Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Congratulations New York University students in Paris! You have completed Fashion & Power.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Global Chic

The images above and below represent stereotypical ways of understanding global diversity in fashion. There is a tendency to see the East in its archaic forms or to fail to see the contemporary importance of its culture and fashion amid difficult living conditions. Above the exhibition Les Orient des Femmes celebrates traditional Asian and Middle Eastern dress. Below the Western luxury dress is the focus amid the impoverished surroundings of India from Vogue India 2008.

There are designers outside of America and Europe who are beginning to make influential fashion. This has already been seen of course in the Japanese designers in Paris such as Yamamoto. The question is if these designers need to frame their designs with Western aspects like branding, or as seen below, Parisian showrooms.

Shanghai wool designer Qiu Hao

As we look to China, there are a number of factors which led to their domination in manufacturing. Production has transformed China and it is now a leader in contracts with some of the top fashion labels.

Above the 3 major aspects of globalization: production, markets and economies. These areas are experiencing a convergence of countries along with convergence of information. Below the official tourism photo of the "factory of the world," Guangzhou which has grown from farm to global urban center in a few decades. More apparel and other products are produced here than any other one place in the world.

One of the consequences of Guangzhou's over production is major pollution. Above the government's position is to confiscate personal motorbikes and cars to reduce emissions but as seen below the smog is also the result of factory production. See the consequences of Apple factories here.

Above Rivoli's book on the path one t-shirt takes reveals the power structures of the world. Below the emerging BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) are said to become the leaders of the 21st century.

Above an organization Made in China supports that despite rumors, workers are willingly producing goods in safe conditions. This contradicts recent reports that workers are treated inhumanely to meet demands. Below the organization Not Made in China boycotts foreign products.

Below, some luxury labels are now promoting other countries. The American owned Rugby has fine wools and silks made in Italy. The Italian label Prada has kilts made in Scotland and textiles made in India.

Above the global movement has generated a new consciousness, especially being green. Sustainability is a global movement toward better integrity in design production as seen below. Reduce-reuse-recycle is the order of least amount of energy wasted.

Above and below fashion companies try to use ethical fashion practices as advertising platforms. American Apparel has promoted better working conditions and Lacoste has a limited edition that supports endangered crocodiles. This has led to criticism of greenwashing and other trends to appeal to consumers.

Above and below fashion designers with eco policies. Rogan Gregory of both Edun and Rogan above and Stella McCartney below who refuses leather and fur and is wind powered in manufacturing and stores.

Looking closely at India reveals that it may be possible for an emerging power to balance global commercialization and traditional fashion identity. Above the first Vogue India and below traditional ikat fabrics.

Above the traditional dupatta was made famous through Bollywood. Below the most famous breakout film of the region, Chandni of 1989.

Below, although Vogue is a Western frame onto Indian culture the most famous Bollywood celebrity has brought global attention to India. Aishwarya Rai has a love of global fashion and has been featured on several covers. But it raises the question if to be a success in an Eastern market, one needs to be framed through Western media or associated with Western fashion labels? Does global power have to dress Western?

Fashion on Film: An Analysis of The September Issue and Valentino: The Last Emperor

Fashion documentaries have taken a popular upturn in the 21st century as more and more people grow increasingly curious about the elusive and exclusive world of fashion. By allowing outsiders a peek into this elite society, fashion documentaries are able to give insightful views of what goes on behind the scenes of the 300 billion dollar industry.

Two of the most well-known fashion documentaries The September Issue and Valentino: The Last Emperorserve as examinations of the fashion industry and the people that run it, whether it is Wintour directing fashion media or Valentino supervising fashion production.

Vogue September 2007 Issue, Cover with Siena Miller

It is without a doubt that Anna Wintour is one of the most important and publicly recognized figures in the realm of fashion. As the Editor-in-chief of American Vogue (also dubbed the fashion bible), the Britain-born Wintour is constantly in the limelight. She is constantly described to be aloof and unapproachable by the media, earning herself nicknames such as “Nuclear Wintour[1]. and “Ice Queen[2] Produced in 2009 and directed by R.J Cutler, The September Issue is a documentary that closely monitors the making of the Vogue September 2007 issue, an edition that was publicized as the magazine’s largest issue to date. As the star of the film, Wintour brought much interest to the movie with her detached and cold guise. And yet, the huge amount of hype behind The September Issue was not only due to the public’s curiosity and Wintour’s reserved nature towards the media. One should also credit the success of the movie, The Devil Wears Prada, a loose adaptation from Lauren Weisberger’s best-selling novel of the same name, which elevated Wintour’s celebrity status back in 2006 for the similarities she shared with the titular character Miranda Priestly, a tyrannical, demanding boss who oppressed her subordinates.

