Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fashion & Power & Subculture

The crucial question has to do with specific ideologies, representing the interests of which specific groups and classes will prevail at any given moment...we must first consider how power is distributed in our society...must ask which groups and classes have how much say in defining, ordering, and classifying the social world...some groups have more say, more opportunity to make the rules, to organize meaning, while others are less favourably placed and have less power to produce and impose their definitions of the world on the world.
Dick Hebdige, Subculture: the Meaning of Style, 1979

As discussed last week, our personal identity intersects with power, our legitimate influence, and fashion, the available objects for adornment. While gender identity is normally consider biological and apparent, subcultural identity can be a much more subtle set of codes. Culture is shared values and subculture is more specific interests and intangible values that are variable in style expression and interpretation. Someone’s subculture may not be instantly recognizable.

Who determines the dominant culture? The readings for this week discuss the ruling powers of influence in the fashion industry, which consequently create the mass culture of consumerism. Above Diana Vreeland who directed Harper's Bazaar, Vogue and the costume collection at the Met. Below, Jacqueline de Ribes, aristocratic fashion designer from Paris came to support YSL's show curated by Vreeland. See the Vanity Fair profile here.

The shift in American mass culture in the 1980's was toward wealth values represented in Reaganomics above and early Ralph Lauren catalog images from Bloomingdales.

Mass culture is associated with the establishment and ruling class while subcultures are often associated with youth and music. Music genres attract particular people who share common styles such as punks, mod, glam and emo. There are however style subcultures like preppy or hipster. Importantly most passive style groups are simply subcultures, but when the subculture willfully seeks to oppose to ruling power they are deemed counterculture. Subcultures can manipulate existing mass culture forms while countercultures often create new different forms.

London experienced a wave of subcultural style in the 1970's. The Sex Pistols helped lead the rebellious aesthetic.

Dick Hebdige describes that mass culture and subculture negate each other. Mass culture frames the punk as a delinquent, continually showing them in media as opposed to order while the punks take images of authority and distort them, entering them into the chaos.

The punks seized adornment forms from the ruling class such as the tartan plaid below, the infant's diaper safety pin and manipulated their presentation as in the jacket below.

Above both the conservative fashion forms and the more punk style are cut from the same cloth. In this way they share the same culture and are simply two expressions or subcultures, even though the conservative style of the ruling class normalizes itself as the authority of the cloth.

An editorial in Cosmopolitan in 1977 explained "To shock is chic," and punk was then considered dead. Above the Zandra Rhodes clothing with safety pins featured in the editorial. The debate is if punk lost or succeeded in influence. Below Vivienne Westwood when she first began and still going in 2009.

Below, fashion demonstrates a free use of the proper by appropriating the formal tartan cloth and simply playing with it in many forms.

Mass culture is associated with the values of the ruling class, which suppresses subcultures and minorities. Importantly, ethnicity is shared heritage and language, which is culture, but if the group is a minority then it may function as a subculture. Some ethnicity groups are distinguished by style and there are also particular movements that use ethnicity as a part of their subcultural style expression as in the Black Panthers below.

The zoot suit was part of riots in Los Angeles in 1943 above. It was associated with both Mexican American sand African American subcultures represented below in the film Malcom X from 1992.

The suit can serve as a style of empowerment to minorities or oppressed groups. In an interesting twist in Zaire, when colonial rule was overturned, Western values were outlawed such as Christian names and the suit. Young musicians reclaimed the suit as empowerment. Read more here.

Within fashion itself there have also been waves of subcultural transformation. In the late 70's and early 80's the Japanese designers arrived in Paris, with a different aesthetic value set. They shared a similar avant garde interest with monochromatic, asymmetrical, baggy looks. Below Issey Miyake in 1971 and 1984.

Kenzo, Yamamoto, Kawakubo

Hanae Mori 2001 & 2004 joined the Parisian couture designers


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