Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Opposition to Fashion

Opposition to fashion can take many forms. Above the Big Lebowski bathrobe is a simple disinterest in adornment or to unite or separate. Other types of opposition include opposition to Western aesthetics that dominate the fashion industry, opposition to the forms of fashion as fixed, and oppositions to the rules of the fashion industry evident in counterfeiting.

Speak to the children of Israel and say to them they should make themselves tzitzit on the corners of their clothing throughout their generations, and give the tzitzit of each corner a thread of blue. And they shall be tzitzit for you, and when you look at them you will remember all of the Lord's commandments and do them and not follow after your heart and after your eyes which lead you astray. Numbers 15

The above Jewish text is a call for believers to distinguish themselves from others through clothing. This is part of what we have learned about fashion as adornment and a tool to unite and separate groups. The meaningful adornment is also aligned with a set of modesty codes that oppose Western fashion as indicated in the sign below.

The three faiths of the God of Abraham - Judaism, Islam and Christianity - aim to oppose the Western fashion aesthetics and be separate but they are united by the same full coverage modest look for women.

Designers can take the aesthetics of opposition and integrate them into fashion as seen above in Hussein Chalayan, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Rick Owens.

Below the fashion company Moschino uses opposition as its ad campaign.

Fashion writer Fred Davis wrote a text called "Anti-Fashion" which identified 5 types of oppositional strategies. Below "utilitarian outrage" in the Russian constructivist designs and Gap, is an emphasis on basic forms without constant modifications.

Above "naturalism," and below "feminism" have opposed confining specific forms for day wear and women.

Above "conservative skepticism" and below "minority and faith groups" demonstrate resistance to mass culture and fashion as a power system.

"The Islamic factor" in fashion is a combination of opposition to Western aesthetics and an embrace of fashion luxury goods. The government monitors fashion media as seen below left, in which pages are either removed from magazines or images are blacked out. The women still seek the goods either through accessories or under the hijab.

Below the luxury department store Villa Moda in Kuwait emphasizes Western luxury labels.

Above, women in the gulf have taken luxury scarves as a sign of their wealth. Some argue their oppositional aesthetic has a power to influence the West as in the Hermes look from 2011 above. Men have remained more resistant to clothing and maintain their aesthetic opposed to the suit. However fashion brands have worked their way into automobiles. Below both Gucci and Versace create custom goods just for the Arab market.

Above an Arab fashion show and the new jihad women's magazine. Below left Vogue Paris featured an Arab friendly editorial in 2010 and right Princess Hijab who is modifying Western ads in Paris.

A more formal opposition to fashion in design is called deconstruction. This is an effort by designers to destroy and then re-assemble fashion forms in new way, intending to break existing associations and meanings. Below Maison Martin Margiela.

Deconstruction is a philosophical principle from Jacques Derrida in the 1980's which means to break through structures of meaning. We engage in language for example through a set of rules. Above left tennis requires the ball within parameters to win, but deconstruction frees meaning from structure toward something like the freedom of a beach ball. Below the ads by HSBC reveal society has been undergoing a deconstruction of formal meaning in fashion.

Above Bernard Wilhelm's casual tuxedo breaks our conventional separations of formal and causal. Below Martin Margiela's combination of forms break our normal associations.

Above the Antwerp 6 designers deconstructed every aspect of fashion from their advertisements of shows, to the presentation of clothing, using masks and unveiling backstage.

Above France sees counterfeiting as a crime for the producer and consumer. Below counterfeiting is seen as an opposition to the value of fashion goods and the power structures that keep fashion going as a business.

Below counterfeiting is also oppositional to many ethics as it is tied to worker oppression and child exploitation. Below a campaign by UNICEF to expose the crimes.

Nudity & Power in Fashion Editorials

by Bianca Murillo

“What I find interesting is working in a society with certain taboos - and fashion photography is about that kind of society. To have taboos, then to get around them - that's interesting” said controversial fashion photographer Helmut Newton (Benfey). Nudity in fashion editorials is often a point of controversy because it does just that—attempts to traverse social taboos resulting in an interesting set of power dynamics to explore. Nudity in fashion images possesses power in that its use captures attention by contesting norms and serving as a platform for social critique. Through breaking from the ordinary the use of nudity asserts a quality of rank and control rendering the images powerful.

