1st Global Conference
Friday 25th September – Sunday 27th September 2009
Mansfield College, Oxford
in association with Models 1: Europe’s Leading Model Agency
Fashion and Philosophical Deconstruction: A Fashion in-Deconstruction
La Sapienza University of Rome, Italy and London College of Fashion, London, United Kingdom
The present contribution explores the concept of ‘deconstruction’ and its relevance in contemporary fashion.
Deconstruction, as a philosophical practice, has indeed spread its influence far beyond the borders of philosophy and academic speculation. Since its early popularization in the 1960s, it has traversed different soils, from literature to cinema, from architecture to all areas of design. The possibility of a fertile dialogue between deconstruction and diverse domains of human creation is in fact ensured by the asystematic and transversal character of deconstruction itself, which does not belong to a sole specific discipline, and neither can be conceived as a specialistic knowledge.
When, in the early 80′s, a new breed of independent thinking and largely Japanese designers made its appearance on the fashion scenario, it seemed to incarnate a sort of ‘distress’ in comparison to the fashion of the times. Influenced by the minimalism of their own art and culture, designers Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake and, later in the decade, the Belgian Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten largely pioneered what can legitimately be considered a fashion revolution. By the practicing of deconstructions, such designers have concentrated in disinterring the mechanics of the dress structure and, with them, the mechanisms of fascinations that haunt fashion. The disruptive force of their works resided not only in their undoing the structure of a specific garment, in renouncing to finish, in working through subtractions or displacements, but also, and above all, in rethinking the function and the meaning of the garment itself. With this, they inaugurated a fertile reflection questioning the relationship between the body and the garment, as well as the concept of ‘body’ itself. Just like Derrida’s deconstruction, the deliberate deconstruction of garments – as masterfully exemplified by Maison Martin Margiela’s oeuvre – implicitly raises questions about our assumptions regarding fashion, showing at the same time that there is no objective standpoint, outside the history of fashion, from which ideas, old concepts, as well as their manifestations, can be dismantled, repeated or reinterpreted. This constant dialogue with the past is precisely what allows designers practicing deconstruction to point to new landscapes.
Caught/Appearing: Towards a Haptic Visual Methodology in Fashion Studies
City University of New York Graduate Center, Fashion Studies Certificate Program, USA
Following Barthes, fashion theory often positions fashion as a system of signs. However, cultural studies theorists have criticized sign-based approaches to the body as “disembodying,” or leaving out the lived, embodied experience of fashion as an “event.” Can a fashioned body itself embody this critique in its representation? In other words, can a body, through fashion, take subversion one step past subverting normative codes of race, class, and gender, and subvert the enactment of code-reading vision itself? If so, how would it do so?
Beginning with a critique of “vision-as-reading” (optical) used in the semiotic and social constructionist approaches to fashion, this piece invites fashion theorists to consider fashion as not only an abstract code of meanings and signs but as an embodied event, or “vision-as-feeling.” Adapting concepts of vision from film studies, this article outlines a new visual methodology for studying fashion by using Deleuze’s contrasting concepts of “optical visuality” and “haptic visuality” in order to account for a lived experience of the sensuous and affective dimensions of fashion. Optical vision, as Laura Marks elaborates it, is the dominant vision of reading the fashioned body, viewing bodies as whole objects and subjects with clear boundaries. It takes a distance from its objects so as to navigate space visually, while haptic vision, a vision in which the “eyes themselves function as organs of touch” is a more fluid, tactile vision that “depends on limited visibility and the and the viewer’s lack of mastery over the image” and “renders intersubjective borders blurry.” Thus, to look at fashion through haptic vision can not only link vision and tactility, thereby undoing the abstract disembodiment of a semiotic approach, but also blurring not merely social categories, but also the subjective borders of self and other that the optical relies on. Using John Harvey’s concept of “interrupted presentation,” I argue that the fashioned body can invite haptic visuality by a disruption of optical vision and its tendency toward reading the truth of a self in fashion. This can disruption is explored through discussion of can happen using a variety of fashion techniques.
To explore the haptic image’s potential and enactment, the author undertook a five-year long autoethnographic study, which involved wearing the same hat every day in an academic community and watching this article of clothing gather affective intensity. Rather than simply being read as a “fashion statement,” the hat became a lived example of a haptic fashion image, evoking intense affective responses as its affective intensity builds over time. Finally, and most importantly, the piece explores the political dimensions of using haptic visual methodology and instructs fashion scholars on how to use haptic criticism to explore fashion theory’s neglected sensory and affective dimensions.
Paris-New York: The Irreconcilable Translation? A Study on the Comparative Significance of “Mode” and “Fashion”
Harvard Business School, USA and Institut d’Histoire du Temps Présent, Paris, France
From the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century, during the era of haute couture or the “mode de cent ans” (Lipovetsky), Paris was originating fashions and building structures of dissemination (Simmel) relying upon a network of foreign buyers among whom New Yorkers played a key role. The cyclical traveling of these New York fashion experts was resulting in a translation of ideas as well as a translation of practices. The historiography of fashion, however, has often been focused on the separation rather than on the interchange between both cities, so far as to assess that “mode” in Paris and “fashion” in New York gave birth to two different sets of practices, and that to these two words belong two different definitions.
This paper will examine the question of this seemingly irreconcilable translation through a compared analysis of the meaning of “mode” and “fashion”, both in the Paris and the New York contexts, with a focus on the 1920s-1960s period. The analysis is relying on normative sources (law texts bearing upon the question of the definition of fashion and the copyright of fashion in France and in the USA), and historical sources about fashion interchange between the two cities. Theoretical background includes, without being limited to, works on dissemination and emulation by Simmel, Barthes, Bourdieu, and more recent studies on the emergence and development of fashion systems and ecosystems by Gilbert, Breward, Kawamura. The contribution of this paper is to shed new light on the meaning of fashion by the comparative study of the terms “mode” and “fashion”, in order to understand what is mode/fashion, and where it happens.