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  • Ahimsa
    Vegan Police
    • Sep 2011
    • 1879

    What is Fashion For?

    Original BoF article here.

    'Fashion is about aesthetics, theatre and meaning, not merely comfort, argues Eugene Rabkin, in response to Cathy Horyn’s recent piece for The New York Times, “Slave No More.” '

    'NEW YORK, United States — This weekend, I read a curious piece of writing by the highly esteemed, recently departed New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn. Horyn, who has devoted twenty years of her life to writing about fashion, argued that today, above all, she and many women like her, want clothes that offer comfort. “The desire to be comfortable is profound, shaping attitudes and markets,” she wrote. Comfort, not in the sense of wearing sweatpants all day, but unfussy clothes.

    This seems fair enough. But as the article unfolded, Ms. Horyn pointed her pen at the fashion avant-garde: “From my perspective, having written enthusiastically about the conceptual, art-inspired fashion of the past 20 years — whether by Martin Margiela, Miuccia Prada or Raf Simons — I can say we’ve become increasingly weary of this approach.” The alternative, according to Horyn, seems to be higher-end, mass-market brands like Vince.

    But this begs the question: What is the purpose of fashion? What makes fashion distinct from mere clothing? Much ink has already been spilled in search of answers. And it seems that fashion critics and scholars are still unsure. That’s because it is extremely difficult to put into words the ineffable qualities of fashion and the surrounding economic and cultural “system” that surrounds it.

    But let’s try. Consider that fashion — as opposed to clothing — comes with a set of intangible values. Fashion is valuable when:

    1. It makes a strong aesthetic statement
    2. It has a theatrical element
    3. It has meaning

    The first is easy enough to understand. One could argue that the central role of the fashion designer is to make a strong and unique aesthetic proposition. And though this has become increasingly hard to do, as contemporary fashion builds a history of its own, it is not impossible. Just in the last decade, designers as disparate as Rick Owens and Alber Elbaz at Lanvin have done it. Neither is original in the strict sense of the word, but suffice it to say that if you are familiar with their clothes you can tell them apart.

    In her article, Ms. Horyn lauds the 90s minimalists Helmut Lang and Jil Sander for their sensible clothes, which stood in stark opposition to the pomp of Gaultier and Mugler. But the critical point is not their sensibility per se, but the fact that these designers made sensibility a new aesthetic proposition. They reflected a newfound sobriety after an age of excess.

    The second element is trickier, because unfortunately, theatre can often veer into burlesque. But fashion as theater is important, as designers such as Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and, lately, Thom Browne have shown us. Their shows are purposeful exaggerations that make fashion exciting and provide food for thought.

    To be sure, some of what is shown on fashion runways verges on the ridiculous. And even a cursory glance around New York Fashion Week will turn up the kind of “fashion victims” that can make anyone with a modicum of common sense long for sweatpants. On the flip side, much of what we see verges on boring. Indeed, the insistence on comfort as the primary purpose of clothing is, no doubt, partly the reason why so many fashion professionals, though few will say it out loud, think New York Fashion Week is a snooze-fest of nice, sellable sportswear and cocktail dresses.

    Fashion as meaning is perhaps the trickiest element of all, but also the richest. Consider that a fashion designer has automatic license to destroy all meaning and create it anew merely by putting his own name on the product. Thus, jeans become Saint Laurent jeans, a bag becomes a Chanel bag and so on. But with this comes the responsibility, even the duty, for designers to infuse these products with something deeper through their design skills. The designer who manages to do this well receives critical acclaim.

    Yes, much of so-called meaning is merely marketing, but Horyn is wrong to suggest that all meaning is superimposed, or in her words “attached” to fashion. When I interviewed Ann Demeulemeester for the first time, I asked her about some of the intangible elements in her work. She took a jacket off her back, spread it out on the table and proceeded to explain how this seam and this angle of the cut reflected the fragility and imperfection of man that she wanted to manifest. She literally cut meaning into her clothes.

    Yohji Yamamoto, no slouch when it came to revolutionising fashion, once said: “You can say that to design is quite easy. The difficulty lies in finding a new way to explore beauty.” That’s what fashion is for. '
    StyleZeitgeist Magazine | Store
  • old
    Senior Member
    • Jul 2009
    • 132

    #2
    I am unsure about this one since deep down I really sympathize with the view of Cathy Horyn, especially concerning that she had to deal with so much fashion in the past 20 years. I think that she is simply stating that "clothing" should not be detached to the wearer, which is often, even deliberately the case in "fashion".

