Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Review: 'The Cult Of K*NZO' at Camden People's Theatre, 5th February 2019

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

When Paula Varjack explains that she was waiting at 4am on a November morning outside Westfield Shopping Centre to be one of the first to get into H&M, I felt a combination of pity and confusion. I neither care about nor understand fashion; it's as relevant to my life as what's happening on the surface of Mars. But I am ready to learn.

The backbone of The Cult of K*NZO is high-end fashion label KENZO's 2016 collaboration with high street retailer H&M. This was the latest in a series of this type of collaboration, with previous launches descending into chaos as shoppers swarmed through the shop and fought each other for whatever clothes remained. 

These memories are why Varjack was there so easy - even though that day was also the day of her book launch when she should really be getting some rest. The show uses the KENZO/H&M launch as a fulcrum to delve into the power of brand names. It quickly becomes apparent that the "cult" in the title isn't there for laughs, the show treats Prada, Dior, Chanel and Gucci as if they're ancient Gods that must be paid homage to.

The most crushingly depressing part of the show comes in a series of confessional moments when Varjack explains how intimidated she feels even looking in the window of a Dior shop in London. Later she dresses up (the outfit is of course very carefully chosen), in the hopes of passing herself off as a "rich bitch" that might just be able to afford something here. Once inside, she apes another shopper, fantasising about being like her.

Behaviour like this is part of why the world is such a shit place for so many. One of the best bits of bamboozling ever conducted by the wealthy and ruling class is convincing us that, if we just tried hard enough, we can be like them. But odds are ridiculously stacked against us. We are not future Dior customers. We are far, far more likely to end up sleeping on a cardboard box as Dior customers step over us.

Idolising these customers, the labels and their products contributes to the worship of wealth, which leads people to consider themselves 'temporarily embarrassed millionaires' who will vote in the droves for political parties that will lower tax rates on the wealthiest and cut away society's safety net. Sure, Dior et al are merely symptoms of the disease, but their existence is a reminder of the gross societal inequality that must soon be excised.

This process is quite neatly encapsulated in the way Varjack summarises her experience with KENZO/H&M. She can't afford a genuine KENZO dress, but the cross-promotion with a high street retailer means that she can get a taste of what it is like to be wealthy. And, for a brief moment, she does. For what it's worth the dress at the core of the show is beautiful and looks great on her.

Once we've admired it, there follows a fantastic coda in which she returns to H&M on Black Friday to discover that not only has the KENZO/H&M range not sold out, but that they're now actually discounting it. To a background of an expanding collage of Instagrammers all wearing the same 'unique' dress, we understand that she has been lied to. Sure, the dress is pretty, but its value as a commodity isn't just in its design: it's in its exclusivity, the way it summarises you as an individual and the way you shivered to get hold of it. The marketing team knew all this, went out looking for suckers and found you.

I really, really enjoyed The Cult of K*NZO. It does a great job of showing how people feel an indefinable void in their lives and how capitalism has taught them that the best way to squash that feeling is by consumption. The brands tease an unattainable paradise that's as much a fiction as anything L. Ron Hubbard could cook up. It makes a very convincing argument of fashion being a secular religion with its own gods, priests and rituals, and full of intensely symbolic totems whose worth is entirely divorced from the raw materials they're composed of.

It's a cracker of a show and I've already been sending people on their way to see it. Whether you're clueless about fashion or absolutely committed to it, Varjack will give you a hell of a lot to think about.

The Cult of K*NZO is at Camden People's Theatre until 9th February, then on tour. Details and tickets here.

Tags: , , ,

0 Responses to “Review: 'The Cult Of K*NZO' at Camden People's Theatre, 5th February 2019”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights