Whether watered down by not-so-exclusive brands, discouraged by the government as in China after recent corruption scandals, or suffering from disillusionment among consumers, “luxury” has lost some of its aspirational allure. Quality in material and construction, tradition, and exclusivity are traditional defining characteristics, but luxury has been denigrated to self-pleasure and indulgence, stripped to facsimile expressions of wealth and exclusivity.
Webinar offered by MSLK in 2009. From their website.
What it has retained is an association with the new, for better or worse. But as reuse and recycling become hip and take on increasingly positive connotations, there are signs that second-hand clothes and leftovers can exist within the luxury sphere. AnOther Magazine recently published an interview with Pascale Mussard, who runs the métier Pétit h, an offshoot of ultra-luxury Hermès that uses its seconds, scraps, and other materials that don’t meet the brand’s astronomical standards. I can imagine that includes quite a bit of material, and it’s exciting to learn they are putting it to good use. Artisans and artists create clothing, installations, and art work, which are shown through installations in fashion capitals throughout Europe. These pieces are also for sale, and sell out regularly. While created from cast-offs, the materials are necessarily of the highest quality, having been purchased by Hermès in the first place. The art objects also have the honor of being one-off, unique items; luxury is nothing if not exclusive. And the AnOther article was sure to mention Mussard’s family connections: she is a descendant of the founder, Thierry Hermès, which confers long-held notions of the inheritability of taste.
Screenshot from the Petit h website, December 2013.
While reusing leftover luxury materials to create exclusive pieces of art is far leap from the perhaps kitschy or crafty connotations of “reuse” and “upcycling,” this ecothink is becoming fashionable. There are interesting links to the evolving second-hand clothing market, which has been dragged out of the mire of pay-by-the-pound and used clothing into a bright, dry-cleaned, Vintage future. The websites The Real Real and Closet Rich, among many, many, many others, are well-known for having changed people’s attitudes about buying “used clothing.” They often self-describe using buzzwords like “authentic” and “designer,” the meanings of which have been diluted to homeopathic levels from overuse. Many of the items available on these websites have been used/worn at least once–although some not at all–and feature high-fashion labels. Until niche stores like What Comes Around and Decades were established, secondhand stores did not offer designer clothing except by providence for the patient thrifter. With the advent of the websites, the shopper is additionally no longer limited to what he or she can find locally, but may purchase globally. Despite apparent advantages, buying luxury items online negates my idea of the luxury experience, which includes good service, a pleasing atmosphere, a flexible return policy. But is shopping for luxury more about the object itself than how it was obtained? Does the anonymity of the internet brush away any remaining crumbs of shame associated with secondhand shopping?
Interior of Fillipa K Second Hand store on Hornsgatan in Stockholm, 2013. From their website.
Here, along the concrete sidewalks of Stockholm, Fillipa K has its own second-hand store that carries previously owned (begagnad) garments from the brand and select other vintage items in a curated milieu, often on consignment. Down the street, a few of the classic, less-well-groomed charity thrift stores that I love also work a vintage/luxury/more expensive angle: the Emmaus boutique in Södermalm is known for its little vintage shop in the basement below, where they have selected specific items for sale at higher prices. These garments usually exhibit exclusive characteristics: designer label, vintage, finer materials.
The window of the Red Cross [Röda Korset] boutique on Hornsgatan in Stockholm, 2013. From their Facebook page, November 2013.
Recently, the Red Cross has expanded its business of selling used clothing as a means of supporting its charitable works to include an intensely boutiquey location in hip Södermalm, with artsy window displays by local fashion students and designers, exclusively chosen selection of designer clothing plucked from donations, and sparse interior design
. In contrast to the Emmaus boutique that trades on vintage, the Red Cross store is focused on more current pre-owned fashion and designer goods, similar to the websites discussed above. The organization recently announced on their Facebook page
that they opened a pop-up shop in the airport early this month (which now has its own Facebook page
). Reuters reports
that luxury brands are strengthening their profiles in airports, and that Sweden offers a secondhand shop along with the expanses of duty free gives visitors a specific first (or last) impression. Rather than simply a Scandinavian practicality, I would argue that it shows an eco-friendly sensibility and a certain modevetenhet
Can “true” luxury be second-hand? How does an authentic, pre-owned (although possibly aftermarket) piece compare with an on-trend, current fake? The shopping experience is part and parcel for many luxury shoppers; does an artsy set-up mimicking high-priced boutiques generate sales for these charity shops and their organizations, or is it the “curated” selection that draws customers? Can these stores bring luxury back to philanthropy?
Do you see secondhand luxury where you live, whether among your friends or in the commercial sector? Do you buy luxury items secondhand, or would you consider it? Would you prefer online shopping or in a brick-and-mortar store? How have the meanings of “used,” “secondhand,” and “vintage” changed in your experience? Leave your comments below!
Cervellon, Marie-Cecile. “Conspicuous Conservation: using semiotics to understand sustainable luxury” International Journal of Market Research 55, 2013.
Dahlström, Annika. Wow–Jag kan bidra. AD Ecotextil, 2013.
Ricci, Manfredi and Rebecca Robins. Meta-Luxury. New York: Palmgrave MacMillan, 2012.
Roux, Dominique and Michaël Korchia. “Am I What I Wear? An Exploratory Study of Symbolic Meanings Associated with Secondhand Clothing” Advances in Consumer Research 33, 2006. [great bibliography!]
Thomas, Dana. Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Lustre. New York: Penguin Press, 2007.
Rachael also recently wrote a great post for WT that gathered some new scholarship on vintage, which articles I look forward to reading.
Last week ended what had been 10 days of a highly publicised and successful exhibition, Miss Dior at the Grand Palais. To celebrate the 66th anniversary (I must admit I didn’t know these birthdays were meant to be celebrated!) of the perfume’s launch, the Dior house organised a major display combining historical review and contemporary art commissions. The entrance was free and the exhibition had gained such publicity that numerous visitors attended the show that was, I must say, quite beautiful.
Raf Simons – Dior Haute Couture 2012
Photo: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards, 2013
As I said, the interesting aspect of this exposition is that it handled patrimonial questions, presenting the perfume’s history and a few key moments concerning the fashion house, and it highlighted conceptual art installations specially commissioned near 15 contemporary feminine artists reinterpreting the Miss Dior codes.
