Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Both fashion and power are things people can possess and larger systems. How does power dress? The question is what power? The establishment? The opposition? From the Western suit and tux to the Eastern turban and bisht, socially established men tend to dress in similar dark, full coverage clothing codes. Various types of subcultural groups modify and oppose these forms.

Woman in socially powerful positions display variation in fashion codes. Female power through clothing also evokes the questions of objectification and seduction using a feminine language of forms.

Fashion is used to reinforce and negotiate power; it can be used to unite and separate, and to command authority and attention.

There is also the potential for fashion to influence society by advancing cultural values.

In the words of Oscar Wilde, “A history of dress would be a history of minds; for dress expresses a moral idea; it symbolizes the intellect and disposition of a nation."

FASHION & Spectacle: Usurpation and Inscription of Power From and On the Modern Consumer of Illusion in Capitalist Society

by Rahkua Ishakarah

"The phenomenon of fashion is essential to understanding today's individualistic democratic society, because it is an integral and constitutive part of modern western society, and therefore a central and permanet phenomenon" (Fuentes and Quiroga 384). Fashion exercises its spectacular task in its global division with its own set of commodities and the hieroglyphic instructions with which the consumer society discerns its place. It asserts cultural, economic, aesthetic hegemony through the homogenization of image that the social being follows.

What complicates and, quite frankly, justifies the relationship between fashion and its consumer as mutual symbiosis, is the fact that identity can be discerned through the employment of these fetishized commodities, which are at once tools of capitalist society producing artificiality/image for consumption and tools actually lending an individuality and empowerment of identity: "The final twist ... [is that] fashion ... often does successfully express the individual" (Wilson 395).

What becomes more important than actual truth - whether or not these products are empty fetishes perpetuating capitalism global dominance - is our perception of said truth - the products have a transformative power of image and identity that can serve to promote social status and relationship. This perception gives us over to a sense of self, even if based on falsities.

Decoding the Multicultural: The House of Balenciaga and its Fall/Winter 2007 Collection

by Sara Johenning

The House of Balenciaga is one of the most esteemed and directional fashion brands working today. Initially founded by a Spanish designer, Cristobal Balenciaga, in 1937, the House has progressed into the modern day fashion frontier under the creative direction of Nicolas Ghesquiere, a young French designer who has had control of the House since 1997. The House of Balenciaga was built on and is still associated with impeccable craftsmanship, the play of fabric and color, and exaggerated/structurally baffling silhouettes (i.e. the “tonneau”, or barrel-shaped line).

Although some of the notions of power that Cristobal built his House on have shifted in recent years due to Ghesquiere’s redirection of the brand, Balenciaga has managed to become a major force in the Parisian fashion scene, while still paying generous homage to its Spanish routes.

More specifically, by analyzing Ghesquiere’s FW07 collection for the House closely – in relation to the brand’s history, visual power codes (the ruff, military jacket, ikat textile, and Palestinian keffiyeh), and Parisian street culture, a bricollaged signification of multicultural dressing is revealed.

Gothic Fashion: The Power of the Haute Macabre

by Alex Hess

“They play up their otherness, ‘happening’ on the world as aliens, inscruables” (Hebdige, 121) My essay explored the ideals behind the bondage chains and black lipstick associated with Gothic fashion and look at the fragile power structure between the Goth subculture and the ‘straight world’ in contemporary European society.

I propose that it can be interpreted through two different lenses: the fetishism of objects and the employment of fantasy clothing. In looking at ‘fetish parties,’ we can see examples of fetish wear being brought to the surface. Marx asserts that “fashion itself is only another medium that lures (sexus) even deeper into the material world” (Lehmann, 434). In other words, fashion’s act of covering up the body leads the unconscious association of certain items, such as the high heel, with sexuality. These leather corsets and dangerously high heels manipulate the power of associations apparent in today’s society by magnifying them. By becoming the physical manifestation of a taboo, the gothic subculture asserts their voluntary status as outsiders, as representations of all that is repressed in contemporary society.

