Monday, February 28, 2011

Fashion & Subculture: The Japanese Revolution in Paris Fashion

By Jennifer Liu

In her article, "The Japanese Revolution in Paris Fashion," Yuniya Kawamura focuses on the occupation of designer as the focal point of the fashion system, under the argument that France offers the model of the fashion system that legitimizes designers on a worldwide platform. The author analyzes the entry of Japanese designers into the French fashion system from 1970 to 2003. She discusses three different relationships that designers have with the system: a complete assimilation with the French system and style ("frenchification"), the exoticism of the avant-garde, and the infusion tradition japanese designs with haute couture.

Japanese Avant-Garde Fashion
Beginning of the 1980s was when a new generation of Japanese designers became key players in the Paris fashion scene. Issey Miyake (considered the founding father of avant-garde fashion), Rei Kawakubo, and Yohji Yamamoto, known as "The Big Three," brought in a new style that Europe hadn't seen before. The style was characterized by monochromatic, asymmetrical, and baggy looks that set the stage for the beginning of postmodern interpretation of "clothes that break the boundary between the West and the East, fashion and anti-fashion, and modern and anti-modern." The three designers had already started careers in fashion in Japan but only after their planned entry into the French fashion system were they well known by the fashion world outside of Japan.

The author, Kawamura, gives the history behind the emergence of the three designers and explains how their emergence in the French fashion system was more powerful and gave such an enormous impact to the French because they had all come out at around the same time. She also points out that establishing a presence in France, opening a store in Paris, and being able to have a label that reads "Made in France," contributed to put these designers firmly on the fashion industry's map.

Acceptance by the French System
Unlike the works of Kenzo, who more or less completely assimilated his designs to fit that of the French fashion style, this new Japanese avant-garde style stretched the boundaries of fashion, destroying previous definitions of clothing and fashion, and the clothes have even been accused of attempting to destroy the concept of fashion itself by being challenging to wear. However, the Japanese designers were considered artists rather than just designers. They worked with painters, sculptors, opera, theatre, photographers, and through their social contracts in the prestigious art world, the mutual influence contributed to an increase in the status of the fashion designer (a tactic that had developed in the fashion world in Paris after WWI).The Japanese designers have benefited from the idea that designers are image-makers and their images are carefully crafted like an artists work, seeing that being regarded as artists helped them become a part of the french fashion system.
The author goes on to state that being approved in the French fashion system helps gain international respect and recognition more so than had they stayed in the fashion world of Japan.

Hanae Mori: The Ultimate Designer Status in Paris
Hanae Mori is the first and only Asian couturier in the history of French Haute Couture. Her style however, is far from avant-garde. She did not make as big an impact on the world of fashion in the same sense that The Big Three have, but she provides impeccable dressmaking and tailoring techniques to her clothing and through her fame, was probably the first person to create an occupation called "a designer" in Japan. As the only non-western haute couture designer, she did infuse Japanese high culture and style and applied them to Western aesthetics. Unlike the avant-garde designers, Mori plays out her role as a Japanese couturiere by applying Japanese cultural heritage in French fashion and therefore legitimating it as a high fashion taste to the rest of the fashion world.

These Japanese designers took advantage of the changes in the structures of fashion institutions and the French system of fashion to incorporate themselves within it, make an impact, and become internationally recognized. Sometimes the presence of the Japanese designers in Paris, especially with the new avant-garde fashion, appeared to be destroying the traditional senses of fashion, but they have actually reinforced the French supremacy and power fashion. Kawamura writes that "participating in French fashion earned [the Japanese designers] the social, economic and symbolic capital that they are able to differentiate themselves from other Japanese designers without these resources."

Kawamura, Yuniya. "The Japanese Revolution in Paris Fashion." Fashion Theory, Volume 8, Issue 2. May 2004. Print.

Subculture: The Unnatural Break

by Rebecca Ann Wong

In his article “Subculture: The Unnatural Break”, Dick Hebdige addresses how the post-war British youth subcultures (which he defines as spectacular subcultures) disturbed and challenged orderly social systems, making them ‘unnatural’ (153).

