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NY-Times Fashion & Style column (December 7) introduces Alexander Wang who was recently appointed as the Creative director of Balenciaga under the headline, “An American in Paris, again,” which is followed by the lead copy:

“The young, streetwise Alexander Wang is taking over at Balenciaga, putting him front and center among his generation — and ruffling more than a few feathers.”

I'm interested in the phrase, “ruffle (somebody's) feathers.” OALD defines “ruffle sb’s a few feathers as “to annoy or upset sb or group of people.

Did he annoy or upset the fashion world or his generation, instead of being frankly applauded for his success?

I’m asking this because the author takes it for granted by saying; “It is fitting that Mr. Wang should become the first American designer to take on a big, historic European design house since Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Narciso Rodriguez went to Paris in the late 1990s.”

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Probably those of the European designers. They don't like American designers, especially those who "take over" as the chief designer for a famous old European fashion factory like Balenciaga. They particularly dislike American designers with different ideas (good or bad: it doesn't matter, & I have no idea whether Alexander Wang has good or bad fashion ideas). – user21497 Dec 10 '12 at 1:11
To ruffle somebody’s feathers is rather like to make waves — except that it is specifically directed at one or more individuals, not general the way making waves is. – tchrist Dec 10 '12 at 1:13
It's not really relevant to "English" as such which particular people's metaphorical feathers are being ruffled (the "more than a few" bit is just there to indicate that we're talking about quite a few/more than might be expected). So far as the basic language is concerned, it just means "upsetting several [groups of] people". But in fact this rather quaint turn of phrase is often/usually used approvingly, by people who think the ones being upset really should be "knocked off their perch" – FumbleFingers Dec 10 '12 at 1:16
...(or at least, have their cage rattled! :) – FumbleFingers Dec 10 '12 at 1:19
@BillFranke. So the author is saying that European designers are annoyed and upset by Alexander Wang’s appointment to Balenciaga Creative director? – Yoichi Oishi Dec 10 '12 at 1:21
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Oishi-san, if you read further down, you'll see whose feathers are being ruffled:

Early in his career, when critics said he was too commercial, Mr. Wang said: “I don’t see that as a negative thing. It is something I actually enjoy.”

But it is for the same reasons that his appointment at Balenciaga — nearly a century-old fashion house that was thoroughly modernized over the last 15 years under the considered eye of Nicolas Ghesquière — bothers so many people, or at least the fashion purists. Some established designers, grumbling privately because they did not want to be seen as meanies, see the change as symbolic of a broader watering-down of creativity in fashion.

It is the fashion establishment whose feathers are being ruffled — those snobs and purists who believe fashion is the preserve of the elite only.

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@StoneyB: Just so. The term does seem like it means the opposite. I will edit. – Robusto Dec 10 '12 at 2:12
If I may say so without offense, I think it seems like that to you because you regard the purists as snobbish preservers of an elite art, while they regard themselves as artists attempting to preserve their freedom to defy the dead hand of convention and commercialism. – StoneyB Dec 10 '12 at 2:16
No offense taken. But I disagree: I meant only that curator seems to represent the established order, as opposed to renegade and upstart forces. – Robusto Dec 10 '12 at 2:22
These designers regard Wang as an agent of the commercial establishment. Think of the designers as Pixar and Wang as Michael Eisner. – StoneyB Dec 10 '12 at 2:35
@YoichiOishi: Oishi-san, I do the same thing myself in other languages, especially Japanese. I wonder what in blazes a phrase in the beginning of a passage could mean, and I go off searching in vain for an answer. Then I come back and read more, only then finding the answer further down. I seem to do best when I force myself to read to the end, whether or not I understand everything, to get the gist of the piece before going back and reading again. But it's hard! The mind wants all mysteries explained right now. – Robusto Dec 10 '12 at 2:47

Alexander Wang is 28. A lot of people think he's too young to run a 150-year-old European house with a reputation like Balenciaga's. Plus, he's been charged with devaluing couture by building a line around upscale t-shirts, shorts, and sweatshirts. This focus on high end "street fashion", which became a commodity in the US around 2010 with the explosion of fashion blogs and tumblrs devoted to amateur, out-and-about fashion photography--like The Sartorialist and Liam Saw This, shaped the lines of high fashion designers like Wang, Michael Bastion, and Marc Jacobs. Jacobs is one of few American designers who have traveled to Europe to head a top house, and he's currently (at Louis Vuitton) the only one who has survived there. However, many Europeans remember his "grunge collection":

enter image description here

and how it tanked, and they may [my speculations] see something similar in Wang's street style:

enter image description here

It is this style that many "meanies" consider to be a "watering down" of classic couture.

By comparison, this ensemble from Balenciaga's FW 07 line:

enter image description here

In short, it is his age, perceived inexperience, and "democratic" street style that have ruffled feathers.

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