Both Gothic shops that I visited in Paris doubled as sex shops, selling items pertaining to bondage an sadomasochism. This act can be viewed as a conscious act of rebellion according to Hebdige, the surfacing of existing social codes within the Gothic community arises “at a time when such an affirmation of the classic concerns of working-class life (is) considered inappropriate” (Hebdige, 79). They have no obviously apparent political goals, however, their logos focus around morbid and romantic symbols, and not political ones. Their focus is centered on a willful retreat from society by questioning normative gender identity.

Gothic subculture also questions gender roles and androgyny by playing with the power of associations and reversal of fashion codes. Certain couples set up a number of visual precedents that knowledgably violate power codes within gender, the woman adopting the masculinity associated with the American cowboy and the male unabashedly sporting historic symbols of feminine power. Hebdidge suggests this is an attempt to escape normative gender roles. “Bowie’s meta-message was escape- from class, from sex, from personality, from obvious commitment- into a fantasy past… or a science-fiction future” (Hebdige, 61).

The Gothic subculture does not just restrict itself to fetish wear, but ranges from fantasy costumes turned street wear to dressing like an animae character. These looks have little to no relation to social constructs, but estrange themselves through antiquity paired with surreal and fabricated elements or a bricolage of elements so diverse that they defy all interpretation.

Lehman proposes that clothing is connected to the wearer emotionally in saying what we wear is a “protection against the general unfriendliness of the world as a whole; or expressed more psychologically, a reassurance against the lack of love” (Flugel, 131). Gothic fashion sometimes features several heavyset body chains that cover the entire chest or back area. This direct connection between armor, Flugel’s theory of psychological protection and Gothic fashion lends itself to the subculture’s attempt to shield themselves from the outside world that they perceive as dangerous.

We can see Gothic fashion’s relationship with Haute Couture as a “two-way practice of appropriation, parody, and sign entropy” (Gill, 495) as opposed to an empty symbol “worn without reference to its original subcultural meaning” (Polhemus, 331). , in the case of gothic fashion, the power is returned to the Goth by bringing him further away from reality by associating him with the otherworldliness of a haute couture show.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Extraordinary Power of Carine Roitfeld

by Emily Kearns

While she certainly holds power as the editor in chief of one of the most, if not the most, influential fashion magazines in the world, Carine Roitfeld clearly exhibits power in other ways. First, she has shown that by simply endorsing a designer or model, she can make or break their career. She has launched the careers of countless designers by putting their clothes in Vogue and has turned models into supermodels by featuring them on the pages of the magazine.

Roitfeld also displays her power as both an editor and a stylist, dictating trends and, ultimately, deciding what is fashionable. Her willingness to take risks as an editor and stylist has, in turn, helped Vogue as a business, as advertising revenue has increased since she took over.

Moreover, Roitfeld’s willingness to be unconventional plays a large part in her power. While the position of editor in chief is inherently powerful, French vogue’s Carine Roitfeld is one of the most powerful figures in the fashion industry as a whole and she exhibits and demonstrates this power in various ways.

The Noblesse Oblige of European Fashion Power: Bernard Arnault & Francois Pinault

by Tribbie Nassikas

Bernard Arnault, founder, chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy

Aristocratic power of the French nobility from the late sixteenth to eighteenth centuries reveals the emergence of an essentially modern culture, one that has maintained a consciousness of the responsibility to give back to the community. This notion of benevolent acts of stewardship by those of a privileged social standing is known as nobles oblige, and is continued to be carried out today, evident in powerful individuals like Bernard Arnault, founder, chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), and François Pinault, owner of Gucci Group.

