Category Archives: Fashion Now

We discuss themes relating to the contemporary fashion industry

Sensory Experience in a Virtual World: Three Young Designers in Focus

As our stay-indoors-dystopia trudges into its eleventh month, an early symptom of a wandering fashion sense may present itself in the form of recent searches on eBay like ‘vintage velvet loungewear’, ‘green knitted balaclava’ and ‘faux fur bonnet’. With nowhere to go where people might look at us, the sense of sight in fashion has been reduced to looking at shoulders on Zoom and the top halves of faces at supermarkets. We finally have chance to experiment with the strange and probably ugly. Even the most fashionable of the work-from-home brigade have relinquished their visually appealing outfits in favour of something that feels comfortable. When looking and being looked at disappears, fashion must search for a more all-encompassing sensory experience.

Of course, fashion and the senses have long been connected. In 1972, Diana Vreeland’s pioneering Balenciaga exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art played traditional Spanish music, and the galleries were misted with the scent of Le Dix. While Vreeland was revolutionary in constructing a playful, multi-sensory experience of fashion, the exhibition retained a disjunct between seeing, smelling and hearing.  Innovative young designers Chet Lo, Monirath and Helena Thulin, on the other hand, are pushing the boundaries of bodily experience by creating and thinking through the senses. Without ignoring the aesthetic importance of design, they invite us to imagine, too, how things could taste, smell and feel.

Chet Lo’s ‘durian’ designs, accessed via https://theface.com/style/chet-lo-fashion-designer-central-saint-martins-knitwear-lil-miquela

A recent graduate of Central Saint Martins, Chet Lo makes vivid, tight-fitting knitwear that stretches over and hugs its wearer. The fluorescent colours and spiky textures of skirts, leg-warmers, and puff-sleeved jumpers are shamelessly striking. But the arresting visuals take us on a further sensory journey – Lo’s trademark puckered, pointed knitting technique (which was a ‘happy accident’ in his final year of study) mimics the appearance of the durian fruit, an Asian fruit known for its potent smell and formidable spikes. We are taken aback not only optically, but also by imagining a powerful smell and taste. Described by i-D magazine as ‘push[ing] the boundaries of wearability’, the softness of these garments’ feminine silhouette is contrasted with the abstract prick of sharp thorns. The 24-year-old designer’s mantra is to let things happen naturally, so it seems fitting that his happy knitting accident twists ideas of wearability by combining the body’s ordinary outline with an otherworldly-but-natural fruit that conjures up an abundance of sensations.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CJMJZxqA7xE/

Departing from the fun and fruity, Brisbane-based designer Monirath creates jarring jewellery and hats that wholly challenge the way we consider accessories and their visual appeal. Her most recent ambitious project includes the ‘Water Hat’, a clear, rippled, ambiguously plastic hat that fastens under the chin with a white or black satin ribbon. The reflections of the wrinkles in the hat create ‘wave refractions’ on the wearers face when beneath a source of light, evoking the sensation of skin submerged in water. Made to order, each ‘Water Hat’ has a different arrangement of waves, creating a unique sensory experience that alters both the feel and appearance of the face (Monirath, with a playful nod to Instagram, describes her work as ‘a real life filter’). Such ground-breaking design gives birth to an entirely distinctive accessory that is not only aesthetically beautiful, but interacts with the body and its surroundings, activating both real and imagined senses.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CKSfwUegOiI/

Helena Thulin, an alumni of Studio Berçot in Paris, similarly experiments with the connection between accessories, nature, and the senses. Through delicate beading, the French designer portrays the simplicity and prettiness of a flower, freshly picked from a grassy meadow. Her earrings, either an asymmetrical pair or a single earring, imitate the individuality of wildflowers. Indeed, her designs are intended to be cherished like a flower, and her beading techniques are intentionally reminiscent of the childhood pleasure of making daisy chains.

‘ASTER CHINENSIS – Pair’, Helena Thulin, accessed via https://helenathulin.com/collections/earrings/products/aster-chinensis-pair

The dainty floral jewels are often photographed on a bed of grass that you can virtually smell and feel, reminding us to associate Thulin’s jewellery with senses evoked by nature’s flora. Toying with the senses even further, a recent promotional shot by Ignacio Barrios for London concept store 50-m shows her beautiful crystal flowers sandwiched jarringly between two slices of white bread.  In creating naturally charming jewellery that is intentionally photographed to arouse the senses, Thulin’s designs are almost good enough to eat.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CK4F7eFgJGr/

When considering the work of these young artists, an argument put forward by fashion scholar Marco Pecorari feels pertinent: ‘the materiality of dress is not its sole defining element but rather is part of a network of affects and sensorial activities’. In an increasingly digital universe, feeling connected to our bodies through dress is crucial, and a new generation of designers are helping to activate all of our senses with their innovative and striking designs.

By Kathryn Reed

Sources

Zoë Kendall, ‘Screwing with silhouettes: these designers are reimagining shape and form’, i-D, published 7 January 2021, https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/bvxy54/young-designers-reimagining-fashion-silhouettes (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Jade Wickes, ‘Chet Lo: a designer set on switching up the knitwear narrative’, The Face, published 3 December 2020, https://theface.com/style/chet-lo-fashion-designer-central-saint-martins-knitwear-lil-miquela (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Marco Pecorari, ‘Beyond Garments: Reorienting the Practice and Discourse of Fashion Curating’ in Annamari Vänskä and Hazel Clark (eds) Fashion Curating: Critical Practice in the Museum and Beyond (London, 2017), pp. 183-198.