Helmut Newton's photography established a particular style using nudity and strong women marked by erotic and fetishtic scences, blurring the line between art and pornography.

Newton's influence today is embodied in Vogue Paris' Nov 2009 spread "L'eternal fantasme" pictured below.

Steven Meisel is a more contemporary American photorapher who is very similar to Newton. Meisel toys with the fashion industry and it's contentions through his photographs. Steven Meisel shot a controversial spread for W magazine in Oct 2004 cleverly titled, "Asexual Revolution", toying with gender roles, nudity and sex. A photo from this spread can be seen below.
Sexuality and nudity works to add power to fashion images in that the nature of the industry is ultimately one of seduction. This nature of seduction results in fashion coming second when there is such little clothing as in these photos. This images are successful because studies have shown that women find nude and sensual iamges of women more sensual that those of men. (wwww.sciencedaily.com). This duality of the nature of the industry and what captures attention is what renders nudity in fashion images powerful.

Fashion photographers such as Helmut Newton and Steven Meisel, among others, break away from norms in fashion photography in terms of sexuality, nudity, casting and general style. It is this break from the mainstream aesthetic, an upset of the rhythm, which attracts attention. At the point of an alternate aesthetic that challenges normative conceptions, fashion comes secondary to the sex and seductive nature of the image. This concept works as a result of women being drawn to natural, raw images and finding sensuality in these images. These breaks from normative aesthetics and values ultimately empower the image, its components and its effects.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Case Study: Paris Store Windows and the Power of Display

By Sydney Kipen

As a complex and integral part of the modern world, fashion plays an influential role in society, portraying one’s position, both privately and publically. The store window serves to demonstrate the function of fashion to the public in a manner recreating certain idealized views of society. The different types of stores that exist in our consumer-based society each display different extents of power in their windows, and either retain that power to communicate their message, or give the power to their audience to interpret. Thus it is important to determine who has the power in the outlet of display: the window or the audience?

Chanel window at 31 Rue Cambon

In examination of the store window in Paris, the capital of fashion, the difference in the power of display between a department store window, a luxury store window, and a democratized store window is juxtaposed with their respective and distinct audiences. Although the window controls the power of perception and appearance, it must appeal to the power of its audience and their ability to interpret the window. While the goal of a store window display is to illustrate the vision of the designer, it is heavily influenced by the need to cater to the consumer.

The store window display emerged as a major facet of the culture of consumption in the late 1880s, originating along with the department store. According to William Leach, “windows of city retail stores…revealed to [women] an unobtainable world of luxury” (320). They were meant to initiate a desire within the consumer, and depict an affluent lifestyle that people should strive to achieve, although likely will never quite reach.

Visit Lanvin and their documentation of their window display at: http://www.lanvin.com/#/en/lanvin-today/windows

The presentation of goods or “mise-en-scene” was meant to “seduce” the public and motivate them to buy (Laermans, 92). The power of design and display was in the hands of the store window creator, but the success of the display depended entirely on the audience.

John Galliano

The Parisian department store today has huge, elaborate, extravagant, ornate windows that seem to emulate the same goals and ideas as they did when they were originated and popularized. The luxury store does much the same, but in a simpler manner with a single theme and story illustrated repeatedly. The democratized store conveys a story, yet it attempts to make it a more accessible, relatable theme that its audience can connect to and even rely upon. It is not elaborate or excessive or over-the-top, but fun, practical, and easy-going. However, in the modern consumer society, the domain of power in the fashion window has been transferred from that of the store and its window, to that of the consumer and their interpretation. Jean Baudrillard tells us that today, “every principle of identity is affected by fashion.” Thus interpreting the store windows is based upon one’s personal identity and where they see themselves in relation to the window (463).

