Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Power of Appearances

“If discourse must triumph over something, it is not over fantasies and hallucinations heavy with meaning and misinterpretation, but the shiny surface of non-sense and all the games that the latter renders possible.” Jean Baudrillard, Seduction.

Spring 2011

The general consensus is that fashion, and its imagery focus on the superficial. Because fashion is presentation there is a legitimate interest in the surface, such as the surface treatments of fabrics by Proenza Schouler. But the question is how the surface appearances in fashion can be sites for the mediation of values and power. Fashion discourse and theory must triumph over this emphasis and dig into the deeper values expressed by the surface.

The classic debate surrounding fashion imagery concerns the ways in which it is overpowering vs. empowering.

Above the most common positions against fashion imagery and below the common positions in support of fashion imagery . The contrived dialectic is in reality a combination of both.

Perhaps the most common concern about the appearances in fashion is mis-representation of reality. Through styling, make-up and Photoshop, the woman below looks different than her reality. See the original photo and more here.

Artists can help raise awareness of the power of appearances. Below a photo series by fashion photographers Inez & Vinoodh shows the model before and after styling.

Artists also raise our awareness by altering the images as in the case of the Comme des Garcons ad and M/M Paris below.

I Hurt I Am in Fashion is a blog that combines fashion images with critical commentary to suggest the power of appearances and the power system behind the images.

Understanding the power of appearances in fashion begins with the brand which existed before the fashion photograph. The trademark is a visual claim on property and territory that asserts the power and status of the manufacturer.

In the same manner as the photographers were raising the awareness of the power of appearances, Martin Margiela below raises the awareness of the fashion label using an innovative system.

Some brands have been so consistent they have iconic power and worth, termed brand equity. The YSL logo below is a good example of a power brand with global recognition.

In the power of appearances there are some brands that make claims on colors and forms, overdetermining the freedom of the element with a fashion association.

The power brands below aim to be so consistent in presentation and associations that they create a reality in themselves, so much so that the appearance of the names alone signifies invented meanings, disconnected from legitimate power. This is the essence of status. Ralph Lauren for example may evoke equestrian and New England culture but could be worn by someone disconnected from this genre with no social power of this type.

Fashion photography can be used to further brand power, as in the campaigns above, or general associations in fashion as in the editorials below. There are 3 formal categories for fashion photography as seen above - fashion, accessories and beauty/fragrance, all of which may be either campaigns or editorials. Roland Barthes believed there were 3 ideological categories to fashion photographs as seen below - direct representation, poetic scenery, absurd juxtapositions.

For the complete history of fashion photography click here. Above the first fashion series of the closet of Countess di Castiglione. Below Steichen for Vogue, 1928.

Above Cecil Beaton for Vogue represents the formal presentation os fashion photography in the 1940's. Below after the war, European artists brought new sensibility to the fashion magazine and encouraged photographers in new directions. Below left American John Rawlings, 1957 and right Avedon, 1964.

Above Guy Bourdin in the late 70's brought a new sexuality and naturalism. Below in the 80's and 90's supermodels and glamour photographers Ritts and Testino dominated the industry and editorials, leading to Steven Meisel's critique below right, "Supermodels Enter Rehab" in 2007.

Above and below are two different critiques of the power of appearances. Meisel uses the fashion editorial to express social issues in "State of Emergency," 2005. Below Juergen Teller breaks down conventions of glamour in fashion photographer by showing the designers themselves in ordinary settings in the ads.

Above the proposal by Olivier Zahm that the commodity exchange of fashion is combined with the mystical impossible exchange (the singularity of the consumer, specific values and dreams) to make a successful fashion photograph. Below the proposition of Brian Morean that corporations uses the familiar and powerful appearances of celebrities to reach the consumer.

Morean proposes that celebrities have economic power and worth. Their faces and names bring added value to product presentations. The combinations of celebrity and fashion are not always successful as it is co-branding and there are many variables.

Finally, a participant in the power of appearances is the model who takes on different aesthetic expressions for different value assertions. The pressure toward "perfection" is a highly debated, often willing, oppression of the fashion system.

Some models take their position with empowerment, managing their bodies and careers like a business. Above Caroline Trentini and below the most successful examples, the 90's Supermodels.

Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford by Peter Lindbergh for British Vogue January 1990

See fashion photography since the 1980's here
See the history of the fashion model here

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