1st Global Conference
Friday 25th September – Sunday 27th September 2009
Mansfield College, Oxford
in association with Models 1: Europe’s Leading Model Agency
First Lady of Fashion: How the U.S. has Embraced Michelle Obama
Alisa K. Braithwaite
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA
The inauguration of the first African American president of the United States also introduced the nation to its first African American first lady, Michelle Obama. The acceptance of a black woman into a role that has symbolized the somewhat antiquated gentility of a nation that still struggles mightily with its acceptance of racial and cultural difference has been no small feat. Aside from the massive popularity of talk show host Oprah Winfrey, the reception of black women in this country has not been positive. In spite of the increasing numbers of black women in high level positions (including Condoleezza Rice, Gwen Ifill, and Marian Wright Edelman), the negative images of black women as either poor welfare mothers, or intimidating individuals who take power away from men, have still persisted. There was much concern about how the public would receive Michelle Obama because of these stereotypes, and her introduction to the campaign was somewhat rocky because of her intellectual credentials and her willingness to express her discontent with the country. But the resistance to this new black female figure began to melt away when the attention turned to her fashion sense. Suddenly the somewhat threatening black woman became instantly relatable because she not only wore the clothes that American women wanted to wear, but she also wore the clothes that they were already wearing. Her fashion sense became the panacea for dealing with the stereotypes that surrounded her race and gender. This paper, however, questions whether focusing on Michelle Obama’s fashion has become a way for this nation to evade the very real concerns about how black women are perceived, or if it could be a way in which these negative perceptions may be overcome. Through the lens of black feminist theory and Barthes’ foundational work on fashion theory I will explore what impact the media coverage of Michelle Obama’s fashion may have on American cultural perceptions of black women.
Use of Skin Whitening Products among African People. A Research in Italy and the Congo
University of Genova, Italy
The cosmetic use of skin whitening susbstances (mercure, ìdroquinone, steroids) by the African people has been supported with documentary evidence in various research works which disclose its healty risks. Instead research works which deal with social and economic repercussions of the issue have been reported to a lesser extent.
I interpret my study as an attempt of investigating these aspects which implicate the social building of beauty as a concept and its representation which an ethnic group applies in a globalized world. The following data have been collected in Italy and the Congo RDC. By means of inspections carried out in Italian ethno cosmetics shops, on African markets and by interviewing immigrant women in Italy and both men and women who make use of skin whitening products in the Congo as well. This study, although not extended, has enabled us to focus on a number of points:
- The problem is ticklish and complex, since it involves issues strongly burdened with emotions such as one’s ethnic and personal identity.
- To impede this problem it is necessary to highlight both the healthy risks and also the social and symbolic aspects, i.e. When a woman stops using a skin whitening product this is seen as an indicator of financial impoverishment or estranged family.
- The model to which the person who uses the above mentioned products, refers to is not clear: does he/she want to look like white people or the black people who belong to the show business, such as Beyonce or M. Jackson?
- The case has an addictive dimension, therefore it is deemed necessary to find a cure by means of kinds of therapy and strategy widely used in any addiction case (self help groups, etc.)
- We cannot disregard the speculative and market factors carried along in the ensuing marketing and distribution. Evidence shows that there is a considerable output of these drugs packaged in a way that they resemble cosmetic products . This happens in Italy, in Europe and in Africa as well.
The Hybrid Tiger of South African Fashioned Histories
Erica De Greef
LISOF, Johannesburg, South Africa
This paper aims to explore the memory traces evident in the negotiated, multicultural, fashioned identity constructions in a contemporary post-apartheid, post-modern South Africa. Fashion is the locus for the local-global dialectic, for the past-present dialogues, for the self-other debates. Current fashion discourse investigates the idea of culture in the construction of identity, as well as notions of new historical imaginations and their impact on expressions of self, nation, design and fashion.
Benjamin’s ‘tigersprung’ model of change in fashion locates traces of the past in the present, in the attempt to express what it means to be modern today. In South African fashion, there is evidence of various historical associations yet very little analysis has been processed regarding the nature, emotion, and intention of these ‘pasts’. The issues that conventionally relate to the past such as authenticity, tradition, culture, trauma and heritage are currently embedded in the local-proudly South Africa ideology, yet these appear to conflict with notions of the present such as modernity, the market, globalisation and fashion in the current understanding of contemporary fashion and associated cultural narratives.
In this paper, I would like to develop the idea of ‘tigersprung’ further to explore its possible applications analyzing current South African fashion and identity dichotomies between the local and the global, between agent and habitus, between tradition and modernity, between the authentic and the hybrid. South Africa has a complex history in terms of identity: oppression, rejection, alienation, appropriation, coercion, hegemony and elitism. It is in this context that I would like to explore the role of the past and its multiple meanings, memory traces, woundings and associations as they resurface as ‘trauma’ or ‘wound culture’ in the development of fashion and identity in South Africa. This research aims to advance a revised dialogue and critique on current expressions of cultural production and reproduction practices and discourses operating within the contemporary South African fashion milieu.
Retro Fashion: A Way to Deal with History and Construct Identities? Case Study of Denis Simachev, the Soviet Retro Fashion Brand
ALM Institution, Uppsala University, Sweden
The evident revival of retro fashion trends makes one contemplate about the causes and effects of this phenomenon. On the one side it can be nostalgia and longing for the past, on the other a logical turn of the fashion circles. Closer research provides deeper and more dramatic insights: for cultures that have gone through drastic times of turbulence, retro fashion became a means to deal with the legacies of the past and reconstructcultural identity of a nation.
By applying visual analysis to the products of the popular Soviet retro trend and studying modern Russian consumer culture, it can be learnt that: thanks to the playful and ironic tone of the popular retro of fashion brand Denis Simachev (which carefully selects positive cultural memories – mostly from childhood – and drops out unnecessary, negative and ambiguous symbols and approaches the difficult past in a simple and easy-to-understand manner), the Soviet epoque can be seen from an absolutely fresh perspective.
It became possible only now, when the generation of consumers of the Soviet retro trend (who were kids in Soviet times and therefor have nothing but positive childhood memories and associations with it) , are able to pay for the products of the trend. Now, in the time when Russia is working on the restoration of its image as powerful empire, Soviet retro embraces all the best from the Soviet identity, in order to shape a new one.