Hebdige uses the example of punk to outline his theories, and in particular, he addresses the Sex Pistols as the band that brought the punk subculture towards the public eye. It just so happened that one of their television appearances coincided with the time in which the punk style was in its beginning stages of being discovered by the media.

Hebdige then goes on to discuss how society attempts to accommodate these subcultures through two different forms of incorporation: the commodity form and the ideological form. Hebdige describes these forms of incorporations as a mode of ‘recuperation’ (154) that society takes on, since subcultures are seen as movements deviating from the norm, creating ‘a wave of hysteria’(153) and thereby testing the order and structure of society in this way.

Hebdige defines the first form of incorporation, the commodity form, to be the occurrence in which society attempts to convert the attributes of a certain subculture into something less exclusive. This is done by taking the style, trends, dress, music etc of the subcultures and popularizing them so that the subcultures lose their exclusivity. the main force behind this marketing of subcultures as a form of merchandise is the media and as a result, the aspects that once rendered each subculture unique gradually become mass-produced commodities made available to all.

The second form that society uses to incorporate subcultures into the bigger picture is deemed by Hebdige to be the ideological form. Here, he brings in the concept of ‘the Other” and addresses how the media can both draw excessive attention to subcultures, as well as downplay and diminish interest in them. In order to explain this, Hebdige considers two strategies that have developed so that the threats posed by subcultures are removed. The first of the strategies adopts the thinking that ‘the difference is simply denied’ (155). This means that the subculture is ‘trivialized, naturalized and domesticated’ (155) and ‘the Other’ as a whole is removed from the picture. On the otherhand, the other strategy (known as meaningless exotica) results in the subculture becoming less relevant and simply less intriguing and curious for the public. As a result, there is a shrinking disparity between the subcultures and mainstream culture.

Indeed, subcultures are akin to ‘noises’ (152) as Hebdige describes due to their ability to disrupt society's structured order and engage the attention of the masses.

Hebdige, Dick. "Subculture: The Unnatural Break". Subculture: The Meaning of Style. England: Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1987. 90-99. Print.

Fashion & Subcultural Identity: The Zoot Suit

Stuart Cosgrove's "The Zoot Suit and Style Warfare"
by Sydney Kipen

In his article “The Zoot Suit and Style Warfare,” Stuart Cosgrove confronts the importance of the zoot suit in the 1940s as an iconic symbol that arose in a time of conflict. He investigates the evolvement of the zoot suit from something associated with urban jazz culture to a symbol of revolt for young rebels, predominately African and Mexican Americans wanting to be heard.
Coordinate with the rise of the zoot suit, were the “zoot suit riots;” the conflict that the suit caused with its rebellious connotations. Cosgrove asserts that the zoot suit was “an emblem of ethnicity and a way of negotiating an identity” (137). He explores the social and political importance of the suit especially during the year of 1943 when the zoot suit riots began to erupt. The zoot suit, as Cosgrove describes, became the “uniform” of young rioters and a symbol of rebellion and delinquency.

Zoot Suit 1942
Originally ascribed unfavorably to young African American rebels, it also became associated with Mexican-American youths, known as “pachucos.” A group “stripped of their customs, beliefs and language” when they came to America, the pachuco subculture became synonymous with showy fashion, crime, and drug use; a rebellious group to say the least. Cosgrove notes that zoot suit wearers used the zoot suit to announce their alienation and separation from mainstream society.

Cosgrove credits America’s involvement in World War II as the cause for the increase in delinquency and juvenile crime. Young rebels had more opportunities to act on their own, further instigating the zoot suit riots. The riots became more prevalent with the connation behind the zoot suit: that one who wore it was one who did not fit in. During war time rationing, the manufacturing of zoot suits was forbidden, highlighting the rebellious connotations that came with the zoot suit; “wearing a zoot suit was a deliberate and public way of flouting the regulations of rationing,” and the law (139). Cosgrove describes the fights between zoot suiters, most often gang members, and servicemen that involved arrests, attacks, and excessive violence. Zoot suit attacks also included female gangs, widely disproving gender stereotypes.

The zoot suit, as Cosgrove says, was the uniform of the attacker and the attacked: “To wear a zoot suit was to risk the repressive intolerance of wartime society” (144). The zoot suit riots were a seg-way for participants into a world of politics and power associated with an outfit.