Comparison of the Anna Wintour's office and the set of the Devil Wears Prada

The September Issue also introduces the public to Vogue’s Stylist and Creative Director, Grace Coddington. Although she began working at Vogue the same day as Wintour, the film shows her limited control within the magazine, as her creative ideas and visions are shot down on an occasional basis[1]. Coddington presents to viewers the anti-Anna, someone completely opposite of the intimidating editor. According to the film’s director, R.J Cutler, "Anna is all about ‘next,' and Grace is most interested in a historical perspective on art and fashion. Every time they got together, sparks flew."[2]

The September Issue Trailer:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tq4wo4JYy2s

This contrasting dynamic of a creative mind paired together with the brains behind the business is seen as well in Valentino: The Last Emperor. Despite its numerous lighthearted and comedic moments, the film ultimately trails Valentino’s final glory days as a fashion designer, leading up to a climatic moment whereby the possibility of Valentino’s retirement is put into question. Known to be the last true couturier, the film gives an insightful view into the glamorous, excessive lifestyle of Valentino Garavani. Produced in 2008, Matt Tyrnauer directs the documentary, revealing the legacy of Valentino to the audience, in which they see the history behind the founding of his company and the contrast it has with his present-day life. The Italian fashion designer and founder of the Valentino SpA brand and company is renowned to have dressed some of the world’s most glamorous women such as Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and most notably, Jackie O[3].

Valentino at his 45th Anniversary Celebration in Rome

Valentino’s unique affectionate and yet bickering relationship with his business partner and companion of 50 years, Giancarlo Giammetti, the honorary president of the Valentino Fashion House, forms the centre of the film. As aforementioned, Valentino and Giancarlo share a similar work distribution to that of Wintour and Coddington, where in this case, Valentino designs the dresses, and Giancarlo ensures that the company is financially secure.

Valentino: The Last Emperor Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGJJRPWqvzM

Concluding, with the many different minds working within the fashion industries, it is unavoidable that there will be collisions and conflict of ideologies and personalities. As portrayed by the documentaries, the working relationships between Wintour and Coddington as well as Valentino and Giancarlo are ones filled with tension and disagreements due to incompatible principles and ideas, but what holds each partnership together is the equal effort and desire to reach a shared goal. Thus, both films portray a dynamic working relationship that has resulted in the garnering of strong influence in the industry through the collaboration between the creative and the commercial.

[1] “The September Issue”. Credit (R.J Cutler). Actual Reality Pictures. 2009. In a scene where Wintour cuts several of the photographs from a photoshoot titled' Paris Je T’aime' (photographed by Steven Meisel), Coddington bemoans to her colleagues, "She's killed half of it."

[2] Moylan, Bryan. “How Grace Coddington Stole The September Issue from Anna Wintour” Herogram. http://gawker.com/#!5344335/how-grace-coddington-stole-the-september-issue-from-anna-wintour

[3] “Valentino: The Last Emperor”. Credit (Matt Tyrnauer). Acolyte Films. 2008.

[1] Oppenheimer, Jerry. “Front Row: Anna Wintour” Saint Martin's Press Inc. (25 Feb 2005) pp. 243.

[2] “The September Issue”. Credit (R.J Cutler). Actual Reality Pictures. 2009.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ethical Fashion: Myth or Future Trend?

by: Christine Lee

"Ethical fashion: myth or future trend?" is a feature from the Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, which seeks to provide a forum for the publication of refereed, academic papers and more applied case study material in the fashion manufacture and retail sectors. It also seeks to draw contributions from all over the world, recognizing the international nature of the garment and retail industries. This piece was published in 2006, which is pretty recent and therefore still applies today.

Catrin Joergens, the author, is currently the Global Senior Product Manager for the NEO Label in the Sports and Style Division at Adidas in Shanghai. She was educated at The University of Manchester where she studied international fashion marketing and at Hochshule Niederrhein where she studied textile and clothing management.

The approach is analytical and empirical considering it is basically a case study utilizing research methodologies such as focus groups and questionnaires to come to conclusions.

Ethical fashion: fashionable clothes that incorporate fair trade principles with sweatshop-free labour conditions while not harming the environment or workers by using biodegradable and organic cotton.

There is a rise in the ethical consumer market because of new ethical fashion brands such as American Apparel and People Tree, who are trying to bring a fresher approach to the market and to gain interest from the ordinary fashion consumer. These actions bring about the issue about whether ethical consumerism is “back in fashion”.