Chet Lo, personal website, https://www.chetlo.com/ (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Monirath, personal website, https://monirath.com/ (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Helena Thulin, personal website, https://helenathulin.com/ (Accessed 8 February 2021)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bimbo: A Fashion Icon

The bimbo has recently been reclaimed as a feminist icon by Gen Z content creators on TikTok. By their standards, being a bimbo involves a self-aware performance of hyper-femininity, whether ‘you’re a girl, a gay or a they’, according to Queen Bimbo Chrissy Chlapecka. There’s even a space for straight ‘himbos’, too. As ‘thembo’ Griffin Maxwell tells Rolling Stone, ‘if [being a bimbo] was originally about catering to the male gaze, we’re taking that back.’ Though originally, bimbos were thin, white women, those reclaiming the term are not bound by the patriarchy’s expectations of white femininity. This performance often includes, but is not limited to, peroxide blonde hair, heavy makeup and false nails and eyelashes… Before the inevitably pink and sparkly garments have even been put on, the body is made bimbo. This aesthetic of artifice is precisely camp. As Susan Sontag puts it, ‘the essence of camp is its love of the unnatural,’ but modern bimbos are not ‘de-politicised’ in the way that Sontag believed camp should be.

Indeed, a fundamental of the movement is its leftist values – bimbos are pro-choice, pro-sex work, pro-BLM and pro-LGBTQ+. It encounters many of the same stumbling blocks as choice feminism, especially when it comes to cosmetic surgery and upholding oppressive beauty standards. But in its extreme, almost parodic, hyper-femininity, bimbofication also requires us to remove the assumption that femininity is equal to stupidity, naivety, and weakness. This article will take a look at three iconic bimbo fashion moments of the past, and how they have influenced the present.

Perhaps the most famous bimbo of Old Hollywood is Marilyn Monroe’s character, Lorelei Lee, in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  Her most iconic outfit in the film is from the musical number ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’: the dress has its own Wikipedia page. Costume designer William Travilla originally designed an incredibly bejewelled, showgirl body stocking, but after nude photographs of Monroe (shot for a calendar before she had made it big) were leaked, the pink dress was created instead. It is constructed of a hot pink peau d’ange satin, with matching opera gloves and shoes by Ferragamo. The straight neckline covers Monroe’s cleavage, though the huge bow – which was stuffed with horsehair and feathers for shape – emphasises the movement of her hips as she dances. This extension of her physical expression is where the sensuality of the dress lies.

Aside from pink, the other essential component to any bimbo ensemble is sparkle.  Monroe’s wrist, neck and ears all drip in diamonds from Harry Winston. Crucially there is no diamond ring, a symbol since the late thirties that a woman was ‘taken.’ In this way, she is free from male ownership – the power is hers to choose. Monroe’s character is a gold-digger: she believes that women’s power is in their looks and men’s is in their money.  The mutual objectification gives all financial, and therefore all tangible and enduring power to men. Though she is painted and played as ditzy, Lorelei Lee is very successful in securing precisely what she desires: a very rich man.

The ditziness of this character has often been ascribed to Monroe herself. Rosenbaum beautifully illustrates this in his article Merry Marilyn, where he writes that her private speech is peppered with ‘citations from and sophisticated discussion of Freud’s introductory lectures, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Shakespeare and William Congreve.’ He goes on to write that ‘the difficulty some people have discerning Monroe’s intelligence as an actress is rooted in the ideology of a repressive era, when super-feminine women weren’t supposed to be smart.’ If you’ve read any of the comments on BimboTok, you might argue that such an era has not yet passed.

The second, absolutely iconic look I want to explore is Dolly Parton’s pink, flared jumpsuit. It was worn for her 1974 performance of ‘Jolene’ on The Porter Wagoner Show, which launched her into stardom. The set of the show is old-fashioned and homey, with cardboard cut-out houses and a painted Western sunset in the distance. Juxtaposed against it, Parton’s outfit seems dramatically new.

 

 

The jumpsuit is magenta with bell bottoms and bell sleeves, flaring her whole silhouette so that she is literally larger than life. Her waist is picked up with a rhinestone belt and her chest sparkles with the jewels, too. Her body is totally covered by fabric, yet emphasised in the process. The white lace inserts on her sleeves fulfil much the same function as the bow on Monroe’s dress, completing her movement as she performs. Her hair, the same peroxide blonde as Monroe’s, is backcombed and teased to the gods.

Parton is staunchly apolitical in public, uncomfortably so for many of her fans. Above all, she is a businesswoman (hence her silence on most divisive issues), but, when it comes to gay rights, she breaks her silence to defend them. Like Monroe, she is constantly underestimated but, to Parton, it is a strength of sorts: ‘I’ve done business with men who think I am as silly as I look. By the time they realise I’m not, I’ve got the money and gone.’

The third and final bimbo fashion moment of this article is Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, specifically the court scene – a performance of a very different kind.

In a room full of men in dark suits, Witherspoon’s pink and sparkly dress pops. The body of the dress is hot pink, calling on the power of bimbos past. The wrap shape recalls the Diane von Fürstenberg dresses so popular with working women for their ease, comfort, and modest, yet flattering cut. The collar is wide, and with the cuffs suggest the shirt of an eighties Wall Street banker. This brings a high masculine element to the dress, but reframes it within the feminine by virtue of the cotton-candy, satin material. This same fabric is used on the rhinestone belt – which seems inappropriate in a court room setting, just like Woods herself. Yet ultimately, she wins the case, proving she is just as worthy as any of the law firm bros in the background. Like many other women, she overcomes sexual harassment and constant underestimation to gain the same respect as the men in the room. Regardless of the realism of the film, it is a situation which many women recognise all too well.

Bimbos continue to show up the ways in which society continually undermines and underestimates those who present as hyper-feminine. The real question is whether bimbofication is a revolutionary act – a detournement of the societal ideal – or one that plays into late-capitalist expectations of womanhood, and thereby is recuperated into misogyny.