Fashion & Subcultural Identity: Selling Culture

Debora Silverman's "Selling Culture in Reagan's America"
by Sydney Kipen

In her article “Selling Culture: Bloomingdale’s, Diana Vreeland, and the New Aristocracy of Taste in Reagan’s America,” Debora Silverman begins with a description of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Yves Saint-Laurent exhibit organized by Diana Vreeland. Silverman explains the success of Vreeland’s show as an advertising campaign for French haute couture in America and “as a glorification of woman as and objet d’art,” for whom life consists of displaying different extravagant outfits (305). Silverman asserts that the Saint-Laurent show was part of an important movement of “aristocratic posturing” in America, leading (maybe “pushing” high society individuals, engrossed in cultural and political aspects of life, to care about how they look. Silverman contends that the movement held direct links to the epicenter of power in the White House; Ronald and Nancy Reagan initiated a new regime of aristocracy, connecting politics and fashion.

The Reagan White House attempted to portray itself as a member of an exclusive elite class, despite its dependence on the American public of consumers for their success. Silverman makes the argument that the Reagan’s continuously combined “fashion, politics, high-culture and consumerism,” insinuating something, perhaps unflattering, about the values of the Reagan house and their hedonism. Silverman goes on to describe the socializing skills of the Reagan’s and their high-society friends. This was eventually illustrated through their aristocratic tendencies, on a consumerist level at Bloomingdale’s and an elite level at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Known as “twin centers of aristocratic invocation,” Silverman takes on a theoretical and argumentative approach as she asserts that Vreeland’s projects at the Met which glorified “social distinction and female decoration,” coincided with Nancy Reagan’s devotion to the life of luxury, especially fashion. The “Reagan elite,” as Silverman deems it, exemplified the consumerist elite, using political standing and power to pave the way for the aristocratic class. “Reagan’s politics and aristocratic fashion culture share a fundamental in-authenticity, a reliance on fabrication, and a glaring disparity between symbolism and reality” (307). Fashion made its debut in the highest of powers as a presidential formality, but as Silverman argues, was not quite deserving of its aristocratic place above other national necessities.


Silverman, Debora. "Selling Culture: Bloomingdale's, Diana Vreeland, and the New Aristocracy of Taste in Reagan's America." Selling Culture: Bloomingdale's, Diana Vreeland, and the New Aristocracy of Taste in Reagan's America. New York: Pantheon, 1986. 3-11. Print.

An Inconspicuous Influence: A Case Study on the Power of Androgynous Fashion

by Emily Mann

From the moment we're born, our clothing and accessories thrust us into a hegemonic expression of gender. Baby girls wear pink; boys wear blue. Our clothing defines to the rest of the world who we physically are. As we grow older and make conscious fashion decisions, we have the opportunity to solidify or redefine these gender stereotypes. Androgynous fashion subtly transcends these established societal gender codes by combining both genders' characteristics into one overall look.

In the early 1920s, Coco Chanel introduced her signature suit in an early form of androgynous fashion. It was made from jersey fabric with a knee-high skirt and wool-woven jacket that bore striking resemblance to a man's suit. It represented gender power for females, as its functionality hinted at the woman's newfound place as a working woman in society. Yves Saint Laurent's invention of "le smoking" in 1966 also came at a time of woman's rise in social standing, representing the power of breaking away from our culture's hegemonic ideas of femininity.

We tend to associate different traits with different genders. Males are considered more dominant, aggressive, and independent, where women are often viewed as more expressive, submissive, and emotional. Androgynous fashion has the power to break down these gender stereotypes by associating both gender's traits with the individual. The power gained relies heavily on the social context. For example, a woman in a more masculine business suit would fit in well in a corporate setting, and a man in a feminine cardigan would fit in better in an elementary school setting. The power gained by their clothing would be irrelevant in the reverse situation.

The power in androgynous fashion also comes from its imperceptibility. Thus, being in the spotlight threatens such power. Consider the case of andrygynous fashion of pop musicians in the 1970s and 1980s such as Annie Lennox, Boy George, David Bowie, and Prince. Annie Lennox's masculine suits were under constant analysis of the media with the rise of MTV in the 1980s, which resulted in speculation into her motivations for wearing such outfits in her music videos and diluting the power that image had before.