Various themes organised the space. As an introduction, to somehow justify the reunion between art and fashion within this exhibition, the luxury house evoked Christian Dior’s first job as an art dealer and his strong friendship with some of the pre-war most major artists. Therefore, were presented art works by Bernard Buffet or Marc Chagall and personnel mementos, photographies, letters…that illustrated the future couturier’s close collaboration with the surrealist movement. This space was placed on an upper open floor overlooking the rest of the exhibition: it pushed the visitor to look upon the 15 contemporary art pieces with a different feeling, a sense of continuity…You could then come down a few steps into the exposition and explore what linked the past and the present.
Photo: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards, 2013
The exhibition also clearly illustrated the powerful influence of flowers on Christian Dior’s work, infused by his childhood Normandie mansion or his Provençal home. An influence illustrated by the couturier’s creations that resembled flower bouquets – objects such as garments and drawings helped demonstrate this effect- and epitomized by the perfume’s scent.
The perfume was imagined by Christian Dior as a loving declaration to his sister, Catherine who had miraculously come back from deportation after she had been arrested for her activities in the French resistance. Miss Dior was launched the same year as, the now iconic 1947 collection: the New Look was accompanied by a new, impertinent scent that depicted the young, beautiful and audacious women the couturier liked to surround himself with: from his assistants to seductive celebrities. The display at that point, presented images of legendary muses such as Marlène Dietrich or Elizabeth Taylor and more recent faces such as Marion Cotillard and Natalie Portman: that was the exhibition’s celebrity moment! Besides this informative and somewhat gently frivolous documentation stood a Bar tailored ensemble, an emblematic symbol of the New Look and, how lovely it looked.
Bar Ensemble, Dior 1947
Photo: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards, 2013
The scenography installed a pertinent dialogue between the house’s archives and contemporary art, the present constantly making reference to the past. The visitor jumped from a 1950s René Gruau illustration to an installation by Ionna Vautrin, from the Bar garment to Sofia Coppola’s advertisement video: the display efficiently mingled history with a contemporary concept. The most stunning example was a delicate 1949 bustier dress by Christian Dior, entirely covered by precious pastel flowers confronted to Raf Simon’s 2012 version of the garment, which he turned into a profound black piece worn by Natalie Portman in the Miss Dior ad, all was united: patrimony, contemporary fashion, publicity and the celebrity factor.
Christian Dior, 1949
Photo: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards, 2013
Raf Simons for Dior, 2012
Photo: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards, 2013
The display was thus regularly punctuated by the art installations imagined by 15 feminine contemporary artists who had all created art works that refered to Miss Dior. Polly Apfelbaum was inspired by the perfume’s hound’s tooth motif to create a colourful carpet, Carole Benzaken reinterpreted the perfume’s bottle into a graceful glass sculpture surrounded by forest landscapes, Alyson Shotz worked on a digital rose and Joanna Vasconcelos designed a gigantic pink bow epitomizing the juvenile spirit of Miss Dior… just to cite a few.
I much appreciated the dialogues between these feminine artists and the perfume. They all managed to convey new questions, new concepts looking at women, the body, nature, history, patterns…A fruitful and complete collaboration.
Alyson Schotz – Infinite Rose, 2013
Photo: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards, 2013
Obviously, I could not end this article without raising THE question: was this an art display or just a perfect marketing concept? Well, I’d say: both! While visiting the space, you could not ignore that all this was an ode to Dior, an ode to a consumption object, an ode to a bottle of perfume. There was something quite disturbing when you really thought about it…All the panels, although they did provide historical information, did however insist on Miss Dior, the product and some sentences resembled press releases: ‘Her perfume is nothing else than Miss Dior, the one she wears with passion.’, ‘Miss Dior is an olfactory conversation that will continue all the house’s creations, from Diorissimo to J’Adore..’ You had to look at all this with much distance….
Photo: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards, 2013
However, let’s not just focus on this idea. Art and Fashion have been united for years, decades…it was considered fabulous when Elsa Schiaparelli would team up with Salvador Dali, Gabrielle Chanel with Jean Cocteau…Why should it disturb us today? Because our dear friend marketing has now taken over. We now look at art and fashion collaborations with a suspicious eye: brands obviously do this to gain respectability and as judicious communication tools. Yes, brands now use their patrimony to give sense and profoundness to their commercial concepts…But, why not? If this provides us, the public, with seductive campaigns and exhibitions: why complain?
It would be naive not to remark that the exhibition took place a few weeks before Christmas and its gifts’ shopping, to not consider the impact the show will have on the house’s image. It was definitely a seductive communication operation but how brilliantly coordinated it was! I surely think the Dior house actually clearly assumed that all this was a formidable publicity and I quite appreciate this honest assurance.
Maria Nepomuceno – Delilah, 2012-2013
Photo: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards, 2013
If I had only focused on the negative marketing aspects of the exposition, it would have clearly been a real shame for me to miss the beautiful archives the house exceptionally presented and the 15 installations produced by some of design and contemporary art major actors: all this for free! I preferred to please my eyes over controversy!
They gave him garments of servitude, which he imagined the candid cloak of the martyr
Oh naïve! Natively naïve! Fez and boots for his free domesticated feet…
He rids himself of his collar–his tie hides the sweat soaking his shirt–of his somber jacket.
He leans over a second plain saturated with fezzes and blood. (179)
From Léopold Senghor, “The Despair of a Free Volunteer”, cited in “Photography, Poetry, and the Dressed Bodies of Léopold Sédar Senghor” by Leslie Rabine.
Analysis of the life and work of a well-known Senegalese poet is one of the many observative approaches to the titular subject of African Dress. Offering the authority of a host of PhDs in African and dress-related subjects, this book offers a compendium of essays broad in scope and focused in nature. Arranged in four Parts, they begin under the rubric of “Dressed Bodies and Power,” move through “Material Culture, Visual Recognition and Display” and “Connecting Worlds Through Dress,” and finish with “Transculturated Bodies.” Of course, many could easily fall under more than one of these headings; as one authors notes, “clothing, after all, is complicated.” (77) In these sections you will find: the lightness and frivolity and deadly seriousness of colorful textiles that are local, imported, or both; politics; incarnations of the veil; military history; traditional and modern embroideries; colonialism; fashion photography; Obama; poetry; and travel. Lots of gender, some sexuality, very little on non-traditional gender identities or diverse sexualities, but the lack reflects the nature of the societies observed. Questions and conflict surrounding religious dress abound, as these are common and public topics in the featured countries.