By Alexandra Sive

Sources:

(https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/bimbo-reclaim-tiktok-gen-z-1092253/)

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marilyn_Monroe’s_pink_dress)

(https://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/gallery/dolly-parton-best-quotes?image=5de1086e310d8c00088a752f)

 

Alice V Robinson: Confronting Consumerism

‘374’ is a collection of accessories and outerwear that includes: sleek, tan knee-high boots with a mid-heel; a belted suede mac with silver fastenings (and a second, interchangeable belt featuring cowhide pouches); a tan leather bucket bag with a silver clasp; suede mules; a cowhide jacket. Part of the collection – conceived, designed and created by Alice V Robinson – went on display at the V&A in 2019 as part of the exhibition Food: Bigger than the Plate. Visitors were able to get a closer look at the solid silver plates and leather tags engraved and embossed with the number ‘374’, a reference to ‘Bullock 374’, a longhorn bullock from whom the entire collection was created.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B_N57XKAvCE/

Alice V Robinson graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2018. Her degree collection, the predecessor to ‘374’, involved her purchasing a sheep (‘11458’) from a farm nearby where she grew up, attending its slaughter and designing a collection to make use of the entire animal. The resulting cream-coloured knitted jumper, finger gloves and butter-toned leather bag, shoes and purse are elegant and contemporary. Burgers made from the leftover meat were served at the degree show, shocking some attendees.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B3H18OOgso3/

Robinson’s approach to the ethical and environmental concerns of the fashion industry was based on the attempts of the food industry to tackle their own similar production problems. Using a by-product of meat, Robinson was able to address the issues around sourcing fashion’s materials: the hide of ‘374’ would have otherwise been incinerated, at cost to the farmer who raised him. Her resource-led process and a zero-waste objective enabled her to work creatively and respectfully within the limits posed by what was available: ‘it is all defined by the animal used’. While supply chains can be murky in both industries, Robinson’s small-scale, entirely localised production allowed for complete traceability and transparency. Her process also demanded slowness, that desirable but elusive antidote to rampant consumerism, leaving her ‘unable to stick to the same deadlines as others in my class’ as she awaited the completion of each step. Style, too, is one of the most significant aspects of the collections’ sustainability. Classic pieces designed and made thoughtfully from durable materials, they are built to last without needing replacement, thereby negating the need for future production.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B_CWjF6gE1J/

It would be impossible to label this experiment as half-hearted greenwashing: it rips apart received ideas about sustainable fashion. Leather goods, like fur, have been demonised by some animal rights activists since the 1990s (unlike fur, however, leather remains prevalent and widely accepted) and, as in the food industry, veganism is considered by many to be the only ethical and environmentally-sound choice. Instead, Robinson confronts the reality of the cycle of production and consumption, including the violence, sometimes overlooked, that is undeniably present within the fashion industry. By identifying the once-living source of her materials by name, Robinson plays on the shame of many carnivores who admit that they would feel uneasy witnessing the death of their future food, or in this case, garment. The numerical name tricks the viewer-consumer, putting a figure to a life and, once the significance is illuminated, revealing the distance created between that life and its outcome. Wearing, like eating, is an embodied experience, which adds emotional weight to the subjects of fashion and food. Robinson’s method is certainly shocking to consumers accustomed to facing only the end product but, in some ways, violence seems the appropriate response to a system that is so frequently violent to its workers and ecosystem, in often only thinly veiled ways.

The ethics of Robinson’s project are far from clear-cut, but her exploration is valid and thoughtful. In its refusal to shy away from reality, it demonstrates a kindness that is missing from many attempts at sustainability in fashion. By borrowing lessons from the food industry, it builds ‘a bridge between farming and fashion where values between the two [are] mirrored’. This uncomfortable collection reveals that the most important directive for a sustainable system is to keep questioning, experimenting and reworking, because there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution.

By Lucy Corkish

 

Alice V Robinson, 374. Installation image at FOOD Bigger than the Plate © the artist. Photo Victoria and Albert Museum, London (https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/inside-the-food-bigger-than-the-plate-exhibition)

 

Sources:

Catherine Flood and May Rosenthal Sloan, Food: Bigger than the Plate (2019)

Alice V Robinson, personal website (https://alicevictoriarobinson.com)

Rebecca Speare-Cole, ‘Budding London designer who makes clothes from entire animals to promote zero waste on show at V&A’ (2019) (https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/budding-london-designer-who-makes-clothes-from-entire-animals-to-promote-zero-waste-on-show-at-v-a-a4230996.html)

Rosario Morabito, ‘Fashion is a living thing: the RCA fashion show 2018’ (2018) (https://www.vogue.it/en/vogue-talents/fashion-schools-vogue-talents/2018/06/22/rca-royal-college-of-art-londra-fashion-show-students-2018/?refresh_ce=)

Depop vs Reality

When artist and writer Leanne Shapton gave her talk on the seduction of amateur fashion photography in the Fashion Interpretations Symposium in early December, I felt as though she had exposed to me the secrets of my online shopping habits. From this point on, I became fascinated (and a bit obsessed) with investigating what actually goes into my experience of buying second-hand clothes online.

Shapton happened upon the subjects of her 2020 painted series when scrolling through eBay and Craigslist. Through magical means, she transforms the one-dimensional amateur photography into whimsical painted expressions. Her talk and her work highlighted the absurdity of second-hand fashion online. The nuanced way in which we are seduced by amateur photography into buying something online that once belonged to someone else transcends the here and now to consider the imagined arena of what could be.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CITBs-_gwuJ/

Depop is my queen. It has provided me with an escape – not only in this past year but since the day I first created my ‘shop’ – and a space in which to carve out my very own, very ‘authentic’ style. I sit for hours, ‘liking’ clothes listed as ‘authentic vintage’, ‘deadstock’ or ‘y2k’. I sort each item into ‘collections’ that I’ve labelled ‘vintagey’, ‘jewels’, ‘lingeree’, ‘hat’, ‘topz’, ‘dressup’. I hope that no one will see my collections, so that the dress (that I’ll forget about as soon as I close the app) is mine, in perpetuity.

I sometimes search for months and even years for the right version of the garment I want. In the past year and a half, I’ve spent an unfortunate amount of time trying to find the perfect cowboy boots at the perfect price point. When I finally found them, I felt as though my hard work had paid off. The caption read: ‘Blue embroidered cowboy boots. UK7. #cowboy #western #bohovibes #boots.’ Simple, effective and they only cost £30 (including postage and packaging)! The seller (@portlevenmermaid) put up four images of the pale blue boots with white embroidery, against a diamond-patterned carpet in similar colours. She photographed them on their side, then from the perspective of the toe, then from the heel. She even modelled them herself, sat on the floor with legs outstretched. However, this wasn’t enough for me to be sure that my £30 would be well spent. I wanted to see them standing up; I asked, and she made me a video.

