Monday, March 29, 2010

Sexual Power

by Samantha Shaw

Mario Testino, V 59. The author points to a conflicted hegemony. Different images send different messages especially about women.

“Gender and Hegemony in Fashion Magazines: Women’s Interpretations of Fashion Photographs” by Diana Crane
“Gender and Hegemony in Fashion Magazines: Women’s Interpretations of Fashion Photographs” by Diana Crane was published in Volume 40, number 4 of The Sociological Quarterly in 1999. This article is a companion piece to a study that examined women’s relationships with the images presented in fashion magazines. Crane questions the validity of the assumption that fashion magazines encourage conformation and dissatisfaction among women through analyzing the data and responses of women who participated in the study, while acknowledging the various theories that exist connecting women’s self-worth and the images presented in fashion publications. Crane’s key question pertains to whether or not fashion theorists’ assumptions are accurate in their perception of hegemony in fashion magazines.

Both types of women exist, JCrew 2009 and Terry Richardson 2009

In one image both mother and sex appeal, Testino, V 59

Crane begins the article by addressing the conception that society views Fashion as a form of hegemonic oppression, however, this assumption may not be true. In order to explore this, Crane sets forth the parameters for interpreting the study which includes “Understanding the impact of these images requires consideration of (1) the concept of hegemony as it applies to texts created for women and (2) theories of media reception and their conceptualization of women as readers or interpreters of media materials” (Crane 1). She goes on to elaborate on the concept of hegemony, taping in to feminist theory that supposes that feminine hegemony incorporates male desires. However, various contradictions exist with in the readings of hegemonic femininity. Through these contradictions, Crane presents the concept of conflicted hegemony, which indicates that there is no standard, but rather consumers choose from various interpretations of fashion, which can be ted to social class or ethnic background. These options can be tied to the oppositional forces of modernism and postmodernism, two methods of thought that prevail throughout our culture. In order to complete this exploration, Crane discusses various media theories relating to women’s reception of fashion magazines, but ultimately concludes that there is no consensus to how contemporary women perceive fashion.

In the following section, entitled “Postmodernism, Feminism, and Fashion,” the author acknowledges the various agendas of fashion magazines, that include the portrayal of youth culture, female power and social change, and creation of identities. She uses Vogue to illustrate the evolution of the fashion magazine from purveyor of fashion to purveyor of media material. By the 1980s Vogue had become markedly sexualized displaying partial nudity and emphasizing sexual provocation. This signifies a change in function of fashion photographs.

In the end the study’s results display the validity of the theory of conflicted hegemony. Many women did not rely on fashion magazines as a directional source, but rather used a combination of sources to shape their perception of fashion, including friends and other media sources. Theses sources, when weighed against one another, equate to fashion’s conflicted hegemony. The study on which Crane reflects upon questions our notions of the hierarchy of power in fashion and begs the reader to reconsider his or her own power within the fashion system.

About the author: Diana Crane is a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to this article, she gained success with her book Fashion and its Social Agendas: Class, Gender, and Identity in Clothing. She has a particular interest in the intersection between the sociological aspects of the fashion industry and empirical data. Although she is probably best known for her work in the theorization of fashion, she also has published works concerning global media and arts policy.

“Flash Trash: Gianni Versace and the theory and practice of glamour” by
Réka C. V. Buckley and Stephen Gundle.
The work of Gianni Versace can often be called vulgar, tasteless, and over the top. His legacy, although one of considerable success is often overshadowed by allegations of gaudy designs and an anti-feminist, over sexualized aesthetic. Réka C. Buckley and Stephen Gundle approach the legacy of Gianni Versace with a different eye, through using the theory and practice of glamour to explain his success as a designer and businessman.

The authors set forth a means for explaining the work of Gianni Versace by first defining glamour theory and then tying it to the work of Versace. Walter Scott, a romantic novelist who wrote novels concerning the Middle Ages, introduced the idea of glamour into literary language. The aspect of escapist fantasy in these novels appealed to the bourgeoisie. The idea of glamour explained the desire of realistic situations with out inconvenience. The late 19th and early 20th century welcomed a more consumer driven economy, where products associated with desirable characteristics (beauty, wealth, youth, etc) were becoming the objects of desire of the bourgeoisie. This idea carries through to the golden age of Hollywood were wealth equated to morality. However, it is in the realm of the French courtesan that glamour and fashion truly intersect.

The French courtesan was the beginning of the commercialization of sex. Courtesans essentially marketed themselves through purveying a specific image. “…they possessed precisely the qualities of beauty, desirability, fashionableness, and wealth that attracted attention. The courtesan fitted so well with the new order because she was a professional of make-believe and illusion in an era in which appearances became substance” (Buckley and Gundle 6). The courtesan was the perfect combination of attributes, resulting in the concept of modern glamour.

Buckley and Gundle explain Versace’s rise to prominence during the 1970s fashion revolution, in which consumer aspirations and economic growth made luxury ready to wear possible. In the 1990s, Versace developed his aesthetic of over the top glamour for which the brand is known for today. Versace experienced incredible success as result of Italy’s lax tax system and control over brand image. The new rich flocked to Versace, as his designs represented an idealized image of jet set glamour.

Versace’s association with glamour is dependant upon many factors. Buckley and Gundle highlight “Image and Celebrity, ” “The Versace style,” and “Gender and Sexuality” as factors contributing to Versace’s glamorous image. Versace was calculated purveyor of his brand, creating associations with celebrities in order to cultivate an image of glamour. Furthermore, Versace’s work was heavily influenced by the decadence of the Italian renaissance, which inevitably associates the brand with power and aristocracy. Finally, Versace favored a non-conformist woman, who embraced her sexuality and powers of seduction, harkening to the courtesan.

The authors conclude by tying Versace to the features of glamour they had defined earlier, ultimately deciding that Gianni Versace use of paradoxical vulgarity and elegance, emphasis on desirable images and excess, and construction alluring models of femininity place Versace with in the legacy of modern glamour. It becomes apparent through a close reading of this text, that Versace’s success is inextricably tied to the commercialization of sexual power.

About the Authors: Flash Trash: Gianni Versace and the theory and practice of glamour” is found in “Fashion Cultures: Theories, explorations and analysis” and was published in 2000. Stephen Gundle is the author of “Glamour: a History” which was published in 2008. Réka C.V. Buckley is a professor at the University of Portsmouth specializing in film and visual studies.


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