Senegal is most often represented, along with Nigeria and Ghana; West Africa dominates the scholarship. While each of the essays is located in a specific city (or two), sartorial expression is a complicated construction, and ethnicities and religions that don’t conform to geographic boundaries often manifest as stronger influences than national identity. The figural, modern “Ghana Boy” embroidered tunics Victoria Rovine contrasts with the traditional, Islamic tilbi garments in Mali belong to a group of young men who define themselves more by travel, experiences, and age than by country of origin. Tina Mangieri’s work most explicitly studies this local/Islamic/Western collision felt by Swahili Muslim men who live in Kenya.
Typical opening pages of a chapter. From “African Dress,” 2013.
A strength of the book is its Afrocentric approach: fashion is defined in African terms, by Igbo and Ghanaian traditions. Editor Karen Tranberg Hansen, a well-known scholar of African dress, fashion, and domesticity, notes in her introduction:
When it comes to the study of dress practice in Africa, we are confronted by a widespread scholarly tendency that privileges Western exceptionalism and denies any non-Western agency in the development of fashion. (1)
She notes other concerns within the more general study of dress and fashion:
One is the trivialization of consumers’ interests in clothes, an antifashion tendency the devalues the significance of dress as a cultural and economic phenomenon…The second concern is the distinction between fashion in the West and the ‘traditional’ clothing of much of the rest of the world, unchanged for generations, drawn by scholars who attribute fashion’s origins to the development of the capitalist production system in the West. …A third concern arises from the lingering effects of the trickle-down theories that have restrained our understanding of the sources and currents of dress inspirations. (4-5)
Western-African ties, conflicts, and cultural influence rumble right beneath and often break the surface, unavoidable when studying contemporary dress issues in an increasingly global world. Western theorists such as Veblen, Barthes, and Simmel make their obligatory appearances, but the authors also adapt or manipulate these well-worn theories to fit non-western cultures, or reject the Western foundations for a more inclusive, global fashion history, as challenged by Hansen in the introduction. Kelly Kirby drops a range of fashion theory names in the introduction to her essay, “Bazin Riche in Dakar, Senegal: Altered Inception, Use, and Wear,” as she seeks to find a satisfactory definition of “dress” and “fashion”:
Following Hansen, I use the term dress in this chapter to be inclusive of both cloth and clothing. I also build upon Barnes and Eicher’s definition of dress as “an assemblage of body modifications and/or supplements displayed by a person in communicating with other human beings’. … I draw from Georg Simmel’s definition of fashion to make a final distinction between dress and fashion. Simmel suggests fashion is a ‘form of imitation and so of social equalization…The elite initiates a fashion and, when the mass imitates it in an effort to obliterate the external distinctions of class, abandons it for a newer mode’. Thus, according to Simmel, individuals have minimal freedom as adherents to fashion yet are liberated from having to make personal choices about what to wear. (64-65)
She later locates shortcomings in applying Simmel’s rich-first theory to her examination of the use of a cloth imbued with socially-constructed web of class, wealth, and display:
I suggest, however, that intent–intent of the observer, of the wearer, and the creator–must be considered as an important component that contributes to the augmented values related to the use and wear of bazin riche. In this context, then, what Simmel’s perspective on fashion lacks is recognition that no one, not even the elite can ‘pay’ for the gift of creativity. And therefore, rich or poor, ‘intent’ and the ability to execute it is not always contingent upon socioeconomic status. (73)
Are these old-school theorists relevant here? The first essay, “Dressing for Success: The Politically Performative Quality of an Igbo Woman’s Attire,” may be most successful in that endeavor; the rites, rituals, and performance Misty Bastian observed, experienced, and describes for the reader belong singularly to the town of Onitsha, in Nigeria. In this and many other chapters, the experiential real stands for itself and has no use for or intentional basis in Western theory. What is African fashion theory? Should, or could, it be established? Do we need a theoretical framework to understand each fashion system, and does the negation of existing models require the construction of one or many new?
The tone of most of the chapters skews toward the anthropological and academic; that is to say, probably most of interest to those already engaged in advancing their knowledge of the subject. The form of the book itself privileges the written word and includes, at maximum, three black-and-white photos and one color plate.
Color plate featuring commemorative Obama fabric; facing two black and white figures from a different article. From “African Dress,” 2013.
The series to which this book belongs, Dress, Body and Culture (Bloomsbury), features a few titles that encompass African fashion practices, some edited by contributors to African Dress. The format will be familiar to readers of that series, providing great research, ample citations, excellent bibliographies, and highly quotable writing, but is not quite enjoyable to read cover to cover. There is a lot of information here. Much like collections of short stories, these edited volumes of short, focused research allow the reader to choose which subjects are most applicable to one’s interests, and take the work on in smaller chunks. That said, the flow of the book is pleasantly intentional, as set out by Hansen in the introduction (6-9). It’s nice to read a chapter about the Senegalese notion of sañse (to dress up; a complete outfit (63)) and see the concept referenced in the following chapter on Mauritanian shabiba (85). There are a few gratuitous instances of academic buzzwords like “performative” and “unpack,” but this comes with the territory, and did not ultimately take away from the content.
African dress has lately been highlighted by the Western fashion press, most significantly Lagos and Nigerian Fashion. The Business of Fashion ran an article on November 5 about Morocco outpacing its neighboring countries in the fashion race (or…in attracting fashion chains, at least). Suzy Menkes chaired the “Promise of Africa” conference last year, on Worn Through here. Guaranty Trust Bank Lagos Fashion and Design Week happened last month, and The Financial Times Style section recently called Lagos a “global fashion hotspot.” While the authors in African Dress define fashion and dress in a unique, Afrocentric way, newspapers and magazines are combing these cities and fashion systems into the stream of catwalks, skinny models, and spiraling Seasons–privileging that Western construction of fashion. Lagos, in its success, is poised to become a metonym for African Fashion–perhaps to its benefit, like New York’s situation in America, although being the fashion capital of an entire continent is quite a different responsibility. While African fashion deserves more than an ethnographic or anthropological review of its fashion systems–it can be fun and frivolous too–the articles in this book successfully value the small details and the distinctions of each place.
As Hansen writes in the introduction, this book is unique and worthwhile because
it not only features scholars who enjoy exceptional access to sources close to public persona like Josephine Baker, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Malick Sidibé but also contributors who have experienced the trials and tribulations as well as the joys of conducting research on clothing in the context of everyday life in some of Africa’s most bustling cities. (6)
A generalist addition to the genre, it is an example to emerging scholars in African studies, anthropology, and dress history that will serve to educate on the “rising star” of Africa from a human perspective or to expand a research paper or inspire fieldwork. Good research practices, interesting subject matter, and logical, easy-to-read presentation are reasons enough to pick up this book. As a title, African Dress aspires to cover an extremely large landmass comprising many distinctive nations, ethnicities, and cultures; the content deftly continues to work toward defining that broad term by offering engaging individual stories, showing the average reader that African dress is more than kente cloth and postcolonial performance.