To help me weigh up the pros and cons of investing, I imagined myself walking around in the shoes I hadn’t yet purchased. I put together outfits that I thought would go with them. I imagined events that I would wear them to. In essence, those cowboy boots spent a lot of time in my head before I would ever see them on my feet. The last push was the recognition that if I saw that ‘SOLD’ stamp appear, I would feel a guilty sickness for the time wasted as well as a size-seven-cowboy-boot-shaped hole in my heart. I confirmed with the seller and bam! £30 left my account.

I waited two weeks for our postman to hand me a shoe-sized package. As soon as they arrived, I excitedly ripped open the flimsy plastic purple packaging. They were exactly as @portlevenmermaid had shown them! The embroidery was delicate and yet pronounced against the pale blue faux-leather material. The wooden heel was a lot sturdier than I had expected. They looked in great shape. I rushed to put them on, unzipping the leather and sliding my foot inside. Oh… a bit tight. Not to worry – I was wearing thick bed socks and I would never wear them with these! I jumped into a pair of tights and slid the boots on again. Still a bit of a pinch… It was fine, I wouldn’t be walking long distances in them anyway.

Our Christmas Day walk was the first outing for me and my boots. We walked about 6,000 steps according to Apple Health. The pointed toe squeezed my thinly covered feet and, with every step, created a friction that became unbearable. Taking off the boots at the end of the walk felt like taking off the favourite bra that you won’t admit you’ve grown out of, despite the red-raw indents it leaves on your chest. I was disappointed to say the least, but I also felt a real sense of guilt. I thought of my grandma and the hours we had waited for my number to be called out in Clarks, to have my feet precisely measured for shoes that would last me years. This was clearly a lesson I did not bring with me into my adult life.

Outlining my Depop experience in words has been a bit bizarre. I’ve come to realise that this is not a standalone experience: it has happened to me multiple times, with shoes, suits, tops and jeans, and I’m sure it has happened to everyone who has ever bought something online. This imaginary incorporation of this digital thing into my real life is beautifully represented by Shapton in her latest series of images. She highlights the strangeness of making judgements (and handing over money to strangers online) based on a one-dimensional image that you have worked to make real in your mind’s eye.

The entire experience of buying clothes forces us to think of a life not yet lived. This imagined potential is greatly intensified online, even more so now that it allows us to hope for a future. With that in mind, I think I’ll try to cling on to the pleasure felt at the imagined version of me, wearing my cowboy boots.

By Bethan Eleri Carrick

References:

Kathryn Reed, Fashion Interpretations Symposium Part II, http://sites.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2020/12/03/fashion-interpretations-symposium-part-iii/

The Then and Now of Second-Hand Shopping

It is now a well-circulated fact that the fashion industry is the world’s second biggest polluter after oil. Unsurprisingly, this has shocked many consumers into the pursuit of a more sustainable way of dressing. As a result, the second-hand clothing trade has embraced – for better or for worse – a surge in popularity.

Second-hand shopping in charity and vintage shops, and on eBay and apps like Depop, has become not only a sustainable way to dress but also a way to express individuality against the mainstream current of mass-produced fast fashion. Second-hand clothing is often conceptualised as something both antique and unique. It is easy to imagine, then, that second-hand clothing shops are a modern invention, a response to modern anxieties about sustainability and individuality.

The second-hand clothing trade, however, has existed quietly for centuries.

Nineteenth-century second-hand clothing stalls, accessed via Vivienne Richmond, Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 2013).

In 1700, second-hand clothing stalls were scattered across London, in both the East and West End. They existed mainly to clothe the poor but also benefitted the emerging middle classes.

Second-hand clothing dealers in this period were usually skilled tailors, and the business was considered both respectable and profitable. Merchandise was often sourced from servants who transported their wealthy employers’ discarded clothing to the markets to sell. For them, there was more merit in making a profit from a gifted item of clothing than wearing what would be considered socially inappropriate. These upper-class fashions would be repurchased and worn by the urban merchant class, much to the dismay of contemporary commentators.

While the second-hand trade flourished throughout the eighteenth century, industrialisation in the nineteenth century made new clothes more affordable and thus caused a relative decline in the second-hand clothing trade. However, second-hand trade remained a central way for the poor to buy clothing, and it was at this point that it became associated solely with poverty.

The stigma surrounding the second-hand has been memorialised in the writings of Charles Dickens. In 1836, he reflected with horror on the second-hand clothing market in Monmouth Street:

… To walk among these extensive groves of the illustrious dead, and to indulge in the speculations to which they give rise; now fitting a deceased coat, then a dead pair of trousers, and anon the mortal remains of a gaudy waistcoat …

The second-hand clothing trade became a ‘burial place of fashions.’

The rich history of the second-hand clothing trade has largely been forgotten by scholars and curators. Indeed, as Madeleine Ginsburg pointed out: ‘the staples of the nineteenth-century second-hand clothing trade are most of the items missing from most museum collections.’ By the time the ‘history from below’ approach to museum curation became popular in the 1970s, the second-hand clothes for the poor sold on market stalls had long disintegrated.

Dickens’ contemplation of the deathliness that surrounds second-hand clothing remains something Western society still negotiates with today. Second-hand clothes are perceived as dirty, and in them is the lingering sense of another unknown body – indeed, we must give our purchases from charity shops a good wash before we wear them.

Some second-hand business owners still choose to accentuate the fact they are ‘pre-owned’ (many businesses prefer to use this term to second-hand). In an interview with i-D Magazine, Hokkiee, the owner of the cult vintage shop Zen Source Clothing in Tokyo, expressed his effort to make the interior ‘really feel like somebody’s personal closet’.