François Pinault, owner of Gucci Group

As two figures literally at the head of the fashion industry, each at the control of two of the world’s leading multi-brand luxury companies, Arnault and Pinault naturally can be typified as leaders solely concerned with dominating the luxury goods market. However, Arnault and Pinault are not just single-mindedly so, but rather, serious patrons of the arts and social solidarity, revealing the benevolence of fashion which is commonly overlooked. Therefore, Arnault and Pinault become two figures that represent the noblesse oblige of European fashion power.

Structuring the Power of the Suit from Art to Photography

by Nicole Schloss

Louis-Leopold Boilly, "The Singer Chenard as a Sans-Culotte" 1792. Musee Carnavalet, Paris

It is a useful garment spiritually. If you wear a suit you show the world you belong. Why? Because you are wearing a form of dress for men which…has come down to us from 1670, gradually altered to show the change from aristocratic to democratic rule, to show, by allowing it to be affected by sport, that man is free to exercise his body” (Amies 44). The male suit today is the most ubiquitous and standardized style of dress for men. Government leaders, job seekers, middle class businessmen and storeowners alike have all conformed to this seemingly drab uniform, but this has not always been the case. The suit is a product of both modernity and the Western world’s shift away from monarchical rule, a trend that can be observed through art, without which, we would have very little knowledge of these rapidly changing styles. The French suit, in particular, is implicitly aligned with modernity and republican values due to the French Revolution and the bourgeois rejection of decadent forms in the move towards democratization. Popular to contrary belief, the suit did not originate in Paris or even Italy, as so much of high fashion has; rather, it came to Paris by way of England and Puritanical thought, favoring simplicity over decadence. As clothing is the most basic indication of one’s social status and power (Simmel), the suit took on its own forms in the nineteenth century, evolving into what it is today.

Edouard Manet, "Dejuner sur l'Herbe" 1863. Musee d'Orsay, Paris

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, "Moulin de la Galette" 1876. Musee d'Orsay, Paris

The male suit’s origins were brought to France by way of English hunting costumes. Malleable wool pants and coats allowed men to be comfortable instead of constrained by breeches and stockings. The sans-culottes of the French Revolution appropriated this style of dress to negate the ways of the French monarchy, thus aligning democracy with the suit. The Great Masculine Renunciation (a term coined by John C. Flugel) in the mid-1800s was a period of panic in which all men rejected tight and bright clothing in favor of a more austere and dark style. The suit manifested itself in this stage, coming to epitomize male power and masculinity influenced by the Greek male nude (Hollander). Painters such as Manet and Renoir painted the emergence of the suit onto Paris’s landscape, showing the costume as civil, democratic, and one that emphasized only the positive characteristics of all men. Men used the suit as an escape, an attempt to try and fit in with the bourgeois class, especially at places such as the Moulin de la Galette.

David Roemer's "Exclusive Updates" for the Robb Report

Today we can see the versatility of the suit in editorials by David Roemer and Miles Aldridge. Both photographers elaborate on the world of power that a suit provides. Men can fly overseas to a business meeting clad in the best-tailored suits surrounded by all the luxuries they can afford. They dominate the workspace, inspiring fear in all who pass by. The suit has become more than an item of clothing for men; it is their most accessible and recognizable form of power negotiation, dating back to hundreds of years of continuity.

Miles Aldridge's "Business Class" for l'Uomo Vogue


by Alex Goldman

Promostyl Women’s Spring/Summer 2010 Print Directions

Within the fashion industry exists a complex hierarchy of power relations. The hierarchy is made up of all the players that live within the fashion world. These include the designers, models, photographers, fashion house owners, magazine editors, graphic designers, marketing and public relations firms, advertisers, journalists and more, all the way down to the retailers and consumers. When it comes to fashion and power, who has the power in the fashion industry to decide what is fashionable each season? It is important to predict early on which trends will be popular, because fashion designers, buyers, and marketers need direction to reel in consumer interest. “The ability to forecast fashion trends is necessary because the design, development and production of most garments takes several months, so product concepts are usually initiated anywhere between two weeks and a year prior to going on sale” (Goworek, 31). Taking Promostyl as an archetype of a prestigious trend forecasting agency, one can observe the extent to which a trend forecaster’s vision for Summer 2010 is translated into advertisements, editorials and retail collections.