Lead Photo Credit: Cover of African Dress: Fashion, Agency, Performance edited by Karen Tranberg Hansen and D. Soyini Madison. Bloomsbury, 2013.
Find more book reviews on Worn Through here!
Craik, Jennifer. The Face of Fashion: Cultural Studies in Fashion. London: Routledge, 1993.
Eicher, Joanne B., Sandra Lee Evenson and Hazel A. Lutz. The Visible Self: Global Perspectives on Dress, Culture, and Society [3rd ed.]. New York: Fairchild Books, 2008.
Eicher, Joanne B. Dress and Ethnicity: Change Across Space and Time.
Gott, Suzanne and Kristyne Loughran. Contemporary African Fashion. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2010.
Hansen, Karen Tranberg. Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Hansen, Karen Tranberg, ed. African Encounters with Domesticity. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992.
Hendrickson, Hildi. Clothing and Difference: Embodied Identities in Colonial and Post-Colonial Africa. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996.
Maynard, Margaret. Dress and Globalisation. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2004.
Perani, Judith and Norma H. Wolff. Cloth, Dress and Art Patronage in Africa. Oxford: Berg, 1999.
And, obviously, dozens more.
Ah, another year, another chance to “discuss” the “problem” of sexyst, racist costumes! The University of Boulder has given bloggers something to write about by encouraging students to make thoughtful, positive choices about their costumes, and to avoid offensive or racist outfits. That which may be deemed offensive is notoriously fluid and the letter written by CU’s Dean of Students Christina Gonzales has, unsurprisingly, attracted accusations of oversensitivity. The letter suggests avoiding the usual suspects, such as: sexualized stereotypes like geishas and squaws, “Mexican” outfits that so often focus on the sombrero/serape combo, and those that play off poverty, such as “ghetto” or “hillbilly.” Its unique suggestion is to avoid the “cowboy” stereotype, which does not reflect the realities of Western life; I can see how some might think this is a step too far, but there are other people who don’t see the harm in their annual pimps and hos couple’s costume.
But this did happen this year:
Topical costumes supposedly depicting George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, 2013.
In an article on the Huffington Post, Leanne Italie discusses the incidence of blackface this year (Halloween, birthdays, etc), including a woman who decided to show her admiration for actress Uzo Aduba by dressing up as her Orange is the New Black character, Crazy Eyes (aka Suzanne). Although this may be temporary, Aduba’s work is currently obscured by this act of admiration; she has become the object, not the subject.
Even among those who may disagree with the costumes above, there are some who complain that everything will be (mis)construed as racist or knee-jerk offensive. This assigns an essential Thingness to the practice of Halloween as it is performed today, a willful misrememberance of p.c.-free days past, and a belief that tradition or inheritance invalidates claims of wrongdoing. As Jenée Desmond Harris wrote for The Root in 2012 about that year’s crop of ill-contrived costumes:
[C]ostumes that play on stereotypes about African-American criminality, Asian sexuality and Mexican illegality are as predictable a part of the holiday as candy corn and miniature chocolate bars.
She interviewed David Leonard of Washington State University (excerpted in the 2013 version), who asked:
“Why are ‘the other’ and ‘the exotic’ such sources of enjoyment and pleasure” that they’ve become Halloween staples?
What is the role of intention (good or bad) in the choices we make on Halloween, and should we consider each possible reception? What is our responsibility toward other people, and how does it weigh against the perceived right to wear whatever one wants on a commercial holiday? Is wearing certain clothing exercising free speech, and should it be protected? Unlike the spoken word, these costumes can never be defended as off-the-cuff or an unplanned mistake: these costumes take time, even just a few minutes, of considered creation. Someone splashed red paint on a hoodie and called it a joke, another heated up mom’s iron and applied almost enough letters for the punch line. One must have spent a more than a little time in front of a mirror, literally confronting his bad decision face to face, and still deemed it a good idea.
While most people avoid wearing offensive statements in their day-to-day lives, explicit or implied, intentional or accidental, why do some use Halloween as an opportunity to exercise unrestraint in dress? This is a holiday centered around clothing. The hoodie that became a metonym for Trayvon Martin has a complicated history, but it (necessarily) takes a backseat here to accompanying depictions of violence and blackface. Watered-down, seemingly randomly-chosen signifiers of various cultures become the full extent of the outfit, like fuzzy ears and a painted-on nose are sartorial shorthand for “cat” on this night. It’s rare that a Halloween celebrant takes on the persona, speech patterns, and mannerisms associated with the culture, so the appearance (or phrase ironed onto a plain t-shirt) must stand for itself.
Why do you celebrate Halloween? Be safe and thoughtful out there!
After the Chloé. Attitudes exhibition (which I had the chance to work on), last year, the Palais de Tokyo, a Parisian contemporary art museum, continues its ‘Fashion Program’ with a new display dedicated to the French shoe brand, Roger Vivier.
View of the display.
Photo: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards, 2013.
Virgule, etc. Dans les pas de Roger Vivier (Comma, etc. In Roger Vivier’s footsteps) tells the story of the brand and honours its founder, from the 1930s to nowadays, with the help of about 140 objects curated by the Musée Galliera‘s director, Olivier Saillard. Most of the shoes come from the house’s very own patrimonial department enriched since 2002 and, particularly, with a large purchase, in 2011, during an auction sale. Some institutions have also lent artefacts: the Metropolitan Museum, the BATA Shoes Museum, the Galliera museum and the Romans Shoe museum that conserves Roger Vivier’s archives.
The display evokes a 19th century museum, a ‘cabinet de curiosités’, that presents its ‘exotic’ artefacts within archetypal glass cases, giving the impression of walking down the alleys of the Louvre museum. Rather than being presented following a chronological arrangements, Roger Vivier’s inspirations dictate the themes that organise the display, English painting, African Arts, Egyptian Department, Gallery of Post-impressionism…A nod to traditional museum’s topographies.
View of the display.
Photo: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards, 2013.