People Tree’s Safia Minney with workers in Bangladesh

Primary research was undertaken that focused on the following topics of research in regards to ethical fashion: awareness and concerns about ethical issues in the fashion industry, resulting behavior, beliefs about ethical fashion, effect on purchase decisions, and attitudes towards possible solutions. The overarching theme, however, is whether consumers are willing to “sacrifice their personal needs to support ethically produced clothing”.

The sample groups were conducted in Frankfurt, Germany and Manchester, England. In Germany, the respondents of the focus group were all students between 21-25, and between 22-26 in England. This sample was chosen specifically because they are the next generation of ethical consumers and seem to take more interest in fashion than any other group of consumers.

As for the group discussions, there were five people in Germany and four in England, which are considered small sample sizes because the recommended size for groups are usually 8-14 unless the subject matter is sensitive. In which case, fewer participants would be advised.

The questionnaires were sent out via e-mail to 100 participants in Germany as well as in England. But only 64 were completed and sent back in Germany and 53 in England.

Noir (Danish ethical label) Catwalk at London Fashion Week 2009

The results of the focus groups in Germany were that even though participants were aware of ethical issues in the fashion industry and even the working conditions, these were not the main concerns when shopping. The prices of the clothing seemed to forgo ethical issues as well as the image of the product. Environmental concerns were even less of an interest. Conclusively, the reason for poor awareness of major issues is because of little media coverage and therefore it is hard to differentiate between companies that have good social responsibility and poor social responsibility. As for potential of ethical fashion, some participants are in conflict about whether unethical business behavior would really influence their shopping behaviors, but in the end it really matters about style and price.

In the UK, findings were similar, however the biggest issue participants have towards the fashion industry is the huge offer of disposable fashion and wearing fur. They also seem to have no knowledge about environmental issues or health damages to workers during the production process. And even though they do look for the “Made in” sign and think about the consequences, it still does not influence their buying decisions at the end. One person states “you actually have to define ethics and what is acceptable in that country” showing that it is difficult for them to define unethical behavior. Also, one of the main difficulties for the potential of ethical fashion is the limited offerings of ethical products that fit their tastes and prices. Merely having information about the ethical issue is not enough to allow them to make the right choices because it is hard to tell which brands utilize certain conditions in producing clothing.

In conclusion, all of the participants would prefer that their clothing was produced ethically, but the crucial buying decisions are style and prices, which both supersede the ethical issues. Also, these participants and consumers feel like they do not have much of a choice when it comes to buying ethically produced clothing because the majority of the apparel is available only through catalog order, not worth the prices, or not considered fashionable compared to other brands. Therefore, mere knowledge on this issue is not enough to strongly influence purchase decisions.

Nevertheless, the majority of respondents showed favorable attitudes to buy ethical fashion and see a potential in this approach as long as it is comparable in fashion and price to other brands. The majority also thinks that consumers have to take the responsibility as well as the corporate sector and government to force companies to act more ethically. Although the findings from this research did not demonstrate that ethical issues affect consumers’ fashion behavior, it is difficult to draw definite conclusions about ethical behavior since only one specific group was examined. More knowledge about ethical issues in the fashion industry is needed as well.


Made in China - Arthur C. Mead

by Bianca Murillo

The author Arthur C. Mead taught Economics at Boston College, Simmons College in Boston and worked at the National Bureau of Economic Research before coming to University of Rhode Island where he teaches now. Mead's research interests are in the areas of regional economic performance, demographics, and the economics of higher education. He teaches a course by the same name of this piece, “Made in China”, among other courses. His approach is both historical and theoretical, using historical economic and social facts as a basis for a theoretical analysis.

Mead begins by discussing the nature of the apparel industry. Mead asserts, “Apparel is a comparatively small industry with 3.9 percent of world trade in manufactures…but it has an importance for exceeding its size…Apparel is important because it’s mobile, and such it functions…as a leading indicator” (419). Mead argues that the apparel industry is on the move and to understand the changes one must look at the force behind those changes, which he argues is China. Mead goes on to argue that in order to understand China's implications and power one must look at China's past which is inextricably linked with their future and therefore the future of the apparel industry.

The Past and Present
Mead argues that three decisions altered China's economic history and relationship with the world.

1)In the 15th century when China chose to isolate itself from the world which allowed for a foundation to be laid for the communist revolution and eventually establishing Mao Zedong as leader of China in 1949 (419)
2)Mao's decision to choose isolation from the world as a development strategy (419)
3)Deng Xiaping's decision to open China to the world in 1978 with four special Economic Zones modeled after Japan's economic miracles (420)

As a result of number 3 the world's labor supply grew by 1/3 and China's exports began flooding the market (420). The impact by China on the apparel industry was however muted by two complex developments in international trade policy: quotas and regional trade preferences (421). The effect of these developments can be seen US apparel employment falling 49% in the 1990's and in the movement of apparel productions to poorer nations (421).