A photograph of a ghostly display inside Hokkiee’s Tokyo-based vintage shop, Zen Source Clothing, accessed via https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/8898dx/zsc-best-cult-vintage-stores-zen-source-clothing-japan-tokyo

Similarly, The Grotesque Archive, a Berlin-based vintage shop on Depop, collects grotesque and uncanny second-hand designer pieces, capitalising on a strange, deathly aura only second-hand clothing can capture.

LA, wearing items from The Grotesque Archive, photographed by Timothy Schaumburg, accessed via https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/12953/the-grotesque-archive-is-the-vintage-shop-harnessing-the-power-of-depop

Much like its eighteenth century counterpart, second-hand clothing today is a profitable business. Twenty-first century vintage shops are fashionable and innovative, and often marketed towards a trendy, environmentally conscious, and affluent consumer. It goes without saying that those who are able and can afford to shop sustainably should. However, as increasing popularity in second-hand clothes drives up the prices in charity shops, perhaps we should keep in mind the second-hand stalls of past-centuries: primarily an affordable (and sustainable) way of clothes-shopping for those who could not afford the alternative.

By Kathryn Reed

Sources

Nicky Gregson and Louise Crewe, Second-Hand Cultures (London, 2003).

Vivienne Richmond, Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 2013).

Madeleine Ginsburg, ‘Rags to Riches: The Second-Hand Clothes Trade 1700–1978’, Costume 14 1 (1980), pp. 121-135.

Eilidh Duffy, ‘The Grotesque Archive Is the Vintage Shop Harnessing the Power of Depop’, Another Magazine, https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/12953/the-grotesque-archive-is-the-vintage-shop-harnessing-the-power-of-depop

Eilidh Duffy, ‘Inside the best cult vintage stores: Zen Source Clothing’, i-D, https://id.vice.com/en_uk/article/jgxvvk/inside-artifact-new-york-fashions-most-exclusive-designer-archive

Anti-surveillance wearables

Those who use facial recognition technology to unlock their smartphones may have found themselves recently unable to do so, the phone’s technology rendered useless when the cameras are no longer able to ‘see’ the faces of their owners behind now-ubiquitous face masks. Ever since facial recognition technology came into use in public spaces, privacy activists have been formulating tactics to avert its gaze. However, their methods have spanned far beyond the use of simple socially (or legally) mandatory face masks, ranging from t-shirts printed with celebrities’ faces (the delightfully named ‘Glamouflage’ by Simone C. Niquille) to a crowd-funded prosthetic mask reproducing the face of Leo Selvaggio, who has, in an unusual but noble gesture, sacrificed his own facial identity to offer privacy to others. A ‘wearable projector’ by Jing Cai Liu is also available, which casts shifting and ghostly images of strangers’ faces onto the wearer’s own.

 

A ‘wearable projector’ by Jing Cai Liu (Photo: Jing Cai Liu) via https://yr.media/tech/guide-to-anti-surveillance-fashion/

Not all designs are so uncanny. Isao Echizen’s scientific goggles studded with LEDs would look at home on the shelves of neon-spattered ravewear emporium Cyberdog. The CHBL Jammer Coat, designed by Coop Himmelb(l)au, is embedded with ‘metallized fabrics’ to ‘block radio waves’. It is architecturally beautiful with undulating quilted segments covered in a swelling sea of black dots “reminiscent of Yayoi Kusama”, ostensibly to confuse cameras. Some techniques, including ‘CV Dazzle’, are so appealing that the possibility of avoiding detection could be demoted to a secondary part of their appeal. Artist Adam Harvey designed ‘CV Dazzle’ a decade ago, using a combination of colourful hair extensions, graphic makeup, accessories and gems to ‘dazzle’ the (now largely defunct) Viola-Jones face detection algorithm.

 

The CHBL Jammer Coat (Photo: Markus Pillhofer / Coop Himmelb(l)au) via https://yr.media/tech/guide-to-anti-surveillance-fashion/

The reasons to obscure one’s face are many and ever-increasing as facial recognition technology is harnessed by powers unknown. According to Larry Anderson, editor of SourceSecurity.com, “algorithms can […] identify traits such as ‘calm’ or ‘kind’”, as well as demographics, and use this information for marketing purposes – he’s not clear to what extent these practices are in use. Away from the private sector, governments around the world use facial recognition for law enforcement. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hong Kong’s government banned face masks after protestors wore them in an attempt to avoid identification and persecution. Following the death of George Floyd, encrypted messaging service Signal distributed ‘anti-facial recognition masks’ to protestors for the same reasons. In addition to government surveillance, individuals are able to harness facial recognition software for their own means. In March, a writer for The New Yorker met with Kate Bertash of the Digital Defense Fund who reported that anti-abortion activists were photographing those who entered clinics in a possible attempt to track down their home addresses.

The paradoxical effect of many wearable anti-identification systems is that they draw much more human attention to the wearer. Chloe Malle experimented with ‘CV Dazzle’ in a piece for Garage magazine and found that passers-by “swivelled en masse to look and chuckle,” and one woman, horrified, ushered her daughter away from the writer. Now that face masks are omnipresent, the movement for facial concealment may be given the space to flourish and become mainstream. It appears, however, that new designs will continue to be necessitated, as technologies like ‘thermal facial recognition’ are already beginning to be rolled out—and those in opposition to it will be pushed towards yet more creative and technological innovation.

