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Death of the Tastemaker: Democratized Esthetics via Heuristic Survey

  • what is a tastemaker anyway?
  • the democracy of esthetics
  • exploration and discovery
  • the 'heuristic survey'

what is a tastemaker anyway?

tastemaker - one who sets the standards of what is currently popular or fashionable

A cursory glance in the digital domain yields countless sharply dressed attractive men and women. Their charge? The proclamation of a peerless ability to appoint brands and items as fashionable, cool and relevant. The function of a tastemaker is predicated on a belief that someone else, ostensibly of elite sensibilities, has the ability to decide for others their taste. While we recognize the vision and perspective of many of these ‘style beacons’, it must be noted that our individual tastes - physical and esthetic - are the product of both predisposition and focused development.

Even when custom dictates allegiance to a particular policy of decorum, our personal predilections always survive the compulsion of propriety. Yes, despite the relentless conquest of an army of invading influences, we are still the sovereigns of our personal taste.

The far more egregious aspect of it however, is the lack of expertise among many of these self-proclaimed specialists. We are now in an age of endless ‘style sheriffs’ running rampantly amidst a ‘wild wild west’ of esthetic terrain. We love the craftsman. We celebrate the creators – those artisans that actually produce works worthy of inspection and selection. It is the dogma of the self-appointed bohemian baron that we enthusiastically reject.

the democracy of esthetics

​Which leads to the question – how does the individual balance the personalized and subjective nature of taste vs the 'crowdsourced' commonly held view (what makes a good apple pie - or; how else could a chef keep his job)? When considering the pathology of trends we have often observed a ‘bottoms up’ germination; a group will collectively over time select an item and the democracy appoints it as worthy and pleasing. True – at times the group may be reacting to the selection of an influencer with a large following (celebrity etc), however the success is still subject to the adoption en masse, the majority will speak it into favor.

The problem arises when we fail to develop our own sense of taste to the point we are able to determine with a degree of certainty what we like and perhaps don't like, whether that be in spite of the majority or because of it. If we never learn to exercise full command of our unique esthetic faculties we are left to either capitulate to the dictates of an oligarchy of self-professed tastemakers, or succumb by apathetically surrendering our esthetic senses to the anesthesia of indifference.

As the age old idiom goes, 'what we don't use we lose.' Similarly it can be argued that what we don't protest — we acquiesce to. When we fail to identify our own unique sense of taste, our innate desire for creativity and discovery is suffocated by the pressures of conformity. "Some people just lack imagination", we have heard stated — a supposition that at first blush might seem trustworthy. But upon proper scrutiny is such a statement really correct? Would not such a conclusion suggest that some people (an elite group) are gifted with a special knack that validates the pompous moniker of 'tastemaker?'

exploration and discovery

Rather than fall victim to the demagoguery of the "tastemaker" - go forth and determine what is esthetically pleasing to you! Examine the landscape with discovery as the goal. The issue is not that people lack imagination. The issue is not that people are unable to assume command of their esthetic proclivities. The issue is that people have simply lost the desire to explore; to discover that peculiar terrain of self. Our individual identities are sacred, and our taste in many respects is sui generis as is our fingerprint or DNA. As such are we not obliged to stand up as its jealous defenders? As the rightful tailor of its alteration?

Can the merchant again inspire us to harness our individual esthetic prowess? Can the marketplace once again facilitate this lost art of private exploration and discovery?

This pastime of discovery was often facilitated by institutions. When speaking specifically in the realm of fashion (where we seem to find the largest concentration of tastemakers), the once vaunted department store was a collection of goods that allowed us to inhale an ever evolving fragrance of opportunities to be inspired. Not a slavish adherence to rampant consumerism; but the village marketplace – the meeting place of merchant and patron.

The identity of the institution has a bearing on our activity as ‘esthetic explorers’. In recent years large and boutique chains have fallen by the wayside because they succumbed to the totalitarian rule of the dictator and lost sight of their purposes to serve the end user. In this instance Barneys NY falls squarely in our vision. I distinctly recall visiting with my older brother; I was likely only 11 years old or so, he being barely 20. In his typical dramatic manner he refused to take me to the second floor, as I was not – in his specific words, “ready”. I begged – he denied me. It was a wonderland of everything he loved, and I was in awe of him and of what the place signified = the bastion of sartorial excellence. Months later I recall returning with him and a close friend, both of them elated in their heated debate over competing black cap toes. The salesmen weighed in. The discussion started with the grass fed nature of the cows, to the lack of shellac to display the quality of the leather. The knowledge of the salesman was likely not unique, but the totality of the experience was. The excitement of what could be found, heard, seen, and distinctly felt was palpable.

the 'heuristic survey'

Can the merchant again inspire us to harness our individual esthetic prowess? Can the marketplace once again facilitate this lost art of private exploration and discovery? The irony is that they are dying from our lack of involvement and interest. They solicit our responses with endless rewards cards and insouciant surveys at point of sale. The process of surveying in of itself however, can be a crucial tool that can breathe life back into the now stale experience of most retail environments.

The survey is essentially the question. Questions are powerful – they provide answers, information, perspectives. The explorer is rewarded with his discovery only after embarking on the adventure which is fueled by the question; the thing to be found. So imagine: the landscape is the marketplace, and you have been armed with a heuristic survey, or a control set of imperatives that allow you to discover and distinguish that which is excellent as defined by YOU, and not by the tireless dictates of the tastemaker.

Our mission is clear: to impugn the existing dictatorship of a top down hierarchy of style. The right to govern the development of one’s personal taste is a private right reserved to the people. This is a call to action! Reclaim your voice! We hereby herald the Death of the Tastemaker!

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