Friday, January 29, 2010

Fashion & Power

Kate Moss photographed by Nick Knight

The question of fashion and power is a question of socio-political structures. We can look at what powerful people wear and see some similarities. Below the Queen of England with members of the G-20 in London, 2009. Suits dominate with the exception of the Arabic member in bisht and two women in dresses. But considering fashion & power is not limited to what powerful people wear, it is considering how fashion is used to negotiate power.

-a thing: clothing that is planned by design and aesthetically valued for its construction
-a social system: the cycle of popularity (“in fashion”), which includes any object


-a thing: a position of rank and control
-a social system: the arbitration of rank and control

Together fashion and power are systems for social negotiation.

Importantly, a uniform is associated with military power or a fashion brand with wealthy consumers but the object alone, even when considered to have status, is not power.

We can think of fashion in terms of non branded clothing codes in relation to both fashion and power. Below jeans or a uniform are low in power associations while a suit and luxury clothes are high in power associations.

The aristocratic court is said to have started the change of fashion, continued by French society.

Raymundo de Larrain and Comtesse Jacqueline de Ribes, 1961 “Most Stylish Woman in the World,” by Town & Coutnry, 1983

Today the fashion world is headquartered in New York and is a large system of events.

Power designers behind the scene are responsible for a minimum of two collections a year, more if they create both couture and ready to wear.

Karl Lagerfeld, 2009

The avant garde designers challenge the power of fashion in function and status.

Hussein Chalayan

Designers are now functioning as brands, so that their power is not only influencing style but also the market and revenue.

Massimo Gammacurta, YSL, 2008

The fashion image has a powerful influence on culture, not only encouraging consumers to buy but also contributing to the collective consciousness and aesthetic trends. Fashion editorials negotiate social systems and subcultures through styling.

Controversial photo of Lara Stone by Steven Klein in black makeup for Paris Vogue, Oct 2009

The celebrity endorsement is economic power

Gwyneth Paltrow for Tod's, 2006

There is also the question of democratization of fashion in mass, unadorned forms as well as a lack of interest in fashion as power.

Individuals can work outside the system of fashion or subculture and express personal style that results in respected power.

Tavi of Style Rookie by Tommy Ton for Vogue Paris

Subculture & Fashion

Vivienne Westwood in London's punk era

If the power of fashion is too strong... the fashion victim!

There is also the potential to shape fashion and society through purchase power and the choices to support ethical fashion and sustainability.