Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Fashion World

by Danielle Auerbach

Fashion has many power players. Above clockwise from left Anna Wintour, Carine Roitfeld, Francios Pinault, Bernard Arnault, Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld and Steven Gan. Below a chart of the entertourage of assistants to fashion photographer Nick Knight.

The fashion world not only consists of many powerful figures but many others such as a celebrities and socialites take part in the scene, building interest around fashion.

Adorned in Dreams, Elizabeth Wilson: In the introduction of Adorned in Dreams Elizabeth Wilson discusses the urbanity of fashion but also examines the origin of new trends and how they have influenced the evolution of the industry as a whole, as well as fashion’s effects on society. Interestingly, Wilson argues that “new fashion starts from rejection of the old and often an eager embracing of what was previously considered ugly” thereby subtly undercutting its own previous assertions and never providing a definitive conclusion. (393) Fashion, according to Wilson, is like a cultural phenomena of a symbolic and mythic kind, which makes it impossible to define.

Viktor & Rolf, F 2008

Interestingly, Wilson also considers fashion through the psychoanalytical perspective but unlike Gilbert she examines it in terms of its historic relationship with the western world and how individuals react with one another as a result of dress. For example, especially throughout the last few centuries people have dressed themselves in accordance with their place in society. Wilson provides the example of a woman dressed “Chic” and how it might as well be the uniform “of the rich, chilling, anti-human and rigid.” The stereotypes associated with dress have the ability to create tension amongst individuals and groups dressed differently. However, in recent years this has become less of an issue as a result of modern mass production, as a greater amount of individuals now have access to more fashionably styled clothing. In fact, Wilson argues that as a result of mass production which has made it more difficult to differentiate between class statuses, consumers are stepping out of their shells and using style as a way of expressing individuality which has created a movement of counter-cultural solidarity.

Steven Meisel, 2009

Wilson also addresses the concern which fashion has presented to feminists for years, as dressing well has been “commonly assumed to have been restrictive for women and to have confined them to the status of the ornamental or the sexual chattel.” (395) Wilson counters this perception and explains that conversely, fashion has provided women with an outlet for self expression and the opportunity to express themselves as individuals.

Furthermore, she describes fashion as a manifestation of the “civilizing process” although in recent times capitalism has become “global, imperialist and racist.” Interestingly, she describes how “Western fashions have overrun large parts of the so-called third world. In some societies that used to have traditional, static styles of dress, the men, at least those in the public eye, wear western men’s suits—although their national dress might be better adapted to climate and conditions.” (396)

In conclusion, Wilson establishes that “Fashion speaks capitalism.” As capitalism has the ability to maim, kill and lay waste it also has the power to create wealth and beauty thus making us both hate and love capitalism; therefore it only makes sense that we love and hate fashion for all of the ambiguities and contradictions it possesses.

Capitalism is not specific to the American way but a generalized force of consumption that is expanding its territory. Below an Italian ad for Roberto Cavali.

“Urban Outfitting: The city and the spaces of fashion culture” by David Gilbert: The article “Urban Outfitting: The city and the spaces of fashion culture” was written by David Gilbert, and was included as the first chapter of the book Fashion Cultures: Theories, explorations and analysis. In this essay Gilbert divides his thoughts into three separate sections in order to establish fashion culture in relation to modern cities. First, Gilbert explores the aspects of fashion culture which encourage production in central urban locations; second, he determines the long term process which establishes certain cities as key sites of fashion; and finally, he describes cities themselves as objects of fashion, subject to the inevitable cycles of fashion.

Comme des Garcons, 54 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris

Cities are influenced by several factors which determine them as fashion hotspots. The geography of fashion culture is influenced by certain cities being amongst the strongest and longest established of global brands. Gilbert argues that “Paris” as a word on a label is hard to specify from the city itself. Evaluated through the lens of “symbolic ordering,” the city name of Paris, New York, Milan, etc., is often used for the value of its association as a fashionable city, without there being any real connection between the item and the city itself. Thus we buy the product because of the global reputation of the label, and in doing so we are allotting more power to that city as a fashion epicenter.

Chanel & Hermes Paris

Gilbert addresses a common anticipation, in which fashion will be deurbanized as a result of the internet which has brought promotion, advertisement, and purchasing ability into the home. However, he qualifies this statement as he explains the excitement of fashion stemming from the physical experience that is impossible to receive from the disembodied and unplaced act of purchasing over the internet, as a result of the symbolic significance of consumption. In other words, an item assumes a particular significance which one associates with the process he/she experienced to purchase it. As a further explanation, Gilbert provides the example of “A shirt or skirt bought as a part of an expedition to the big city [which] can have a quite different personal meaning from an identical item bought locally or over the Internet.” (11). Consumers are constantly purchasing items directly from the store at a higher price tag, and they do it willingly as they know they are paying for the carrier. Although the notion of paying more for an item purchased at a desirable location may seem extreme, it is done constantly and epitomizes the capitalist and consumer natured Western civilization, which should eliminate anticipation of de-urbanized capitalism.