Each shoe is given an imaginary alternative name, borrowed from veritable art works, erasing boundaries between art and fashion, temporary display and cultural institution. A theme dear to the curator who refuses fashion exhibitions to be seen as something else than art exhibitions. Here, the function of the shoe is removed, remains an art piece with its very own narrative.
Why not treat these shoes as pieces of art when their designer himself would see them as sculptures? He invented new lines, new shapes that changed the face of shoe-making whilst he also gave much importance to adornments, relying on precious feathered décors, stones or embroideries made by the Lesage historical house. An inventor: he created the stiletto in 1954 and the comma-shaped heel (which the exhibition’s title refers to) in 1963. He took part in iconic historical events and cultural moments: drawing Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation shoes or Catherine Deneuve’s famous pumps for Luis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour film. Roger Vivier also collaborated with major couture houses, from Elsa Schiaparelli to Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior.
View of the display.
Photo: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards, 2013.
The scenography is quite simple and austere but I did appreciate this choice that enables the themes and the shoes to speak for themselves: no need to add anything more. Despite from a few collages and drawings by Roger Vivier and Bruno Frisoni, there are no interactive displays, no videos nor installations.
Olivier Saillard made the choice not to write any technical nor date informations on the labels accompanying the shoes in the cases, to prevent the visitor from giving too much importance to this practical data. Instead, he invites us to observe the shoe, to concentrate on its aesthetic and understand the inspiration behind…Difficult to make the difference between Roger Vivier’s designs (who died in 1998) and Bruno Frisoni’s creations who has taken over the house’s creative direction since 2002: it proves the continuity of the house’s history, something permanent in its aesthetic…However, no need to worry: you are given a booklet with all the precise informations you would like to know about the objects!
View of the display.
Photo: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards, 2013.
I do wonder, however, whether the hints within the themes and shoes’ titles may not bee a little too intellectual for the non-specialised visitor: would everyone get the fact that the scenography evokes a classical 19th century museological presentation? Are all the masterpieces’ titles acknowledged? Personally, I loved the idea but I’m not quite sure it is broad enough. And saying this, I wonder whether it is finally not a further form of education? Visitors, more than the shoe history, are also told about art movements and given names they may would want to know more about in the future…, no?
This exhibition could be a pure marketing exercise: a show about a particular brand proposed by this particular brand. However, because of Olivier Saillard’s strong and independent curatorial choices, the cultural and didactic feel of the display is, hopefully,what comes out most.
View of the display.
Photo: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards, 2013.
As a visitor, I always feel I can relate to shoe displays more easily than to clothing, probably because they are more accessible in terms of shapes and ‘wear’. Shoes ignore body shapes and sizes, they are more self-sufficient whilst they strongly tell the story of an era. There is something very personal and very universal at the same time with a shoe. And, that is why I find Olivier Saillard’s display so effective: each shoe communicates its sense of beauty and its technical approach of form while the thematic ensembles relate to universal inspirations, important art movements that place the shoes within a wider aesthetic discourse.
The exhibition runs until the 18th November at the Palais de Tokyo.
Fontanel, Sophie and Mouzat, Virginie. Roger Vivier. Paris: Rizzoli, 2013.
Melissa’s visit to the Bata Shoe Museum on this blog
Jenna’s interview of Shonagh Marshall for the Shoes for Show exhibition
Heather’s short history of Roger Vivier
We’ve just moved back to Stockholm from Boulder (whose kick-ass rock-climbing, heli-skiing, mountain-biking citizens were once deemed “Worst Dressed but Best Looking Underneath“), and I am appreciating this fashionable European city anew. I listen to the podcast Stil i P1 (wrote about it here), and one of the episodes from early this year focused on what it means to design Swedish fashion. Is it a help or a hinder to make clothing with an intentional, identifiable nationality? I was surprised that so many designers say they avoid overtly Swedish signifiers and aim for a global aesthetic. I would have thought Swedish or Scandinavian would be a niche, since it is (or at least was) having a Moment. You’ve heard of Acne, no? And maybe seen a Fjällräven backpack?
This idea of Scandinavian Design, that there are aspects significant and inherent in clothing from this part of the world, was inspiration for Dorothea Gundtoft’s new book, Fashion Scandinavia. She also has noticed a moment/Movement, sometimes here called The Swedish Fashion Miracle (Det svenska modeundret, explored in a book of the same name by Karin Falk). Scandinavian design, generally furniture, textiles, and architecture, have been admired for a long time, but fashion has only recently come to the forefront of that field. While interest in Scandinavian homegoods tends to be backward-looking, favoring “midcentury modern” classics, Scandinavian fashion is appreciated for its forward-thinking attitude toward dressing their customers “the way we live and work today.” (7)
Functionality, clean lines, simplicity, equality, tradition.
Gundtoft attributes this “distinctive aesthetic” to “once-dominant agricultural and fishing societies, which contributed to the clean lines and the emphasis on craftsmanship and practicality, with a palette of light tones that contrasted with the darker, richer colors of southern Europe.” (6) Her short introduction prepares the reader through thoughtful causal historical themes that lead to the main content: interviews with more than fifty designers raised in, and mostly based in, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. These are designers the author admires, who represent and personify current Scandinavian fashion. Big, classic companies such as J. Lindeberg and Marimekko are included, as well as smaller and/or independent designers such as Libertine-Libertine and “conceptual” designers such as Moonspoon Saloon and Vilsbøl de Arce.
Images chosen by Henrik Vibskov to illustrate his interview in “Fashion Scandinavia” by Dorothea Gundtoft, 2013.
The book is a collection of interviews or descriptions of the brands conducted and created by the author, usually about ten or fifteen questions or short paragraphs; the author asks a question in underlined bold, the answer is given in plain text. Acne was the only brand to not participate even through a PR or Marketing manager; shame on them.
Significantly, the designers or their people were responsible for choosing the accompanying photographs, “to best present and explain their particular universe.” (6) I was glad to read that after paging through the book a few times and wondering generally how the history of fashion is written. Gundtoft has lived in Andalusia and Copenhagen, Paris, New York, and London; she is both an insider in all of those places but must have only grown up in one. Is the best fashion history (or future) written by an “insider,” and what makes one so? That the designers may present themselves visually here is significant, giving them the agency that so many critics, commentators, and fashion historians do not. Both approaches are useful, but this collaboration feels fresh, although subtle.
Images chosen by Silas Adler of Soulland to be included with his interview in “Fashion Scandinavia” by Dorothea Gundtoft, 2013.