Promostyl Women’s Spring/Summer 2010 Print Directions

Above is Promostyl’s Predicted Trend: Wild

First in a Zara store window display, second on a person on the street in Paris photographed by the Sartorialist on 10-04-10

Promostyl Women’s Spring/Summer 2010 Print Directions

Promostyl Women’s Spring/Summer 2010 Print Directions

Fetishism of the High Heel Shoe

by Danielle Auerbach

Are all high-heels created equally? Perhaps to the untrained eye they are, but there is certainly a social hierarchy which exists depending on what designer you are wearing on your feet. In the consumer oriented Western World a high heel fetish, as Karl Marx defines it, surely exists which provide the wearer of the designer shoes with an unspoken but socially accepted superiority.

Christian Louboutin, F 2009

Before addressing Karl Marx’s theory of fetishism of the commodity it is first necessary to distinguish it from Freud’s theory sexual fetishism. Freud addresses the shoe as a sexual object of fetishism in his essay Fetishism in which he defines a fetish as “a substitute for the woman’s (the mother’s) penis that the little boy once believed in and—for reasons familiar to us—does not want to give up” (Freud). Freud continues to more specifically address the shoe as an object of fetishism as he explains “[…] the foot or shoe owes its preference as a fetish—or a part of it—to the circumstance that the inquisitive boy peered at the woman’s genitals from below, from her legs up, fur and velvet—as has long been suspected—are a fixation of the sight of the pubic hair, which should have been followed by the longed-for sight of the female member; pieces of underclothing, which are so often chosen as a fetish, crystallize the moment of undressing, the last moment in which the woman could still be regarded as phallic” (Freud). Thus, according to Freud, the shoe is fetishized by young males from an early age in order to justify the mother’s lack of penis in a dominatingly male world (Freud). However, if this was the case even the most mundane pair of shabby flats would be fetishized so long as they provided a reminder of that first glimpse of the mother’s lack of penis.

Alexander McQueen's stiletto versus the flat sandal

While there is no doubt that the high heel shoe can be an object of fetishism, it is not fetishized in the way Freud argues (Marx). Instead, the fetishism of the high heel shoe rests within value it inheres from the consumer without regard to the labor contributed in constructing the shoe; thus the shoe takes on what Marx identifies as mystical value (Marx). According to Marx, value “[…] does not stalk about with a label describing what it is. It is value rather, that converts every product into a social hieroglyphic” (Marx). The fetishism of the high heel shoe is much more specific than a general adoration for an ordinary shoe. Marx argues that capitalists fetishize commodities believing that they contain value which exceed the cost of production (Marx). Generally, high heeled shoes are accessible to anybody; however, as the shoe assumes exclusivity it becomes the subject of fetishism as it causes human interactions which form a sort of social ladder (Marx).

French Brand Power through the Iconic Chanel “Double Overlapping C’s” Logo

by Jenny Seo

Counterfeiting items leads back into the idea that imitation dominates social groups so the lower groups stay with the trend. Fashion would only survive as a social system when formal societies with class structures exist. The Chanel “Double Overlapping C’s” logo allows this hierarchy to form. This hierarchy creates a trickle down theory with imitations and counterfeit items shadowing the desired power brand.

While counterfeiting items poses a threat to the moral standards of society as well as the original designer, there is also an opposing yet mystifying side to the other spectrum. Would brand names be as desired as they are now if it was financially impossible for the masses to obtain them? People purchase these counterfeit imitations only because they cannot afford the authentic item. Many covet the real merchandise, but it is not financially feasible for the masses. The Chanel “Double Overlapping C’s” Logo will always stand as a desired symbol of status and represent the strength of French brand power.