However, in today's society of constant media coverage, the opportunity for a dialogue with the media can bring about a new power to this fashion. Singers like Janelle Monae, Rihanna, and MIKA sport more androgynous looks, but by talking back with the media, can bring a power of individuality to their looks. (Janelle Monae's music video "Tightrope," in which her personal androgynous style is apparent).

It is also important to note that most of the androgynous fashions that are seen on a regular basis are designed for women. However, with the increase of androgynous styles for males in fashion comes a legitimacy of the look. Jean Paul Gaultier explored such power in his Fall 2011 Men's Ready-to-Wear runway show that combined the inspiration of James Bond, who exudes masculinity, with feminine details and even skirts and dresses. The confidence in that masculinity adds another element of power to the look.

In addition, chain clothing stores such as Uniqlo and The Kooples sell clothing for both men and women that is often undistinguishable. Even H&M is introducing a men's line of clothing including skirts.

In conclusion, the rise of androgynous fashion demonstrates unique forms of power through transcending established gender codes, as well as through expressions one's individuality and self-confidence in a subtle manner.

Case Study: Donna Karan vs. Diana Von Furstenberg: The Executive Woman vs. The Woman of Leisure

by Zo-Ee Chee

Donna Karan and Diane Von Furstenberg are two contemporary American designers who possess Status and Power. However, it is the difference between what kind of power and status that they have that determines how they empower women. For example, Donna Karan came from a working class family and is known for dressing the Executive Woman. She gained status and power through becoming an influential CEO of a multi-million dollar company. Conversely, Diane von Furstenberg married into aristocracy at the age of 23 and instead represents the Woman of Leisure as someone with a noble title and money. Through their different styles, Karan and Von Furstenberg redefined the connotations of power and adapted them for women including a transformation from the woman as Thorstein Veblen’s “vicarious consumer” to a “conspicuous consumer”. Additionally, the appropriation of a man’s role and dress is considered with Karan’s tailored menswear. What are the connotations of wearing such a traditionally male outfit and how does this contrast with the overt femininity of Von Furstenberg’s designs?

Donna Karan’s focus is generally on that of tailored menswear. The link below is from her Fall/Winter 1992 line and showcases the tailored menswear that is a fundamental part of her design aesthetic. This includes the following:

- Day to Night

- Comfortable

- Sensual and Feminine

- Mostly neutral colours (black, white, grey, camel etc.)

- Tailored Menswear

Padded shoulders at 0.33 minutes.

Here, Donna Karan aims to empower the executive woman by placing her in the suit which is seen as the gold standard of business wear for men. Although not the first designer to adapt menswear (consider Chanel’s menswear inspired clothes and Yves Saint Laurent’s “Le Smoking”), Karan was one of the designers to adapt it to create the Power Suit – one of the signature looks from the 80s. Her looks were even complete with padded shoulders to mimic a man’s broader shoulders (watch video above).

Karan’s choice to adapt menswear for the woman executive was clear. In the light of the lack of women’s rights before the 1980s and the increasing instances of women at executive level jobs, Karan’s style reflects the cultural trend towards women gaining corporate influence and power. In order to level the corporate playing ground for the sexes, she adapted the suit which has a long history. According to William Hamilton, it was first popularised by the Prince of Wales who wore it when not in royal regalia (192). The impact of seeing someone of such high status wearing something affordable and obtainable by plebeians meant that the suit proliferated throughout society even reaching to the Far East (Hamilton 193).

The fact that it “united all its wearers in a single anonymous, international, and interacting commercial urban class” meant that no matter what socio-economic group you were from, all men could wear something comparable (Hamilton 193). With its subsequent popularisation through the media, the suit cemented itself as the power player’s outfit of choice. In the light of the equalising power of the suit, Karan’s choice to adapt something that had historically united all men was therefore a shrewd one when making the woman’s power suit. However, Karan intentionally imbibed the power suit with femininity as it is cut to fit a woman’s body. Therefore, although Karan takes her interpretation of power from a universal masculine standard, she has appropriated and adapted it for the new, business woman. It is there unsurprising that she dresses some of the most politically powerful women in the United States including former State Secretary Condoleezza Rice and First Lady Michelle Obama as they represent the ultimate form of Executive Power (pictured below).

