Dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of fashion from an academic perspective, the quarterly journal Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture views fashion as a cultural phenomenon, offering the reader a wide range of articles by leading Western and Russian specialists, as well as classical texts on fashion theory. From the history of dress and design to body practices; from the work of well-known designers to issues around consumption in fashion; from beauty and the fashionable figure through the ages to fashion journalism, fashion and PR, fashion and city life, art and fashion, fashion and photography — Fashion Theory covers it all.
This issue’s Dress section looks at the making of clothes by hand in the USSR. The section opens with historian Natalia Lebina’s piece My Grandmother’s Bouquet: Women’s Needlework in the USSR during the Era of De-Stalinization. The 1950s and 1960s in the Soviet Union saw a revival of traditional women’s crafts such as sewing, knitting and embroidery. Lebina looks at how these pastimes became politicized and tied in with the state, drawing the making of clothes from the private sphere into the public. Besides traditional historical sources, the author draws on information from family collections of books and magazines on needlework, and analyzes actual examples of embroidery. In this way, Lebina unearths the hidden social message inherent in such texts and objects: a social message dictated both by the state’s behaviour, and by the very nature of private life in the USSR in the 1950s and 1960s, a time infused with the Utopian idea of building Communism in the country in 20 years.
In The Cultural Transfer of the Fashion Discourse and Construction of the Self through Handmade Clothing: Amateurs and Masters of the Soviet Era, Elena Huber observes that in studies of everyday Soviet culture, Soviet fashion was chiefly seen as ‘intermediary in the process of cultural transfer’. The very fact of ‘Soviet’ fashion’s existence as such was virtually never questioned or examined. In her paper, Huber suggests we leave behind the popular notion that it was impossible to completely satisfy the need for fashionable clothing in Soviet times. Instead, she suggests that we examine the available means of meeting aesthetic needs around appearance and the creation of new fashion trends in situations of clothing shortage. On the basis of Western fashion theory, the author analyzes the preconditions, aspects and details necessary for the existence and development of fashion in Soviet culture of the everyday. Looking at Soviet fashion magazines and texts on the culture of dress, the author examines to what extent concepts such as fashion, style and taste differed in the West and in the USSR, tracing the process of cultural transfer from Western to Soviet culture, and shedding light on the interaction between representatives of ‘DIY culture’ and Soviet fashion designers. Huber looks at how, and by whom, the main ideas and positions of fashion theory, as fully or partially accepted by Soviet ideologists, and specific examples of the Western culture of fashion were transposed to Soviet conditions. The author’s main focus lies on the special subculture of female dressmakers — women, who made clothes for themselves and their friends or family. These women, Huber claims, were responsible for the ‘exchange of cultural values within the country’, more specifically, ‘between social groups, representatives of different class and gender’. Through the wearers of their fashion items, these women took on and distributed new concepts, norms and values throughout Soviet culture, realizing the theoretical concept of Soviet fashion and, at the same time, creating new trends.
In Late Soviet Upcycling: Generational Continuity in Women’s Practices of Remaking Clothes in Brezhnev’s USSR, Anna Tikhomirova addresses ‘generational’ issues in the practice — very popular in the late Soviet Union — of upcycling clothes. The author’s primary focus is, to what extent late Soviet generational constellations (primarily, intergen-erational continuity) were reflected, on the one hand, in the late Soviet media fashion and consumption discourse, and, on the other, in the everyday upcycling practices of Soviet women from the intelligentsia of the baby boomer generation. What kind of arguments were used in the late Soviet media discourse to convince Soviet female consumers of the advantages of upcycling? How did women recall their intergenerational domestic ‘education’ as ‘women with magical hands’? What symbolical meanings were ascribed in these recollections to sewing machines or, for instance, to the upcycling of clothes as a collective leisure activity for women of all generations? In what cases did the upcycled clothing item have to be explicitly visible, or explicitly invisible in the late Soviet fashion space? Finally, to what extent did the late Soviet culture of up-cycling of clothes destroy or, on the contrary, stabilize the late Soviet civilization as a whole? The essay offers answers to these, and various other fascinating questions.