Christian Louboutin

The Ethics of Counterfeiting in the Fashion Industry: Quality, Credence and Profit Issues by Brian Hilton, Chong Ju Choi, and Stephen Chen

Chelsea Turner

The Ethics of Counterfeiting in the Fashion Industry: Quality, Credence and Profit Issues by Brian Hilton, Chong Ju Choi, and Stephen Chen focuses on great problem in the fashion industry: the issue of counterfeiting and the ethical issues that are raised by it. The authors delve into the issue that the problem may lie in the industry itself, meaning that it is the fashion houses that may need to change in order to solve the issue. According to the International Chamber of Commerce, seven percent of world trade is in counterfeit goods, and that the counterfeit market is worth $350 billion. Part of this is due to the difficulty that exists in enforcing the few laws that do exist against counterfeiting, and sadly most cases of counterfeiting are rarely prosecuted

Fashion, specifically high-end clothing and accessories, is one of the most highly publicized sectors of counterfeiting. There are different types of goods that can be counterfeited. The concept of “credence goods” is goods “whose quality is difficult to assess before or after purchase and use.” Credence goods are what are most copied because their value can only be determined by the credence or faith given to them by others, therefore they are easily exploitable. These items are usually of medium quality that has a high-perceived value, which can be easily copied.

The ethical issues, which come out of the issue of counterfeiting, can be put into four categories: Utilitarianism, Distributive Justice, The Moral Rights of Man, and Ethical Relativism. The utilitarian argument is the most used in the fashion industry because it points to the fact that “intellectual property needs to be protected in order to provide sufficient incentive to develop new technology and creative products.”

Actual counterfeit items can be divided into four categories: Vanity Fakes which are low perceived value products, Overruns or copies made from left over material, Condoned Copies made by other designers of fashion houses, and Copies made by the fashion houses themselves.
An interesting argument protecting the counterfeiter themselves is that much of this counterfeiting is done in countries in economic peril, and perhaps the counterfeiter has a right to make a living whatever way they can. Then what is questioned is whose moral right is more important, the designer or the counterfeiter.
The fact is that the high-end fashion goods that are being copied are unattainable for the majority of the world. But does that make it right? The counterfeits may hurt these high-end brands by disassociating their genuine products from the mass of the cheap copies, which look like them.

"The Islamic Factor" by Nicholas Coleridge

by Zo-Ee Chee

“The Islamic Factor” is a chapter from the 1988 book entitled “The Fashion Conspiracy” which reveals some of the fashion industry’s most provocative secrets. The author, Nicholas Coleridge, is the Managing Director of Condé Nast (Vogue, GQ, Glamour etc.) in Britain and oversees the publishing company’s branches in Paris and Mumbai. He has also been a chairman of the PPA (the Magazine Publishers Association) and of the British Fashion Council. Needless to say, Coleridge is an authority on the inner workings of the fashion world.

Published just before the Gulf War (1991), the chapter details the importance of the Middle East as a source of income for couturiers and the relationship that the fashion industry has with clients from the Gulf as both an empowering and undermining force. As a largely informative approach, “The Islamic Factor” describes the somewhat contradictory nature of Middle Eastern taste for couture due to the heavy censorship and the desire for a modest appearance as required by Islam (supported by the censorship of Vogue magazine by The Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Supp

ression of Vice). Many of the richer families from the Gulf buy heavily from designer and luxury brands, preferring certain makes including Nina Ricci, the now defunct Jean-Louis Scherrer, Ungaro, Givenchy and Calvin Klein though their choice in designers seem to be relatively arbitrary. Their purchasing power is even enough to account for 11% of the fashion industry with Kuwait being at the top of the list (as of 1988). This does not take into account the mobile nature of Middle Eastern buyers who do much of their shopping abroad. The facts therefore point towards Middle Eastern buyers being more economically powerful than their initial cultural and religious contexts might indicate.

H&M campaign censored for the Middle East.

Despite their economic importance in the fashion industry, Middle Eastern buyers are often go unmentioned as clients of fashion houses and are instead considered gaudy and tasteless due to their perceived lack of prestige (and by extension, a lack of power). This seems an unfair trade-off in reputation as many couture houses in the 1980s, overwhelmed by debt (due to the recession caused by OPEC oil embargoes), specifically catered and designed for Middle Eastern customers through the use of heavy beading, fur as well as exquisite craftsmanship which was is seen as a sign of wealth. This shows that the economic power of the Gulf actually subverts the aesthetic style of fashion as couturiers designed clothes to appeal to them thus forfeiting some of their own design principals.