 

Model Hye Xun photographed by Cho Gi Seok via https://garage.vice.com/en_us/article/bvgdzv/under-cover

 

Model Hye Xun photographed by Cho Gi Seok via https://garage.vice.com/en_us/article/bvgdzv/under-cover 

By Lucy Corkish

 

Sources

https://www.businessinsider.com/clothes-accessories-that-outsmart-facial-recognition-tech-2019-10?r=US&IR=T

https://www.sourcesecurity.com/insights/anti-surveillance-clothing-facial-detection-adam-harvey-sb.22164.html

Dressing for the Surveillance Age by John Seabrook, in The New Yorker, March 16, 2020 Issue

https://yr.media/tech/guide-to-anti-surveillance-fashion/

https://garage.vice.com/en_us/article/bvgdzv/under-cover

https://cvdazzle.com

The Right to Hide? Anti-Surveillance Camouflage and the Aestheticization of Resistance by Torin Monahan, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies Vol. 12, No. 2, June 2015, pp. 159–178

The rise and regulation of thermal facial recognition technology during the COVID-19 pandemic by Meredith Van Natta, Paul Chen, Savannah Herbek, Rishabh Jain, Nicole Kastelic, Evan Katz, Micalyn Struble, Vineel Vanam, Niharika Vattikonda in Journal of Law and the Biosciences, Volume 7, Issue 1, January-June 2020, lsaa038, https://doi.org/10.1093/jlb/lsaa038

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the semiotic power of the collar

2020 has been the year of the collar. Seen on the Fall/Winter catwalks of Gucci, Celine and JW Anderson, what was once perceived as a playful accessory during fashion week has taken on a whole new significance since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. Uprooted from our everyday lives and thrust into the digital realm of Zoom where our appearance is confined to one small square from the shoulders up, the collar, whether it be an oversized-Peter Pan number or ruffled Victorian style neckline, provides a channel of self-expression amidst the monotony of working-from-home dress. As Natalie Kingham, the buying director at MatchesFashion.com, states: “Ornate Peter Pan collars are definitely having a moment, as they are perfect to wear working from home for Zoom meetings.”

Gucci FW 2020 (Source: @gucci on Instagram), JW Anderson FW 2020 (Source: @jwanderson on Instagram), FW 2020 Celine (Source: @celine on Instagram)

No one knew better the power of the collar as a means of self-expression than Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As the United States’s second female Supreme Court Justice who fought for gender equality throughout her career, Bader Ginsburg broke through the patriarchal barriers of American law. She embodied the same feminist sentiment in her penchant for collars taking the judge’s robe, a uniform designed for men, and feminising it. As she recalled in an interview in 2009, “You know, the standard robe is made for a man because it has a place for the shirt to show, and the tie”. Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female US Justice, “thought it would be appropriate if we included as part of our robe something typical of a woman.” Bader Ginsburg and O’Connor wore lace jabots for the Supreme Court group photo in 2003, a controversial choice made by these two women to embrace their femininity in the male dominated workplace.

Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg wearing her first jabot by Everett Raymond Kinstler 1996. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute
TIME magazine Ruth Bader Ginsburg Cover (Source: @time on Instagram)

As Bader Ginsburg’s career progressed, she harnessed the semiotic power of accessorising, wearing different collars to give her opinions on rulings. As a Justice, she was required to remain neutral on most matters. The sartorial channel of the collar allowed her a small but significant means of expression. She had her “dissenting collar”, a bejewelled Banana Republic necklace on a black base with an armour-like appearance, worn to express disapproval. As she said to Katie Couric in 2014, eyeing up the collar’s metal spike-like beads, “it looks fitting for dissent”. She famously sported this collar the day after Donald Trump was elected President in 2016.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her Dissent Collar (Source: @queenscityvintage on Instagram)

Then there was her collar of approval, the “majority opinion collar”, which she wore to announce rulings for the court. A crocheted yellow and pink collar with gold appliqué detailing and flowers, it seemed an appropriate sartorial choice to express agreement. Perhaps her most famous collar was white crochet jabot she brought back from a trip to South Africa. It was simple in design, with no embellishment or colour, but was worn on the most important of occasions—namely Barack Obama’s speech to congress at the 2012 State of the Union and on her 20th anniversary as a member of the bench in 2013. It was this collar that was printed on the cover of the New Yorker to pay tribute to Bader Ginsburg when she passed away in September. On the cover, the crochet detailing was manipulated into the form of the female gender symbol.

Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her favourite collar (Source: @bazaaruk on Instagram)
The New Yorker cover in tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Source: @newyorkermag)

Bader Ginsburg’s use of the collar as a tool for self-expression shows how a small sartorial detail can go a long way in asserting one’s own personal style, but may also hold the power to communicate cultural and political ideas. As we remain (for the moment at least) confined to the world of Zoom, we can take inspiration from her use of the collar, and fashion ourselves an identity from the neck up.

 

By Violet Caldecott

Sources

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/sep/25/ruth-bader-ginsburgs-trademark-collar-dominates-week-of-tributes

https://www.ft.com/content/1a8a270d-7a4d-41d2-9f5d-b0265296aa17

https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2020-09-23/life-lessons-ruth-bader-ginsburg-collars

https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/politics/g34097013/ruth-bader-ginsburg-collars-meaning/#:~:text=Though%20she%20had%20many%20collars,her%2020th%20anniversary%20on%20the

Life in Colour with Parks and Shabazz

Photography often failed to be recognised as a true art form, something that has resonated with the struggles encountered by many famous photographers nowadays. The medium’s strength was always recognised in its ability to accurately represent reality – nevertheless, even reality has numerous depictions.

Michael Mery talking
Michael Mery at the Schomburg Centre (source: shot by author)

Gordon Parks is nowadays known to be one of the most influential photographers of his period. Having shot both fashion and news, he has an ability to convey beauty and despair in even the simplest of things.  During our trip to New York in February just before Covid-19, our MA class was fortunate enough to have the chance to discuss photography with Michael Mery from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Amongst the treasure troves were coloured prints of one of my favourite photographers, Gordon Parks.

The beauty and the timelessness of his images highlight the incredible fashion that ornate the bodies in town. By opting for Kodachrome, Parks manages to render mesmerising compositions highlighting colours, motifs and textures of dress, bringing them to life before our very eyes. In peering into these individuals’ everyday life, one experiences an almost soothing feeling. Yet, it is this calmness that is ultimately most disturbing.

gordon parks
Gordon Parks, Alabama Series, 1956 (source: Instagram screenshot)

Coloured film enabled him to capture reality more accurately, but this only emphasised the obvious forms of discrimination present in these images. Amongst Parks’s pictures of people going about their everyday life, you catch glimpses of signs: ‘coloured entrance’, ‘colored’, ‘coloured only’. It becomes ironic that the coloured medium through which he captures these images resonates with the display of ‘coloured’ segregation encountered everyday by these same individuals.