Fashion Scandinavia actually makes the reader contemplate how to define “Scandinavian” or “Swedish,” despite the declarative title. Some of the subjects, like Silas Adler of Soulland, grew up in one country (Sweden) but calls another home, both personally and professionally (Denmark). Many of the designers went to prestigious Central St. Martins in London; is there a latent Englishness to their designs from years living there? Is it the head designer’s childhood home that marks the person/brand as Scandinavian, the location of its first/biggest storefront/studio? Or are the themes and values that Gundtoft uses as her red thread to connect the subjects of this book the most important key to Scandinavianness? One of the first questions Gundtoft asks in each interview is, “Tell me about your upbringing” and she is sure to ask why a designer prefers a London studio to a Copenhagen location, or why one moved away from Norway to Paris.
Graphic layout of each entry in “Fashion Scandinavia” by Dorothea Gundtoft, 2013.
The questions and answers, while short (they take up no more than two or three pages, interspersed with photographs), inspire further rumination on the role of location, identity, and local vs. global brands. It is evident that by grouping designers from five different countries into one “Scandinavia” is a compliment, and “Scandinavian” is seen as a positive niche that connotes the values stated in her introduction. Sweden and Denmark are most often represented here, and Iceland, with only three designers included, surely benefits from association with those countries known for more than their intricate, bulky sweaters.
Gundtoft set out to give readers a look into the current state of Scandinavian fashion, and urges readers to continue to look for the new, the worthwhile, the local, the unique. Many books are written about up-and-coming designers, but I’m always glad to see more press for Scandinavia. I’ve read a few books collecting new Swedish designers, but the inclusion of “all” the Scandinavian countries in one volume is a welcome approach, and makes for interesting compare/contrast. This is definitely not an in-depth or theoretically challenging discussion of Scandinavian fashion, but rather an entrée into fashion’s northern frontier.
Lead Photo: Cover of Fashion Scandinavia, by Dorothea Gundtoft. Thames and Hudson, 2013.
Find more Book Reviews on Worn Through here!
Carelli, Peter, Lena Wilhelmsson, and Cay Bond. In Fashion: new Swedish clothing design. Helsingborg: Dunkers Kulturhus, 2005.
Falk, Karin. Det svenska modeundret. Stockholm: Norstedts, 2011.
Sommar, Ingrid. Scandinavian Style: classic and modern Scandinavian design. London: Carlton, 2007.
Spandet-Møller, Henrik. Danish Fashion Going Global. Hellerup: HSMH Holding, 2011.
Worn Through is seeking three new contributors! Three of Worn Through’s contributors are moving on and we wish them well, so now we are searching for some more wonderful fashion academics to join our team.
1. Are you a higher education instructor in dress and fashion studies? Preferably in the US. Would you like to share your ideas, lessons, experiences with our readers twice a month? We have a regular Friday feature on teaching in apparel studies and are looking for some new insights in that area. for alternating posts with current contributor Kelly Cobb.
2. Jenna gave us so many wonderful views into life of an apparel scholar in the UK and she is moving on to an array of new projects, meaning she is shifting away from writing for the blog. We would love to continue to spread the word on happenings in England, including academic and museum events, interviews, and other ideas specific to the writer such as regional history. So if you’re UK based drop us a line.
3. Would you like to cover fashion in museums for Worn Through from anywhere in the globe? This is an area that has been been written about from Australia, Canada and the US. We are open to a new location or repeating one of those with a museum professional who wants to share the inside scoop on what it’s like to work within the ranks of curator, collections manager, exhibition designer, or similar.
Our goal is to find strong writers with lots of experience and enthusiasm for this field who can commit to posts that appear at least bi-weekly. This is a volunteer effort of a team, however do note we get about 40k hits per month and have been featured in many publications and reviews as a place to go for info in our field–thus, the exposure and community service are both reasons to participate. Contributors have also spoken of how the blog format provides a venue to lightly, loosely, and briefly discuss issues on their minds, rather than always heading toward journals, books, and exhibitions which take months/years to come out and generally have a more narrow audience. Also note for 2014 we plan to continue such things as our annual award (in its second year!), book give-aways, CFPs, and more.
We like to think of Worn Through as an information vehicle within our community, and we are looking for more people to get on board.
If you would be interested, please email Monica with your ideas, your CV and your availability. If you know of anyone who might be interested, please share this post with them!Positions open until filled, but ideally ready-to-go for Jan 2014.
At the recent annual meeting of ICOM (the International Council of Museums) in Rio de Janerio, the Costume Committee launched a website called: Clothes Tell Stories. Intended to assist museum professionals with responsibilities for textiles and dress in museums around the world, this site offers guidance on topics such as care of dress artifacts, how to chose a mannequin, as well as the use of social media. I recently interviewed Alexandra Kim, a former curator at the Royal Historic Palaces, to find out more about this ICOM initiative.
Alexandra Kim, Dress Historian and Curator
Ingrid: Let’s start with some background on how this project came to be. What was the impetus that led to the project?
Alexandra: The project was devised by Katia Johansen, the chair of the ICOM Costume Committee. As an international committee of museum professionals producing a web based resource about working with costume in museums seemed like a wonderful way of sharing the Committee’s knowledge, experience and passion. In the past the Committee has produced a number of really useful publications for working with costume in museums, including:
Vocabulary of Basic Terms for Cataloguing Costume
Guidelines for Working with Costume
We also know that there are many collections which have great examples of clothing and costume but which might need some encouragement and inspiration in helping to tell their stories, whether through research, display or social media. A specially designed web resource providing advice, suggestions and guidelines felt like the best way to share this information as widely as possible.
Ingrid: Tell me more about the committee for those that might not be familiar with the work of ICOM and the Costume Committee.
Alexandra: The Costume Committee is one of the international committees of ICOM, the International Council of Museums. The Costume Committee was founded in 1962 and is one of ICOM’s most active international committees, with a membership of museum professionals from around the world; from Australia to Norway, Chile to Japan. Our members include curators, conservators, educators and collections managers and all share a love of costume and making it as accessible to wide and varied audiences. Each year the committee holds an annual meeting in a different country which offers members a chance to engage with and learn more about the dress of the host country, through lectures, special visits and networking.
Detail of a sleeve from an 1830s cotton dress, from Sweden.
From the article “Take a Closer Look at Costume”.
Photo by Lars Westrup, Kulturen
Ingrid: Clothes tell stories is such a provocative name for a website. Can you explain how you chose the title?