In comparison, Diane Von Furstenberg possessed aristocratic status as a former princess through her marriage to Egon Von Furstenberg, an Austro-Hungarian prince. Even though they divorced only three years later, Von Furstenberg consciously decided to keep her married name due to the connotations of the Leisure Class that it evoked. Although Von Furstenberg also made her own name through designing her own line thus proving to be a self-sufficient and powerful businesswoman, she modelled her business as a luxury line. Based on Thorstein Veblen’s “Theory of Conspicuous Consumption: The Leisure Class”, Von Furstenberg has supplanted the traditionally male role of “conspicuous consumer” with the modern woman. As defined by Veblen, women in the past had roles as “vicarious consumers” where the woman used the wealth and influence of their husbands or male relatives to showcase wealth (Veblen 44). This would then further support the social standing of their husbands who were the primary sources of income in the family. With Von Furstenberg, there is instead an inversion with the woman becoming the conspicuous consumer and taking her own wealth, future and career into her own hands.

The principles behind Von Furstenberg’s line have also manifested in her line. Her tag line “Feel like a woman, wear a dress!” is strongly indicative of her belief that a woman is powerful when she is in touch with her femininity and sensuality. Compared to Karan’s line, she has a significantly smaller number of pants or trousers and significantly less tailored menswear. Her dresses also tend be much softer in form compared to Karan’s hard shapes and use much brighter colours. Instead of measuring equality with a male standard like Karan, Von Furstenberg’s woman revels in the differences between the genders and embraces the leisure class lifestyle with the woman as the conspicuous consumer. This is exemplified by the fact that she dresses movie stars and celebrities (pictured below) – the modern day equivalent of aristocracy. Similarly, the fact that her mother was a holocaust survivor also influenced her desire to create clothing that embodied a sense of freedom. Cut to flow and move freely and comfortably, this important aspect of Von Furstenberg’s clothes is fundamentally rooted in her defiance or racial and religious oppression.

Jennifer Lopez and Kardashian, two celebrities wearing Diane Von Furstenberg.

For a short bio on Von Furstenberg from Fashion Memoir, click on the link below.

Another fundamental aspect to understanding these women’s interpretation of power is that they are moguls in their own right. Both women own multi-million dollar companies and branding rights to items such as household furnishings and cosmetics that extend far beyond their clothing lines. As contemporaries born within only two years of one another, Donna Karan and Diane Von Furstenberg both grew up during the second wave of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 60s and rejected the objectification of women, instead choosing to empower the new independent woman of the times. Both dress the career woman, albeit with different tacks on how to do so.

So what does this dichotomy between the hard-edged and masculine Executive Woman and feminine Woman of Leisure mean? Is there a bipolar split in the interpretation of a modern and powerful woman? The answer is more likely found in the woman's need to be both. Diane Von Furstenberg and Donna Karan cater to different aspects of a woman’s life: at times needing to be more feminine and sensual, at others, a woman capable of being as cutthroat as any other businessman. It is not the fact that they interpret the definition of woman power differently but rather that Karan and Von Furstenberg have transformed the definition of power itself. The woman is no longer subject to her husband’s money and status for influence but provides and creates it for herself. She can also take a symbol of power that is traditionally associated with men such as the suit and quite literally cut it to suit her own needs. In this century, power is attainable to both men and women and Donna Karan and Diane Von Furstenberg are some of the best designers that reflect this trend in Man’s socio-cultural history.

Selective Bibliography

Thorstein, Veblen “Conspicuous Consumption,” from "The Theory of the Leisure Class,” New York: Dover, 1994

Hamilton, William. “Suitably Attired: Well-dressed Men have Worn the Same thing for a Century Now – A History and an Appreciation of the Suit” The Fashion Reader, Ed. Linda Welters and Abby Lillethun. Oxford, UK, 2007, pg 191-194

The Rise and Fall of the Hem-line: The Flight Attendant Uniform

by Tamara Tucci

Think about the uniforms you see on your flights with Continental Airlines, United, and American. Today the woman’s flight attendant uniform is quite standard—usually a navy blue skirt paired with a white blouse—but there was once a time when the uniform was anything but ordinary.