Shabazz and Parks
Jamel Shabazz, Fly girls and cousins. Jamaica Queens, ca. 1995. Gordon Parks, Outside Looking In, Mobile, Alabama, 1956. (sources: Instagram screenshots)

His work in some way can be compared to that of photographer Jamel Shabazz, another favourite of mine. Despite generations separating the two photographers, in some way both their colour series resemble one another; their use of subdued colours, individuals getting caught in the moment, a sense of innocence. As discussed by Parks in his autobiography, photography was ‘a choice of weapon’ – instead of fighting inequality with guns and violence, he ‘shot’ people through his lens just like Shabazz.

Parks and Shabazz
From left to right: Gordon Parks, Ondria Tanner and her grandmother window-shopping, Mobile, Alabama, 1956. Jamel Shabazz, The Corner. Midtown, Manhattan, 1990. Jamel Shabazz, Father and Sons. Downtown, Brooklyn. ca. 1990 (sources: Instagram screenshots)

Earlier in June I tuned into a discussion with Shabazz organised by Nights Global, and one question kept coming up again and again -where is the love in today’s culture? I understand that I will never understand, but what I can recognise is that both Park and Shabazz are depicting just that: the need for love. Displaying how these individuals go about their daily lives, these two men use photography to document beauty and a humanity which appears to be taken away.

Shabazz and Parks
Gordon Parks Store From, Mobile, Alabama, 1956. Jamel Shabazz, Double Dating in the 1990s, Harlem. Gordon Parks, Alabama, 1956. (sources: Instagram screenshots)

There is obviously much more that can be said and discussed in the works of the photographers mentioned above. But all in all, in the current ongoing media culture where people are constantly bombarded with the same images, often embedded with violence and aggression, recognising these images are as crucial as recognising those. They both show the same reality, just differently.

Fashion’s Virtual Future: Notes from London’s Digital Fashion Week

We are still in the infancy of learning how to mimic and maintain something of the in-person experience online. In the early stages of lockdown, there seemed to be something promising in the ability to access renowned museum collections online, often in minute detail and with 360-degree tours. As our worlds began to narrow to our domestic spaces, how thrilling to be able to move from the Louvre to the Prado with the switch of a tab – how unprecedented (to borrow 2020’s favorite word)! While there is certainly something to be said for increased access and the democratization of art, virtual experiences and events across the board have proven to be lacking. If you cannot move seamlessly around a sculpture allowing its narrative to unfold, or be drawn to a new piece because you caught a glimpse of it in the next room over, or share in the experience with others in the room, there is undeniably a missing human emotional element, crucial to the arts.

This must be all the more true for fashion, whose materialism is essential, and whose location on the body increases the need to take into account this very materiality. With cancellations of couture week in July, and likely carrying over to the fall, the future of fashion presentations and fashion week lies online. Clearly in this transformation much must be lost. How can movement, transparency, intricacy and emotion be captured in the virtual world? What are the implications for such a material and corporeal industry?

How can clothing make itself felt virtually?

In short—it can’t, yet.

This past weekend London served as the first of the four major fashion capitals to take a week of shows and events into the digital realm (Shanghai became the first fashion week to pivot to an entirely virtual event this past March). Though scheduled to fall during London’s menswear slot the event was technically gender-neutral, the first time in its 40-year history that men and women’s collections “showed” side by side. Hosted exclusively on the “LFW Hub”, the event featured fashion films, capsule collections, playlists, poems, panels and live performances. Few designers actually showcased new collections given the economic fallout of the current global crisis, but they were presented with the opportunity and freedom to translate their creativity into the digital sphere in different mediums and formats, resulting in myriad new ways to convey a brand’s identity and values. While the weekend was certainly full of challenges, much can be gleaned about the place of the fashion industry in the current world climate, and fashion’s potential futures.

Entering the Netflix-like homepage of the event, it was not obvious that this was a site centered around fashion. The mix of media—videos, visual art, poetry, music—read like an interactive magazine; few images even involved clothing, focusing instead on the personalities behind brands. Many household names were notably absent (Burberry, Victoria Beckham, A-Cold-Wall), choosing instead to wait and show during women’s fashion week in the fall, perhaps dulling the excitement for many but leaving space for new talent to emerge. There were certainly some standouts among the current pool of young designers, who used the opportunity to make themselves and their ideologies known.

A view of the homepage - Screenshot of
A view of the homepage of LFW (source: Screenshot of website)

A few highlights included the LVMH Prize winning Nicholas Daley and his short film The Abstract Truth, presenting a new look at his most recent fall fashion show and highlighting the music of South London jazz musicians Kwake Bass, Wu-Lu, and Rago Foot. The film was grainy, conveying a sense of nostalgia—for the Black Abstraction Movement of the 1970s, the collection’s main inspiration, and perhaps for the pre-pandemic world. It seemed almost strange to see so many bodies crowded in one space, models moving to the music and lining up not six inches apart. Martine Rose—one of the more established names of the LFW Reset—partnered with London-based retailer LN-CC to release a “Late Night—Conscious Campaign” centered around waste, crafted entirely from deadstock. Charles Jeffrey canceled a virtual dance party in favor of a “talent showcase” highlighting Black creatives and urging viewers to donate to Black Pride UK. This decision echoed the sentiments of many designers who felt odd promoting new collections in the midst of protests and pandemic, several revoking their participation altogether.

Consistent throughout was the use of fashion to advocate for larger causes, many designers focusing on sustainability—arguably the industry’s most pressing issue—but several, like Jeffrey, responding to the Black Lives Matter movement and current global protests for social justice. This ability to be reactive and sensitive to current world issues demonstrates how nimble designers were able to be outside of the traditional confines of a physical presentation where looks, makeup, music, seating are decided well in advance—a particularly positive development for fashion, so often seen as being out of touch.