    In my view Faust's statement for fashion is more like what fashion "should be" rather than a real set of criterion of fashion in real life, which since its very beginning stood for frivolous spending, planned obsolescence and the placing of objects above human. (Walter Benjamin in his Arcades Project has had similar views but I forgot his exact words) Things have only gone worse in recent years and exceptions are of such minority that all the manifestos in the world would not save the word "fashion" from its negative connotations. I think that we even need a new word for good fashion and clothing design, although I cannot come up with one.

    In the case of Yohji Yamamoto, who constantly rejected the title of "fashion designer", I would argue that he is aiming at aesthetic statement alone (meaning is automatically attached to aesthetic in my view, verbally articulable or not), only using the theater of fashion to get his point across. If the structure of fashion and media was different, his work would probably look a lot muter. Meanwhile his whole aesthetic statement is pointed towards total comfort, bodily as well as mentally, giving strength and protection to the wearer.

    This is probably why I fail to appreciate Thom Browne, for all his brilliant theatrics and humor, I simply cannot see a real sense of aesthetic coherence, much less concern for the wearer.
    Tradition ist Bewahrung des Feuers und nicht Anbetung der Asche.

    Comment

    • old
      Senior Member
      • Jul 2009
      • 132

      #3
      I also found this reply in BoF to be great:

      As an architect and former fashion model who started working as ODLR’s house model having garments made on my body, and then moving to Europe to work with Helmut Newton and so many of the designers who started in the early eighties (Armani, Ferre, Montana, etc.) I understand how important it is to allow diverse points of view. In architecture it is exactly the same. There are some buildings that I personally do not like for their disorder or egotistical gymnastics. For me, the worst are those that impose themselves awkwardly onto the street, disrupting the physical and visual flow of the street, probably the equivalent of extreme fashion . But I understand the importance of their existence. Without foils, there is no debate and that can make for some very dull life experiences. I still follow fashion but my eye has changed and matured, just as my architectural work has shifted. I don’t belittle those who go hog-wild every morning getting dressed exuberantly if it’s what makes them happy. It’s not my style any more but thank heavens they are out there, pushing the edges of our visual vocabulary to bring some much needed amusement to our day.

      Robin Osler from New York, NY, United States 10 February, 2014 at 3:40 PM
      Tradition ist Bewahrung des Feuers und nicht Anbetung der Asche.

      Comment

      • Faust
        kitsch killer
        • Sep 2006
        • 37852

        #4
        Old: I am always very happy to discuss my writing , so thank you for taking the time to respond.

        What I was aiming for was not exactly for fashion as it should be but for fashion when it's at its best. That's why I went through a bunch of examples in a relatively short piece. Also, the 1. 2. 3. list was the job of my editor, so it came out a bit more prescriptive than I intended, but it's ok. I did not mean to say that theatrics is a requirement, but rather that theatrics is exciting and what makes fashion memorable.

        I am also in complete agreement with the comment you posted. I like and respect plenty of things I don't love - otherwise I would live in a very narrow world, and that's what my gripe with SZ is sometimes (but I don't set out to change people alliances - if they want to wear Rick to bed, let them).

        And I found this comment endearing:

        "I have been a life-long lover of all things garment. I have always loved the way different colors, fabrics and garment styles can create an amazing element of magic and fun and indeed, a “presence”. What I can now resent, is the pressure to spend and to have a certain look. Even the recent “dust-up” of negative comments from some of the powers that be in the NYFW A/W shows about blogger presence, I found very disengenuous. Fashion does not belong just to the high and mighty, it belongs to everyone. I enjoyed Mr.Rabkin’s including of the words of Ann Demeulemeester, in which this amazing woman speaks of her vision of garments and her work. He says “Yes, much of so-called meaning is merely marketing, but Horyn is wrong to suggest that all meaning is superimposed, or in her words “attached” to fashion. When I interviewed Ann Demeulemeester for the first time, I asked her about some of the intangible elements in her work. She took a jacket off her back, spread it out on the table and proceeded to explain how this seam and this angle of the cut reflected the fragility and imperfection of man that she wanted to manifest. She literally cut meaning into her clothes.”

        That was amazing! I kept that description, as that to me, is one reason I continue to love garments and elements of fashion. Two and 1/2 years ago, I lost my rented apartment home (financial troubles), and now all my worldly possessions will fit in one old Toyota sedan and one five by three foot closet. One of the things I saved from the many items I had to let go of when I left into an uncertain future, was a big box of fashion photos I had collected from over the years from fashion magazines and two boxes of scraps and bits of fabrics and old magical garments. They mean something only to me, but I did keep them, to remember and preserve the inspiration."
        Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months - Oscar Wilde

        StyleZeitgeist Magazine

        Comment

        • nqth
          Senior Member
          • Sep 2006
          • 350

          #5
          I'd like to refer to a note about the social consumerism aspect of fashion (that was raised on a post about problematic (racially) RO show (http://stylezeitgeist.com/forums/sho...774#post450774).