Example of Middle Eastern taste: designer Zuhair Murad from Beirut, Lebanon

Despite the economic power that the Middle Easterners possess in the fashion industry, they are still a living contradiction with their desire for luxury goods and the demands that Muslim women should be modest in appearance (consider the to the plunging necklines and bare backs of some designer dresses). Although these clothes are often covered by a burqa, there exists a communal culture of “video-teas” where the women gather at the home of one of the women and watch videos, sans burqa. This therefore reveals the use of designer clothes as a method of impressing other women (much like the “vicarious consumers” as discussed in Thorstein Veblen’s “Conspicuous Consumption”). There is a limit to the spending, however, with husbands or male relatives imposing restrictions.

In conclusion, this text presents various aspects of the tug of war between power, money and religion. On one front, it considers the Gulf’s economic power and ability to sway the direction of fashion. On the other hand, it is simultaneously powerless because of its lack of prestige. Although the editor’s note indicates that, as of 2006, the Middle East accounts for 40% of haute couture purchases, the “Islamic Factor” also presents the interesting dialectic (though less prominently than the former point) of what is perceived as female powerlessness because of the restrictive burqa and the freedom Muslim women in the Middle East have in their ability to purchase incredibly expensive clothes to their hearts’ desires.

Case Study: Patrick Demarchelier and His Power to Defy the Dominant Hegemony of the Fashion Photograph

By Elleree Erdos

French fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier has revolutionized fashion photography with his truthful approach to the photograph; by maintaining ties with the tradition of his medium, truth to the apparatus of vision and spontaneity, and continuous engagement with portraits as exposure to emotion, Demarchelier has become an ambassador of truth in the field of fashion photography. His force in the fashion world is in his ability to make this truth acceptable in a field immersed in illusion, introducing his own hegemonic principle of the fashion photograph and implementing it to its full effect. Demarchelier legitimizes his practice and overturns the dominant hegemony of falsity in the fashion photograph by maintaining consistency in both his photographic and his personal, “celebrity” image.

Click here to view Patrick Demarchelier's commercial reel.

Demarchelier worked at the same time as avant-garde photographers such as Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin, who photographed in a style that fed the increasingly sexualized nature of photography taking shape in the 1960s (Harrison). He joined forces with a group of photographers that became known as the Paris Mafia, who “reacted against the decadence or self-conscious seriousness of their contemporaries in favor of fashion photographs which were upbeat, informal, and with the spontaneity of a snapshot” (Harrison). In a 2008 interview for the London Telegraph, Demarchelier described the current society as “perfection-obsessed,” a comment consistent with his search for truth and emotion in all of his work, whether it is a portrait, an advertisement, or a fashion editorial (Walden).

Fashion photograph by Helmut Newton

Fashion photograph by Guy Bourdin

Fashion photography offers an exceptional venue for the realm of seeing that invites falsification and illusion in order to fabricate an inaccessible world for the consumer, who absorbs the photograph within the context of the cultural hegemony at play in his or her personal environment (Crane, 542). In spite of whatever ideology the viewer applies to the photograph, today’s fashion photographer institutes a method of illusion to engage the viewer.

Patrick Demarchelier, while remaining true to the nature of his chosen field, manages to maintain an element of reality in the entire image. He does so through what has been coined the “Demarchelier Touch”—his interactions and gentle personality that puts the model at ease, eliciting positive human responses (Chazal). Paired with his technical skill, this quality allows Demarchelier to capture his models in their most vulnerable, truthful, spontaneous moments.

Patrick Demarchelier, "Princess Diana," London 1990
Patrick Demarchelier, "Au Charme, etc." French Vogue Feb. 2005

Philosopher Roland Barthes outlined three modes by which the fashion photograph operates within the context of the “world…as a theater” (Barnard, 517). The fashion photograph, says Barthes, can objectify, romanticize, or mock its contents. In all three instances, however, the dominating hegemony is that of falsification; everything within the photograph save for the garment itself is made outrageous or absurd, thus verifying the reality in the garment (518). Demarchelier finds the humanistic element in the illusion and grasps hold of it with his lens. Instead of placing the viewer on the exterior of a dream world he or she can only aspire to, he gives viewers an entry point by which to place themselves within whatever world he depicts. Furthermore, the continuity of Demarchelier’s public image with the traditional, effortless style of his photography reinforces his personal distance from pretension an ostentatious display.

Patrick Demarchelier, "Démente Religieuse," French Vogue Sept. 2004

Patrick Demarchelier, "A Fashion Fairy Tale," Vanity Fair Jan. 2005