In the second part of Dress section we take a closer look at knitting and present Jo Turney’s A Sweater to Die For: Fair Isle and Fair Play in ‘The Killing’. In Scandinavia there is a saying: ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes’. This is a sentiment one could apply to Detective Sarah Lund’s sweater, a garment so large and vibrant that it appears in The Killing as a character in its own right. Neither fashionable nor comforting, fitted or fitting, Sarah’s sweater has an uncomfortable woolly omnipresence which is the focus of this paper. Knitting, as is well known, has an established place within literature and popular culture and is no stranger to murder mysteries; used as an innocuous guise in Christie’s Miss Marple, it appears both normal and abnormal, emphasising the duplicity or inquisitiveness of women and the female condition — recall Du Maurier’s Rebecca. Similarly, repetitive craft activities such as knitting have been cited as narrative acts, in which the maker is also storyteller, charting and recording progress with each stitch. Knitting and narrative, in particular narratives involving deviancy or criminality, are not a new combination. The vernacular pattern is undeniably ‘traditional’ and bears witness to the Romanticised myths of landscape, place and peoples inherent in the language of knitting, situating the sweater amidst The Killing’s narrative as a symbolic and significant object. A familiar garment that seemingly defies gender, and thus presupposes the rendering of its wearer as un-gendered, the sweater becomes a sign of continuity, stability and history embodied à la Peer Gynt, by ‘everyman’.
We (the viewers) are the wearers, and the sweaters, our history, institutions and ideology. This paper considers the sweater as an indicator of both socio-cultural condition and as a fictive device, which metaphorically questions the relationship between the individual and the State, concepts of home and belonging, and the blurring of the boundaries between right and wrong. The sweater will be discussed as neither guise nor disguise, but representative of the internal self, externalized, and as a tool for negotiating personal morality within impersonal systems of power. As a literary and linguistic motif, the sweater (and knitting) is again metaphorical, working as a visual clue within the narrative. It pulls the wool over one’s eyes, knits Sarah into complex situations, unravels the stable, known and expected and, as patterns continuously change, increases tension. Using the language and literature of knitting, this paper considers the significance of one garment in one television drama series as a means of expressing the contemporary sublime; a quest for truth and justice by a lone figure in a chaotic landscape, smothered by institutionalization. Sarah must untangle herself from the smothering sweater in order to complete her journey, and reveal both herself and the killer. Here, Sarah’s sweater is not merely dodgy knitwear, but the materialization of immorality clothed in the knitted and moral; it is a cover-up. As The Killing implies, murder is the tip of the iceberg; we all need to recognize that our knitwear is killing us….
Vaginal Knitwear and Openwear Balaklavas: Transgression in Knitwear Design by Linor Goralik takes a look at the transgressive approaches and practices used by makers of contemporary knitwear. Besides examples of transgressive behaviour on the part of the designers and makers of such clothing, Goralik demonstrates transgression in the very physical existence of these items themselves – how they are purchased and worn, how they assume a life in the media through discussions within thematic communities, in fashion magazines, social networks and other media. The author outlines the traditional stereotypes and expectations connected with knitwear, which tend to brand it as ‘everyday’, ‘conservative’ and ‘functional’, then goes on to reveal the techniques employed by creative knitwear makers to undermine these expectations, thus prompting something of a shock reaction on the part of consumers. The familiar, conservative image of handmade knitwear offers ample ground for new and striking interpretations, such as knitted erotic lingerie. Expectations of thorough, well-executed handiwork go to pot when consumers are presented with extra-chunky knits such as a scarf made up of several dozen chain stitches, ‘deconstructed’ items sporting dropped stitches, knots on the exterior side or holes. The ‘homely’ nature of knitwear is totally undermined by knitted evening wear, its functionality – by a whole host of wearable objets d’art with no practical purpose whatsoever. The creation of knitwear, Goralik concludes, is an excellent illustration of the inner turmoil experienced by many creators of handmade garments, who claim to experience the desire to enjoy the process of creating an item, whilst also feeling constrained by a perceived need to produce something boring, mundane and standard.
