Trend Watch: Ayn Rand

Objectivism is having a moment, and not just in conservative talk radio circles and on Glenn Beck’s daily hour of crazy time. Ayn Rand’s philosophy of fierce individualism and rational self-interest has become a hit with the fashion crowd, not exactly a group known for its right-leaning “moral” values. Though we haven’t yet seen any über-political fashion heavyweights (Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan) pick up the Fountainhead mantle and its trappings of laissez-faire capitalism, The Daily Beast reports on several fashion designers who claim influence from La Rand herself. Funny, considering the woman behind the Objectivist mantra was a dowdy Russian emigré with a self-professed disinterest in all things modish.

Obviously, the inspirations behind any fashion collection are loosely sketched. As writer Anne C. Heller points out in her forthcoming Rand bio, “When she came to Hollywood, people remarked that she had no style whatsoever. When left to her own devices, she tended to wear shapeless garments for days on end. She was between 5’ and 5’2” and stocky and didn’t wear clothes terribly well.”

One may perhaps draw a parallel between Rand’s ideas and the “governing ethos” of the 1980s, when “artful, extravagant” clothing by the likes of Pierre Cardin encapsulated the era’s “greed is good” motto. And let’s not forget the power suit.

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Ready-to-wear designers Shipley & Halmos used Rand’s work as a starting point for their Fall 2009 collection, even quoting a line from The Fountainhead in the invitation (“Life must be a straight line of motion from goal to further goal”). Sam Shipley relates the collection’s them to Objectivism’s “sense of empowerment and sense of purpose,” rather than its hard-nosed political interpretations.

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Ralph Lauren, whose pinstriped power suits from the 1980s (below left) and current collection that resembles a wardrobe trailer for a film adaptation of Rand’s oeuvre. Lauren has been quoted as naming Ayn Rand as his favorite author, along with Papa Ernest Hemingway.

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Interestingly, a host of Indian designers have avowed their admiration. The Daily Beast relays that “Ritu Beri told an Indian newspaper that she’d read The Fountainhead ‘almost 50 times’ and another, Krishnu Mehta, also counts the book as her favorite.” And in the July issue of American ELLE magazine, a staff member recommended the novella Anthem to readers: “It’s a short read,” she wrote, “perfect for an end-of-summer day at the beach exercising your free will.”

Author Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, explains in this Daily Show clip that Ayn Rand’s popularity is cyclical, correlating with “political cycles and ideological reformation.” Curiously, modern day conservatives don’t seem to mind – or even recognize – the novelist’s staunch Atheism. Maybe the Godless liberals can identify?

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And of course, lets not forget the fits and starts plaguing the film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged. By the time the movie is actually released (it’s tentatively slated for 2011) the Ayn Rand Fan Club may or may not be in session, but it’s a safe bet that the costuming will be impeccable.

[Editor’s note: Kelsey Keith was a finalist in the Ayn Rand Institute’s 2001 Fountainhead Essay Contest. I entered in 1998 but did not place. We are both creeped out by how much we loved her work back in high school.]