Alexandra: We really wanted the project and the website to highlight the narrative power of dress. As exhibitions of dress clearly demonstrate clothing, whether cutting edge fashion or historical dress, is fantastically appealing to museum visitors. It is something to which everyone can relate but which can also have a great emotional or aesthetic draw. Dress in exhibitions however is only one way in which clothes can tell stories; often a careful and close examination of a garment can help to reveal all sorts of fascinating information. We wanted to provide practical and useful advice about how to use costume collections to tell stories and for the title to convey a real sense of this potential in using dress to create a narrative.
Ingrid: Who is the intended audience for this site?
Alexandra: The website is especially aimed at staff in small museums who may have the responsibility of looking after items of clothing in their collections but not have had any special costume and textiles training. They might turn to the website for advice about finding the right mannequin for mounting a dress for display or to gain inspiration from one of the many case studies featured on the site. Other articles offer guidance on identifying textiles and sewing techniques and many of the behind the scenes functions like documentation and collecting. While many of the articles discuss processes which all museum objects have to undergo they provide costume focused advice, something that’s not always easy to find! We also hope however that the website, with its wealth of images and intriguing articles will appeal to students and members of the general public as well as people working in museums.
Ingrid: Are there really people responsible for dress collections that have no training in that area?
Alexandra: People working with collections in museums often have to look after very diverse groups of objects. Many social history curators for example will be responsible for everything from agricultural farm equipment to toys and coins! They won’t necessarily have in-depth training or expertise in looking after every type of object. Additionally clothing is perhaps some of the most difficult types of museum objects to care for. Not only is historic dress (and many modern pieces too!) very fragile; it can also be especially time consuming and complicated to prepare for display; often many hours of work are needed to mount a dress properly on a mannequin. Most small museums are unable to afford a dress specialist to look after the costume in their collection. I think that all of this means that dress is often seen as a little too problematic to display. Added to which it’s not always easy to find practical training about working with costume; most formal qualifications concentrate on the theoretical and dress history side, rather than the actual nuts and bolts of handling dress.
Ingrid: How did you decide what to include on the site?
Alexandra: We were really keen to ensure that we had plenty of articles offering good, practical advice about working with costume in a museum setting. Whether you need to map out all the issues to consider when planning a dress display or take a pattern of a particular garment for research purposes it is often difficult to find straightforward guidance on how to tackle these issues. We considered all of the areas of museum work where there were specific considerations when dealing with dress and tried to include articles to address as many of these as possible. As we wanted the website to provide inspiration for making dress more accessible in museums we also asked outside contributors for case studies of exhibitions and projects which they had undertaken involving dress. We were delighted with the variety of articles which come from all around the world and range from Tina Bates’ study of nurses uniforms to Jillian Li’s exploration of the symbolic power of Chinese children’s clothes. The articles are deliberately concise and eclectic; we wanted them to be informative but accessible, and to act as a springboard for people’s own ideas and creativity.
Ingrid: Do you hope to gather more stories for the site?
Alexandra: Our first task is to promote the current website and its stories and to learn about whether people enjoy it and find it useful. We have a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Clothes-Tell-Stories/157766797748727 and we hope will allow us to introduce people to specific articles on the website as well as spread the word about the site more widely. While the website covers many areas and examples of working with costume in museums we know there are plenty more stories to be told so we will be seriously considering gathering more stories for the site. Join us on Facebook!
Beaded bag decorated with a giraffe, 1826.
Photo courtesy of the Museum of Handbags and Purses, Amsterdam.
Ingrid: What is your favourite story?
Alexandra: Oh, this is a tough question because there are so many stories I like on the site. For its careful observation of surviving garments, clear but friendly advice and in depth knowledge of pre-industrial sewing techniques I love the article Take a Closer Look at Costume by two Swedish members of the ICOM Costume Committee Britta Hammar and Pernilla Rasmussen. Plus it is an article with close up detail images of some beautiful examples of 18th and 19th century dress. An article which I think perfectly illustrates the engaging and poignant appeal of stories told by individual objects is Sigrid Ivo’s History in a Purse about two bags in her Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam. The charming giraffe purse, created as a souvenir in the excitement surrounding the first giraffe in France in 1826, is contrasted nicely with the obvious affection and desire represented in an early 19th century purse with a delicate portrait of a woman and a touching love poem.
Website: Clothes Tell Stories
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Clothes-Tell-Stories/157766797748727
Installation view of Bellville Sassoon at the Fashion and Textile Museum,
As the days get shorter here in London, I feel even more inclined than usual to spend long hours at museums. Fortunately, this summer’s generous offering of fashion and textile-related exhibitions continues into the winter months. Here’s a brief round-up of the ones that are sure to cure my summer-ending blues.
The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon
Fashion and Textile Museum September 20, 2013 – January 11, 2014
This exhibition surveys the work and influence of British couturiers Belinda Bellville and David Sassoon, who dressed many of the world’s most stylish women, including Diana Princess of Wales. The exhibition traces the heritage of the house from its roots in the couture houses of Post-War Britain, to its celebrity clients, and the mass marketing of British glamour via their ready-to-wear and Vogue patterns collections.
Immerse me in the glamour of Bellville Sassoon.
Lover’s Eye brooch, England, 1800-20, gold, pearls, diamonds and painted miniature. Museum no. P.56-1977, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Victoria & Albert Museum September 21, 2013 – January 22, 2014
Pearls are a wonder of nature, and a coveted item of luxury that has mystified and enthralled human beings across cultures and centuries. The V&A’s blockbuster exhibition promises to give us a total biography of the pearl – from trade and cultivation, to mythology, jewellery and its portrayal in portraiture. Surely the exhibition will inspire jewellery designers and fashionistas to dig out a few strands and rekindle a love affair with these rare and versatile jewels of the sea.
Give me a reason to wear a string of pearls.
Marion Pike, Chanel on Balcony in Switzerland, 1968
Acrylic on Masonite 80 x 105 cm.
Coco Chanel: A New Portrait by Marion Pike 1967-1971
Fashion Space Gallery September 5, 2013 – November 15, 2013
Sometimes it seems as though Coco Chanel is everywhere. Whether in spirit, logo, or one of countless biographies of the designer, it’s hard to turn a corner without spying a reference to her legacy. However, it is rare that we gain an insight into her more private life that feels authentic and unadorned by drama. Fortunately, a rather dramatic re-discovery of paintings by French artist Marion Pike, rewards us with an intimate look at Coco Chanel’s later years through the lens of a unique friendship. The exhibition displays a series of paintings of Chanel by Pike, as well as other of her works, garments gifted to Pike by Chanel and a wealth of material related to the correspondence and friendship of the two women. It’s a small and wondrous display, that holds above all the promise that just when we think we have seen it all, there is surely still another story to be told.
