waterhouse and most likely Shailene Woodley will be red-carpet ready for LOEWE by fall 2014 – certainly, they will be positioned in the front row. The transparency of FASHIONWORLD is disturbing.
The transparency of FASHIONWORLD is disturbing.
JK: Most models of Utoptia do not contain a fashion system. What is your vision of Utopia, and what is a practical first step in working toward it?
SO: I have never really ventured into utopian thought. I have a working-class background, and operate that way in the present. I seek practical and efficient solutions as best I can. If I take a moment to contemplate a utopian process, it would be based on forms of efficacy. I do appreciate things that work. That function. I also like to purchase products that operate simply towards a goal. I believe that the work of industrial designer Dieter Rams is as close to utopian as any idea that I might have. His work for BRAUN is impeccable by both nature and functionality. By price point, the opposite would start with UNIQLO and end with LOUIS VUITTON. If I had to name one brand that delivers equal parts narrative and equal parts functionality for a man, I would say HERMES. Full disclosure: I do own one belt that I purchased from HERMES a few years ago, which is no longer in production. It was designed to fold in the manner of a plumber’s ruler. It possesses a maximum of inventiveness and intelligence, with subtle branding built into the functional structure. I have worn it every day for over four years, and will continue to wear it until I am no more. Hopefully that belt will still be worn in the next century. That is my answer in regards to a utopian fashion product, process or philosophy.
JK: I envision a fashion system where all workers are compensated fairly, the accelerating transience is slowed down, no animals are killed or used for their body parts, and sustainable technologies are invested in, and fashion then becomes the driving force of creative problem solving while generating aspiration around an ethical lifestyle. In what ways do you envision fashion doing good?
SO: We at NOT VOGUE support your vision 100 percent. It is a utopian one, but there is an admirable and poetic quality to your progressive narrative. It appears that the TOM’S shoe brand has created a positive product, process and message. WARBY PARKER follows a similarly charitable directive. For NOT VOGUE, the most positive thing that could happen in the future with regards to fashion is that the current global conglomerates would collapse. Ideally, this would occur because of a massive societal shift away from the unrealistic and greatly destructive network of FASHIONWORLD propaganda, which destroys the individual’s openness to the adventure of the infinite. The result: A global collective of youth inspired from within, not from without.
NOT VOGUE is a process. It is not a product. It is not a single personality. The goal is to author ideas that have the potential of becoming intellectual catalysts.
JK: What can we all do to begin addressing the issues raised by Steve Oklyn / Not Vogue/ RPAF?
SO: NOT VOGUE is truly an open-ended procedure. To be honest, even STEVE OKLYN is not Steve Oklyn. That name is an alias of MARK EVEN. Mark Even is at the center of the creative process to which we are all contributing. Mark was born in 2000. He will be 14 at the end of 2014. Mark created NOT VOGUE when he was 10 years old. Mark does not believe in the mythology of the 20th century. Mark is now in the process of authoring another procedure, which he has titled “433.” His diaries are his primary channel for communicating his ideas. He is currently under investigation by Federal intelligence authorities for corporate propaganda disruption. In closing, Mark would like to state the following: “Sabotage FASHIONWORLD authority with your silence.”
“Sabotage FASHIONWORLD authority with your silence.”
* The opinions expressed in this dialogue and THE RESISTANCE TRILOGY event encapsulate the collective ideas and work of RED PILL ARMY FACTION: Steve Oklyn, Mark Even, Stanley Blade, Sixty Three, Dr. Canyon T. Phipps, and Anon Bunker.