The Power of Fashion Media

Nora J. Daly

Gazette du Bon Ton

Today there are four types of fashion media: the magazine as hegemonic power, media as reporter of street style and cultural trends, the magazine as art object, and media as a tool of individual expression. The magazine as hegemonic power is the historical form of the fashion magazine as dictator of both trends and lifestyle to its readers. This was the role of the fashion magazine for the earlier half of the twentieth century, during which time publishers and editors were at the height of their power within the fashion system. Media as a reporter of street style and cultural trends has both an historical and a contemporary connotation. The earliest fashion magazines reported on trends established by wealthy aristocrats, this remained the magazine’s role for much of the nineteenth century. During this time magazines existed to empower wealthy elites and established dressmakers and fashion authorities.

Today modern media, both magazines and blogs, devoted to tracking street style can be seen as harkening back to this tradition, one difference being this newer form of media as reporter of trends empowers cultural figures (such as models and musicians) and even individuals to some extent. The third form, the magazine as art object, is the newest incarnation of the fashion magazine as it tries to survive in an era where print media has become increasingly obsolete. These “galleries in print” are created for elites, by elites, but as they are inaccessible and unknown to mainstream consumers it is questionable whether they really empower anyone.

Lynn Yaeger, The Satiorialist

Finally, there remains media as an individual expression, best embodied by the personal fashion blog (different from the street style blog in that it focuses on the author’s sartorial expression). This form of media allows the individual consumer, typically at the bottom of the fashion food chain, to obtain power and influence trends. While it is safe to say that the days of the magazine’s hegemony are behind us, in the future it is likely that the types of media discussed will flourish, as will new forms of media that come along to fit the ever expanding definition of fashion.

Precious Gems and Jewelry: The power they connote and the meaning that they signify

by Emily Kaufman

Credit: UK Telegraph May 2009, Foreign Staff

Question: How has this, power that is vested in the objects that we buy and wear, developed? How is it that such little and seemingly insignificant objects are used to communicate such important sociological ideas? With jewelry comes the luxury market and Theodore Adorno makes clear assertions about the luxury market the way in which it appeals to the client. The argument that Adorno formed is ever yet overwhelmingly true. Upon conducting my field research, which included visiting these types of luxury market stores and attempting to speak to personnel I was jarred.

Photo by Emily Kaufman

Adorno states that, “as radiant things give up their magic claims, renounce the power with which the subject invested them and hoped with their help himself to wield, they become transformed into images of gentleness, promises of a happiness cured of domination over nature”(Adorno, 245). Despite the fact that man is now intellectually aware that these gems don’t have mystic of magical power however that myth still exists. Now however, the stores use the previous beliefs to create a world unto which buying them will unlock.

Photo by Emily Kaufman

French Fashion Bloggers

by Simone Miller

Olivier Zahm and Terry Richardson on Purple Diary

The concept of fashion blogging may seem relatively new but its roots lie in the 19th century idea of the flâneur. Like the flâneur, the French fashion blogger is all about seeing and being seen. Though the blogger's and the flâneur's territory, the internet and Paris respectively, seem endless, they are both confined by what Walter Benjamin refers to as the "phantasmagoria of space". Mallarmé is also at the roots of blogging because he created, wrote and published La Derniere Mode on his own. By self-publishing, French fashion bloggers such as Olivier Zahm of Purple Diary and Garance Doré of Garance Doré operate outside of the fashion system which gives them power.

Carine Roitfeld and Mario Testino on Purple Diary

Garance Doré's blog

However, both bloggers operate within the fashion system when they attend shows or contribute work to fashion magazines or feature important editors, models and celebrities on their blogs. By inviting bloggers to participate in the fashion system, the fashion industry, especially magazines and editors, are attempting to negotiate their power in relation to bloggers. However, blogs and magazines serve different purposes in the industry so it is doubtful that the magazine will entirely cease to exist in favor of bloggers.

Kate Lanphear of Elle