Tell me more about Coco and Marion.
Photograph: Mark Blower/ICA
ICA Off-Site: A Journey Through London Subculture 1980s to Now
Old Selfridge’s Hotel September 13, 2013 – October 20, 2013
Like Coco Chanel, 1980s subcultures and fashions get their fair share of attention in fashion media, and more recently in museums. However, the Institute of Contemporary Art’s new offsite exhibition promises to give a subjective and transformative view on a myriad of subcultural tendencies of the last three decades. A series of installations, images and other material from the period seek to investigate the relationship between sub, popular and commercial cultures and to illuminate the links between creative practitioners across the turn of the 21st century.
I want to rub elbows with the creative underground.
This autumn’s exhibition outlook is diverse and this calendar just a small peek at what’s going on in London this autumn. As usual, each of the exhibitions profiled here is accompanied by a programme of related events both purely academic or rather more social. I’ll be catching as many of them as I can, and also be looking ahead to what will be filling up my favourite museums and galleries at the beginning of the new year.
When Diesel’s first ad campaign under its new artistic director, Nicola Formichetti, came out in late August, bubbles of disapproval and disappointment and loathing about one of the many images in the Reboot campaign arose and floated around blogs, Buzzfeed, and The Huffington Post. The discussion circled around a shallow “offensive/edgy” binary deemed innate to the image, which discussion commentators (and commenters) fell into naturally: here is a semi-naked, white (?), tattooed woman wearing a niqab presumably made of Diesel denim, a studded back pocket over her face as design accent. And: go.
From Diesel’s 2013 “Reboot” advertising campaign.
Huffpo asked its readers “Did Diesel cross the line?” without really drawing one in the sand; you can imagine the comments that question encouraged. The intense disagreement suggests that the question of whether this is “offensive or not”–because it’s not provocative or daring or challenging, it’s offensive…or it’s edgy–is to be determined by the individual observer, not by the cultural observer.
Some commented on Formichetti appropriating a “sacred niqab” out of its religious context to further his career, others insisted that veils are a social–not a religious–construction, and very few noted that this garment was not meant for actual consumption, not going to be following the “plus-sized” found model and Casey Legler, other models in the campaign, down any runway. Shock factor was mentioned and determined to be in very poor taste. Opinions!
There are so many question-layers of agency in the niqab image: the core issue of the agency of women in Middle Eastern countries, their societies so often clumped together, misunderstood, and ascribed the worst social woes of each; the agency of Eastern imagery and objects in Western consumerism; the role of artistic director as artist, as representative of an international brand, as a member of the fashion system. Questions of one’s Muslim-ness and whether the image offended morphed into that age-old conversation about who is “allowed” to be offended or make pronouncements about offensiveness to Muslim women.
Many Muslim women spoke out, mainly against the ad. The threat of Islamophobia in America is very, very serious and the further complication of this garment–especially as regards sexuality–can be seen as irresponsible. Responses like that of Shruti Parekh are vital to the maintenance of real, true, and thoughtful perceptions of the diversity of Middle Eastern cultures both in America and abroad. When presented in a considered manner, the opposition to this campaign helps foster “dialogue.” But I continue to be struck by the frenetic use of our generous avenues of communication by some to exploit exploitation. What is the difference between an international brand using intentionally inflammatory images to spark conversation and a fashion blogger using intentionally inflammatory language to do the same?
One difference is, of course, that even if this garment is not for sale, the rest of the collection is. Designer Kenneth Cole is another famous seeker of controversy, criticized often and loudly for his Twitter advertising “jokes” about Syria and Egypt (and sandals and riots). Cole sees his fashion-maker status as an opportunity to get people talking, and his detractors see him as exploiting international crises and news items to drive sales. Some who disagreed with his tweets created interesting and engaging opposition, but the majority found an easy target and denied Cole the “dialogue” he supposedly seeks to incite, fighting his tactics because it looks good or because someone tweeted their inspiring disappointment first and everyone loves a trending hashtag. Is Formichetti the new Cole? Should a supposedly “off-the-cuff” tweet be considered in a different context than an orchestrated campaign?
Is the Catholic imagery in another of the Reboot campaign’s advertisements too tame to incite commentary in 2013? Is a tattooed young drag queen in a studded denim mitre expected in the fashion sphere? If boychild is naked under that robe, is it offensive, or might it be construed as a clever nod to certain scandals that have plagued the church in recent years?
From Diesel’s 2013 “Reboot” advertising campaign.
Those who are offended by the interpretation of Pope Joan above might be as disheartened by the commodification and dilution of the power of their religious garments as Sana Saeed, who wrote about the Diesel niqab: “Long dreaded the day that ‘THE VEIL’ [would] become so subversive that capitalism [would] just consume it. Then this Diesel ad.” When it comes to religiously-affiliated dress, whether Catholic or Muslim (or whatever), what is powerful and what is oppressive? I think both of the pictured garments represent both of those adjectives. Do they belong in the realm of fashion advertising?
Only one writer, Angel Millar, remarked on the nature of the material used to make the “make-shift niqab,” noting the juxtaposition of All-American Denim and its freedom/democracy/mainstream/(pop?) connotations with the staid/oppressive/religious of veils:
A denim niqab seems at once to indicate a rejection of both Western values and religious literalism, and it seems to hint at the fusion of East and West on the level of material culture.
Millar gives two examples of Islam’s influence on Western fashion: Poiret and Chalayan. The first was meant to establish the long connection between the two worlds; it may be generous to say “Islam’s influence on…” instead of “The West’s co-opting of…”, but the point is: this is not as new as some think. But the use of the niqab/burqa to intentionally provoke in the Reboot ad is perhaps better compared to Chalayan’s “Burka,” a collection from 1996, which is called “challenging” and “art” (links nsfw). If Diesel had presented this niqab in a runway show as opposed to in an advertising campaign, would it have landed differently? Does Chalayan, seen as a high-fashion artist, have more leeway to explore these themes than Diesel, seen as a mass-market brand, or are their approaches fundamentally different?
How does “I am not what I appear to be” intersect with the niqab image? What are the social questions that may be answered by society at large or by a majority, as opposed to left up to each consumer, observer, and citizen? Is there a line to be crossed here, and how would you define it? Please leave your respectful comments below.