The Future
The apparel industry received two shocks: China's entry into the WTO (World Trade Organization) in 2001 and the end of the MFA (Multi-Fiber Agreement) in 2005 (422). This lead to a wave of low price imports that quickly changed the market as it was known. The US and EU quickly moved to analyze and restrict these influxes. Apparel imports from China were up a staggering 221% in 2005, while the average apparel price fell 18% (422). These changes led to even more widespread effects in other countries as well. Mead asserts that the winners given all of these industry trends are China, India and Pakistan, with a few other countries reaping benefits as well.

Ultimately, Mead is wary of China's endurance and the extent to which China can maintain it's competitive advantages and sustain them for the long term. He argues that china has a virtually endless supply of labor, but just not in the ideal locations which will result in a movement of operations inland which comes with it's own effects (423-24).

Mead concludes with the notion that China’s power has been noticed before and heed should have been taken when Napoleon warned, “Let China sleep. For when China wakes, it will shake the world” (424). In Mead's opinion, China has awoken, and it has shaken the world.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Significance for Costume Design

"In a millennium the old 'swords and sandals' epics will be seen as actual Roman films, dating from the Roman period, as true documentaries on antiquity… But this is already our civilization. It is already increasingly difficult for us to imagine the real..." -Jean Baurdillard, 1996, Screened Out

What Baudrillard suggests is that film costumes have the power to influence not only contemporary society or fashion but also history. The significance for costume in fashion and power can be understood in three main ways:
-the power of costume to influence society and history
-the power of costume to influence fashion
-the power of costume to function as art, where roles and conventional boundaries are tested

Above Annie Hall, costumes by Ruth Morely, influenced the Manhattan bohemian chic of the 70's.

Above, David Bailey and designer Mary Quant and below Blow Up based on the actual fashion scene in London but also built up the myth and power of the subculture.

Above a myriad of films influencing fashion and below Prospera influenced Prada Fall 2007.

Fashion and film are a two way dialogue. Above a fashion editorial by Unwerth based on Godard's Breathless and below popular films inspired by fashion.

The way women have been depicted in fashion films is conflicting. Above Diana Ross as an empowered designer in Mahogany, 1975 and below more common representations of models as in Downfall Child and Lipstick.

Above Wim Wenders early documentary on Yoji Yamamoto for the Centre Pompidou and below the recent popularity of fashion biography docs and films.

The master costume designer in history is Edith Head, nominated 35 times for Oscars. Below her sketch and design for To Catch a Thief, 1955.

Below notable costume designer Milena Canonera holding her Oscar for Marie Antoinette. She also designed for Out of Africa, Chariots of Fire and others.

Above Pat Field considers herself a "costume stylist." Rather than make the clothing, she selects top brands for Sex & the City, The Devil Wears Prada and others. Below, pieces in the films available for purchase suggest the films function to advertise.

Context is essential to costume, understanding not only the time the film is supposed to take place but also when it was written and when and where it is filmed, which all influence the style. Importantly a film does not look like only the year it is taking place. A film in 1980 must not only have things in 1980 but should show sliding context, items from before 1980, as reality would contain and emerging styles about to come. Below the Last Days of Disco of the 80s, from 1998.

Historic costumes recall the hegemonies associated with those eras, giving characters assumed strengths. Characterization can be very specific to one unique personality as in The Clockwork Orange below. The character transformation shows the lead in 3 phases.

Above and below characterization and subcultures with Robert Redford in more conventionally powerful WASP roles and below Al Pacino in subcultural styles of gangsters.

Above the character transformation of Working Girl shows the lead from secretary to corporate leader. Below postmodern characterization uses film references with Anna Karina and Bruce Lee influencing the costumes.

Above and below Coco Chanel's work in film. Above left her work on Tonight or Never, 1930 and right L'année dernière à Marienbad, 1961. Below her last film work was Boccaccio 72, 1962.

Above and below Belle du Jour, 1968 designed by YSL. The costumes were conservative and slightly seductive, to suggest a subtle empowerment for women of the era.

Above looks from Belle du Jour and below another Deneuve YSL collaboration for La Chamade. 1968. In the case below she leaves her aristocratic lifestyle and closet for a more sedate world.

Above Gaultier's work for A Cook, a Thief a Wife and Her Lover and below Pret-a-Porter featuring a variety of designers by Robert Altman.

See more of fashion & film here