MC Miss Jason and Charles Jeffrey (screenshot from article)
MC Miss Jason and Charles Jeffrey (source: screenshot from article)

Several additional positives offered promise: The definition of fashion was questioned and broadened—how can fashion be conveyed through music, in a poem, without physical clothing? Sustainability was clearly at the forefront of thought, with many designers considering new ways of working, creating, producing, traveling, shooting. The democratization of fashion was furthered—the same experience was made available to a far broader audience—consumers, buyers, tastemakers alike.

But there are still many hurdles and unknowns to figure out. It is clear that whether you’re an established fashion house or an emerging brand, it will be a challenge to get people to pay attention without rows of photographers, celebrity appearances, posts and reposts across social media—commercial viability is called into question. The digital platform lacked the same excitement, the “sense of urgency or the anticipation that grows while you are sitting and waiting for catwalk theatrics or a hot debut,” be it from the audience or watching a livestream from home. There was a tangible absence of star power without some of the industry’s largest players and brands and their tantalizing new creations.

Ultimately, it is clear that as of now, the digital equivalent was not (yet) a successful replacement for the traditional week, lacking the human aspect of the physical show. Gone was the vibration of music through the crowd, the scramble of backstage beauty, the street style shots taken as the lucky few entered venues. Were artistry and emotion adequately translated online? Not in the traditional visceral sense, hearts stopping as otherworldly designs and beautiful fabrics passed by. But this was merely an experimental step and the beginnings of a road map for a future that is undoubtedly here to stay. As designer Iris Van Herpen stated: “It will take time before you can put your own language into that new tool, but I do feel we’ll be able to transmit that emotional aspect of the garment into the virtual reality.” Time will tell—Milan and Paris are up next in July—but it is clear that those who are hesitant or slow to adapt to the new ways of being will be at a severe disadvantage.

 

 

 

 

Sources:
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/15/style/london-fashion-week-digital.html

https://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-features/iris-van-herpen-virtual-reality-fashion-1203554662/

https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2020/jun/12/london-fashion-week-drops-elitist-traditions-as-event-goes-fully-digital

https://hypebeast.com/2020/6/london-virtual-fashion-week-roundup

https://www.10magazine.com/tv/nicholas-daleys-aw20-film-the-abstract-truth/

https://www.harpersbazaararabia.com/featured-news/what-you-need-to-know-about-london-fashion-week-mens-first-virtual-showcase

 

 

Images:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/15/style/london-fashion-week-digital.html

https://fashionunited.uk/news/fashion/charles-jeffrey-highlights-black-creatives-at-lfw-digital/2020061549377

 

 

 

Redefining Luxury: What’s Left of Fashion Week?

As lockdown starts to ease throughout Europe, the Haute Couture Imperium has started to reopen slowly but questionably. With high-profile events gradually being cancelled for the rest of the year and customers now being followed by overly-eager-to-clean employees in department stores, it seems as if the world was settling into a “new” normal.

However, over the past week, the pandemic seems to not only have accelerated, but forced big designer brands into a more carbon-conscious spread of fashion (at least for now). Indeed, as household names gradually pull out of the massively-publicised Fashion Weeks (FW), designers and creators are finally starting to question the real and immediate legitimacy of FW in the twenty-first century.

Although many are unaware of this fact, FW actually originated during the Second World War, when American journalists found themselves unable to enter Nazi-occupied France for the season’s ‘new looks’. Eleonor Lambert, an American fashion publicist, believed this to be the “perfect” opportunity to promote local designers and American fashion which had long been on the back-burner of Paris and London. And voilà, NYFW was born.

Schiaparelli’s first show after WW2 (source: @julienbaulu on Instagram)

A bit over half a century later, FWs have evolved into long-awaited social events, showcasing the dos and don’ts of the season in front of (literally) rows of famous people sharing their ‘favourite looks’ on Instagram and making us lowly people feel a part of it all. But quite frankly, in the midst of this information overload, it becomes clear that some designers have felt the pressure to perform and deliver on time, and consequently, have been sacrificing their creative drive.

Now, with the uncertainty of social interactions at events looming over Luxury Houses, many designers have indeed taken a moment to reflect on their creative process behind-the-scenes. Amongst the many brands using the pandemic as a way to reshape their artistic expression are Saint Laurent and Gucci.

The latter’s creative director Alessandro Michele is already much beloved for having redefined chic Italian menswear, ultimately playing on a more androgynous style. In the search for a connection with creativity, he has decided to distance himself and the brand from the more ‘commercial’ aspect of FW by withdrawing the household name from it and by choosing to showcase only two collections a year. In extracts of his personal diaries published on Gucci’s Instagram, he goes on to explain in what ways the fast pace of fashion nowadays does not allow him to feel fulfilled creatively. This comes only a couple of days after Saint Laurent also drew back from the FW schedule to focus, not on set and specific deadlines, but on its own “creative flow”.

These trends of ‘going back to their creative roots’ is clearly setting a new pace for Fashion which seemed to be going down a hole of “who’s-who” rather than on the actual clothes and designs. The lack of focus on creativity as mentioned by Michele has indeed been a debated issue in recent times, with discussions regarding the environmental viability of hosting four shows in three cities in one year. Not only is the carbon footprint of such travelling massive, but the ever-changing looks and materials used are not exactly environmental-friendly. Some designers are however already taking full advantage of the whole world only being accessible digitally, with Congolese designer Anifa Mvuemba already putting her creative spin on a digital runway.

Covid-19 has thus ultimately promoted a more eco-friendly FW in the short-term, and how these new houses’ take on Couture will ultimately reflect and affect the fashion industry in the foreseeable future remains to be seen. The greater impact of digitalising Fashion Week would perhaps be on the hosting cities’ economies, as it yearly represents a major source of revenue for restaurants, clubs, hotels and tourism in general.

As lockdown comes to an end, it remains quite clear that the virus does not, and it will be interesting to keep an eye out on how the public’s interaction with Haute Couture and its creative side will ultimately evolve. And whereas this period of quarantine has been a period of self-reflection on the little specks of happiness and fulfilment in life for some, others were fast to queue up at Zara and Pull&Bear as soon as it re-opened. Needless to say that fast-fashion will be disappearing anytime soon, but maybe for now, think before you shop, and think locally.