          I think (especially from perspectives of a person living in "a middle of nowhere" in world fashion map) is that fashion has became spectacle. Unlike music/ film/theatre, where one can buy a ticket (of rather reasonable price) to be at a concert/film/play. You'd have to save money and spend an amount of few monthly salaries to "experience a designer's vision". You probably can't share that "experience" with other people unless they wear the same stuffs/designers. I'd like to think that this way to experience clothing is also what we are told by fashion press, both mainstream and alternative, and the fashion brand itself. Things such as "ones has to wear this to experience all the pleasures" or "true luxury in clothes tailored to your own body" - indicating that pleasure is merely thing attached to your physical body. (This makes me thing about oversized clothes that propose that luxurious clothing is also sth that doesn't fit in a way.) It is also a construction that brings profit to the fashion brand.

          I think that when we discuss meaning of fashion, there are also many problematic aspects outside the technical/construction (and related to physical body) issues that we should also address.

          Comment

          • Faust
            kitsch killer
            • Sep 2006
            • 37852

            #6
            I don't think it's all pure marketing though, nqth. There pleasures of ownership and wearing something are very real.
            Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months - Oscar Wilde

            StyleZeitgeist Magazine

            Comment

            • nqth
              Senior Member
              • Sep 2006
              • 350

              #7
              I'm sure ownership and wearing are the most pleasurable things you get from fashion, the other things might be rather problematic hehe.

              Comment

              • Shucks
                Senior Member
                • Aug 2010
                • 3104

                #8
                Originally posted by nqth View Post
                I'd like to refer to a note about the social consumerism aspect of fashion (that was raised on a post about problematic (racially) RO show (http://stylezeitgeist.com/forums/sho...774#post450774).

                I think (especially from perspectives of a person living in "a middle of nowhere" in world fashion map) is that fashion has became spectacle. Unlike music/ film/theatre, where one can buy a ticket (of rather reasonable price) to be at a concert/film/play. You'd have to save money and spend an amount of few monthly salaries to "experience a designer's vision". You probably can't share that "experience" with other people unless they wear the same stuffs/designers. I'd like to think that this way to experience clothing is also what we are told by fashion press, both mainstream and alternative, and the fashion brand itself. Things such as "ones has to wear this to experience all the pleasures" or "true luxury in clothes tailored to your own body" - indicating that pleasure is merely thing attached to your physical body. (This makes me thing about oversized clothes that propose that luxurious clothing is also sth that doesn't fit in a way.) It is also a construction that brings profit to the fashion brand.
                since a significant portion of the potential value of fashion to an individual, is the ability of a garment to express something this individual wants to express (to himself/herself or to others), wearing is key to realizing the full value. it has nothing to do with some marketing conspiracy. there are several active users on this site that own almost no designer fashion items - they seem perfectly able to find some other more social value around their (more removed) experience of fashion imagery. bonding over experiences of fashion imagery or aspirations can be a value in itself...

                Originally posted by nqth View Post
                I think that when we discuss meaning of fashion, there are also many problematic aspects outside the technical/construction (and related to physical body) issues that we should also address.
                what is your point. sz has been discussing all kinds of issues since 2006.



                ps. and fashion has always been spectacle.

                Comment

                • nqth
                  Senior Member
                  • Sep 2006
                  • 350

                  #9
                  Yes i agree with you about diversity of issues discussed in sz (that's why i am here). actually i was referring to Faust's article above, where he discussed meanings and the examples were of AD talking abt construction of her garments, and YY abt exploring beauty. The discussions around the RO show here for example, reveal a lot more issues that are not necessarily related only to clothing design and beauty (the beauty in terms of related only to design process, like cuts and constructions). Why those issues are here but not there? I guess it must be commercial issues, but still hope that fashion ppl start really talking critically about other issues as well.

                  My point is since one can talk about fashion in other way than construction of the clothes, it might be able also to experience clothing in other way than wearing it. (And wearing it means buying it.)

                  Speaking of fashion becoming spectacles, i mean this entertaining part of fashion is becoming more interesting than the clothes themselves.

                  It is good that you mentioned clothes as form of personal expressions. Though I doubt these expressions are free from fashion. Everything that is personal and unique in a way is quietly and quickly "adopted" by fashion.

                  Comment

                  • Faust
                    kitsch killer
                    • Sep 2006
                    • 37852

                    #10
                    Jeremy Scott for Moschino is the perfect example of spectacle devolving into the burlesque. What utter trash.
                    Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months - Oscar Wilde

                    StyleZeitgeist Magazine

                    Comment

                    • Richard Pleasants
                      Junior Member
                      • Apr 2023
                      • 2

                      #11




















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