Burberry in Knightsbridge, Stella in Mayfair

In the second part of his essay, Gilbert determines the long process entailed in the establishment of cities as key fashion sites. He writes: “The continuing status of London, New York, Milan, and particularly Paris has to be understood through the long term intersection of a number of cultural and economic processes bound up with the development of the modern city.”(15) He then proceeds to identify five main themes useful to consider when establishing the geography of fashion’s world cites, which include the following: the urban consumer revolution of the eighteenth century, the economic and symbolic systems of European imperialism, the development of rivalries between European fashion cities, the influence of an American engagement with European fashion, and finally, the development of a symbolic ordering of cities within the fashion media.

In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, European and North American cities were learning new practices of consumption. However, what distinguished Paris, London, Milan and New York into breeding grounds for central fashion locations, were their positions in the network of world trade which enhanced the supply of new unique experiences, and thus provided opportunity for the acceleration of the fashion cycle. An extreme example of this can be seen through the figure of London’s “Macaroni” which was established in the 1770s. The “Macaroni” was a fashionable man who was notorious for his indulgent geographic reach of clothing, and his fastidious eating, gambling, and lifestyle habits. Furthermore, as Gilbert quotes writer Miles Ogborn, the “Macaroni” was “understood within the international chains of the commodities that made London itself a dangerous place through the ways in which its endless varieties of consumption brought together the produce of the world.” (15). Access to these commodities were of vital importance as urban locations began to establish themselves as fashion epicenters. However, throughout the consumer revolution many fashion centre’s geography remained pre-industrial, as an economic structure was established which was characterized by small scale workshops instead of by factory production. Thus fashion was not only significant for the elite, but it was also extremely prominent in the “back regions” of the city where it was made, finished and copied.

New York Uptown Barneys & Ralph Lauren

The origin of modern fashion culture in cities like London and Paris is largely a result of their imperial past and post-imperial present. Imperialism created the economic ordering of the fashion industry by establishing international divisions of labor. Imperialism also provided for exotic stylistic incorporations into the designs produced making the fashion of these imperial cities far more unique and aesthetically appealing.

The age of Empire was classified as one with highly unequal relations between Europe and the rest of the world as well as economic, political and cultural competition between the countries within the European borders. The competitive ambience sensed throughout the continent resulted in magnificent architecture of the capital cities, the enormous size of great exhibitions, and of course the influence of high fashion soon became yet another way the European countries competed with one another, always striving further in attempt to outshine their neighbor.

New York Downtown

Americans have always been vastly enamored with Parisian fashion; so much so, that international tourism became one of the growth industries of the Second Empre Paris, “and by the end of the nineteenth century developments in transatlantic travel helped to turn the city into the hub of the European tour for thousands of upper and middle class Americans.” (18)Furthermore, the American adoration for Parisian fashion and culture yielded to the romantic portrayal of the city through Hollywood, throughout the twentieth century. This portrayal yielded to an obsession of Paris amongst American’s who had never visited before and this obsession continues to exist today.

The last theme which Gilbert suggests his readers to consider in terms of the development of fashion’s world cities, is the symbolic ordering of cities within the fashion media. This theme was brushed upon earlier in the article and is the subject of the article’s final section. Gilbert identifies fashion as part of its own “symbolic order.” The “symbolic order” was established by theorist Jaques Lacan in his psychoanalytical theory in which things exist in the “real” and the “imaginary.” When items are purchased because they have an affiliation with either Paris, New York, London, etc., Gilbert refers to this as the ‘hallucinatory’ projection of images of desire. The name of a city on a label is a part of the “imaginary” realm, as the consumer makes assumptions of the product based upon the reputation of the city.

At last, in “Urban Outfitting: The city and the spaces of fashion culture,” David Gilbert successfully establishes the important and long lasting, dependant relationship which exists between fashion and its central cities.

Above: Photograph from Streetpeeper.com. This popular website documents street style captured in fashion savvy cities. It is one of many examples of how influenced we are by urban dress, especially in fashion epicenters.

"How the Runway took off”- Amanda Fortini: According to Fortini’s historical account of the American runway, the first fashion show took place in a New York City specialty store in 1903. The store, Ehrich Brothers, put on this show in an attempt to lure middle class female customers in. Seven years later, many big department stores were holding shows as well, which proved to be an extremely effective method of promoting merchandise and improving the status of the store in the eye of the clientele.

By the 1920s, the fashion show had gone mainstream as retailers throughout the country staged shows of their own. However, the early fashion show was different from what it is today as it was significantly more theatrical, often presented with narrative comedy and frequently organized around themes.

Eleanor Lambert above

The current bi-annual ready to wear fashion week circuit: NY/London/Milan/Paris

In 1943, New York City celebrated its first Fashion Week, which was essentially an attempt to overthrow the sartorial tyranny of the French. Before the Second World War, American designers were heavily reliant on French couture for inspiration. However, when the Germans occupied France in 1940 American buyers, editors and designers were unable to travel to Paris for inspiration. Thus in an attempt to promote definitively American fashion, Eleanor Lambert, a well known fashion publicist, organized “Press Week” which was essentially New York City’s first fashion week. As Lambert had hoped, American designers successfully made innovative strides forward which captured the attention of the elite magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, which had previously been consumed with French fashion.

The extravagance of the French shows designed by the team Villa Eugenie

See the chronological history of the runway here


  1. http://xac.xanga.com/2ecf83f458d30254102208/z196026668.jpg

    Richard Avedon did a series of photos that reminded me of the "Fashion=Death" concept that we've been discussing in class. The above link is one of them, I saw the series in his beautiful book, "Woman in the Mirror."


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