The 1960s was the peak of the glamour of air travel. Flying was for the elite. Passengers and crew members dressed their best. Airplane meals were prepared by gourmet chefs and served by stewardesses wearing haute couture uniforms. Airlines called upon fashion designers such as Pucci and Dior to create uniforms for the flight attendant that made her attractive and alluring.

In my research, I was interested in the uniform as an instrument of power; it helped the designer gain global notoriety, it boosted the flight attendant’s image, and the airline used her image to succeed in a competitive market. Uniform changes and design adjustments reflect power struggles within the designer-flight attendant-airline relationship. The design of the uniform represents who is in command; a uniform is molded to fit the powers that be.

One of the most well-known fashion designer-airline collaboration occurred in 1965 when Emilio Pucci coupled with Braniff Airlines. Pucci created the “Gemini 4” uniform, referring to the layers of outfits he created for the collection, which included: a reversible lime green coat, a vibrant printed scarf and matching purse, white sunglasses, pink high heels, lime gloves, two-color stitch boots, a pink-printed mini-dress, and a space helmet called the “Space Bubble” for keeping hairstyles intact on windy tarmacs.

Airlines competed with each other and exploited their flight attendants as sex objects by outfitting them in ridiculous uniforms. The best examples are from Southwest Airlines (1965-1975) which included hot pants and go-go boots and Pacific Southwest Airways (1968) which included micro mini-dresses. Here are two interesting television commercials that aired during this time and show how the airlines marketed the stewardesses’ sexuality to the public:

The Braniff “Air Strip” campaign, 1968. A flight attendant peels off her uniform in the form of a strip tease.

The Southwest Airlines Television Ad, 1972. Three women wearing hot pants walk across the tarmac and one of them says, “Remember what it was like before Southwest Airlines? You didn’t have hostesses in hot pants. Remember?”

In the years following the 1960s female empowerment helped the flight attendant gain back her dignity. This was accomplished by the Civil Rights Movement and flight attendant unions, which demanded rights and respect. Uniform were altered to focus on her professionalism. They became more conservative. The uniform in its practicality and seriousness is what continues to be the standard for flight attendants to this day.

The Metrosexual Man

By Jessica Noone

The metrosexual man was first defined by Mark Simpson in 1994. In his article “Here Come the Mirror Men”, Simpson defines the “metrosexual man is a commodity fetishist: a collector of fantasies about the male sold to him by advertising.” (Mirror Men) The metrosexual was created through capitalism and its need for more markets. Simpson tells us that “metrosexuality is one of the most flagrant symptoms of a media-tized world: the male body was the last frontier and it’s now being thoroughly explored and mapped.” (Metrodaddy Speaks) The men’s fashion press, including GQ and Esquire, promoted this ideal from the start. In capitalist societies, even the discourse of masculinity has become mediated and commoditized.

Designer Paul Smith uses a brilliant advertising campaign called "Maximizing Britishness," which focuses on transforming a man into the “True Brit”. (Bruzzi 32) This campaign gives men an attachment to national identity through their clothing, combining traditional male patriotism with new masculine style. Paul Smith has been called “the leading fashion designer who persuaded British men that well-cut cloth was not just for pretty boys” (The Times, October 1995).

The metrosexual is a common figure the world over, but it seems that being a metrosexual in America is a precarious identity. By looking at French and other European views on the subject, we can see that the history of a country and its people affect the ways in which masculinity and other social conventions are viewed.

Simpson posits that “‘real’ masculinity has been replaced forever by aestheticised, mediated masculinity.” (Ubermummy) In this way, the metrosexual is a figure of power. It used to be that the metrosexual would stick out among straight men as the aestheticized ‘gay’ one and would lose power due to his emasculation. However, the metrosexual is becoming normalized in our society and men who do not fit this mold tend to be seen as sloppy and careless. Magazines like GQ and Esquire have created a mainstream, popularized identity for the metrosexual. The metrosexual has changed the categories of masculinity and femininity through personal identity and the media. The metrosexual shows sexual confidence and is a powerful figure in today’s mediatized world.