The Body section continues its exploration of the history of fashion by tracing the treatment of various parts of the body throughout history. This time around, we once more turn to hair.
Helen Holmes’ paper Chameleon Hair: How Hair’s Materiality Affects Its Fashionability seeks to explore the changeable materiality of hair. Drawing upon the archaeological concept of the palimpsest as an inimitable material record, it illuminates how hair’s chameleon abilities are the foundation upon which the contemporary hair fashion industry resides. As Nigel Thrift notes, hair ‘is the easiest part of the body to alter. It grows so must be cut’. However, paradoxically, it is hair’s very materiality that also inhibits its conformity to certain fashions. While hair may appear to have chameleon materiality, it has multiple temporalities. And as this article argues, hair is simultaneously changing and changed, although it also displays constant features.
Sue Harper in her paper Curls and Culture: Hairstyles in British Cinema, 1930–80 analyzes the cultural meanings of hair from an anthropological point of view, arguing that head hair is used to create distinction. The performance of hairstyles speaks about the class, leisure, and cultural competence of the wearer. The article sets up a number of terminologies for hairstyle analysis: symmetry/intensity/composition/innovation/cultural quotation/technology. Harper looks at female hairstyles in British cinema, problematizing the idea that hairdressers could be ascribed with agency in production, and looking at the meaning of female hairstyles in the 1930s. She then considers hairstyles in films aimed at female audiences in the 1940s. Analyzing the narrative function of female hairstyles in films of later periods, particularly the 1970s, Harper argues that hair operated as a symbol of desire, fear, and innovation in a range of film texts. Archival and textual analysis of Barry Lyndon suggests that under certain rare circumstances, the meaning of hairstyles could break loose from the intentions of the director or producer.
Laini Burton offers Nobody’s Fool: Power and Agency in Performing ‘The Blonde’. Hair is modified, dressed or fashioned to convey a multitude of meanings and, as such, can be considered a form of masking. Interrogating the phenomenon of the ‘blonde myth’, this article examines the meaning of blondeness through the performances of popular culture icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Madonna and Lady Gaga. An exposition of the history of the contradictory stereotypes that are contained within the construction of the blonde as sexual and stupid, leads to the question: Why would a woman choose to become blonde if to do so risks negative stereotyping? The author contends that women knowingly enact ‘blondeness’ to exploit its construction as a feminine ideal. They believe that contemporary appropriations of the blonde do not occupy the space of an exploited feminine victim. Instead, appropriating the blonde constitutes a deliberate move to occupy a powerful visible space. Burton argues that they achieve this position by employing strategies of the carnivalesque: humour, parody and irony, which cast a reflexive light on the constructed nature of the stereotype, while at the same time reinforcing it.
This issue’s Culture section looks at fashion blogs.
In her paper The Short, Passionate, and Close-Knit History of Personal Style Blogs, Rosie Findlay observes that most media histories of style blogging commence their narrative in 2009, at the moment when a select few fashion and personal style bloggers were invited to sit front row at a number of shows on the Spring/Summer Ready-to-Wear ‘Fashion Month’ schedule. Yet that moment, symbolic of the ‘arrival’ of fashion bloggers in the industry (albeit a partial and contested one) was, the author claims, precipitated by years of fashion blogging. This developmental period has not yet been mapped. The article presents a historical narrative, tracing the development of personal style blogging through the archive. It engages with the earliest independent fashion blogs, which predated distinct subgenres of fashion blogging, to map how they, along with early digital and print media, influenced and led to the emergence of personal style blogging as a distinct subgenre of the wider fashion blogosphere. Findlay draws on oral history from bloggers, on the archives of their (and other) blogs, as well as on the digital archive of early fashion websites, online articles, and blogposts from current style blogs. To contextualize this discussion, the author refers to prior studies of personal style blogging by Rocamora and Luvaas, among others, as well as to work by Lévi-Strauss and Butler.
Marco Pedroni in his article ‘Stumbling on the Heels of My Blog’: Career, Forms of Capital, and Strategies in the (Sub)Field of Fashion Blogging examines fashion blogging as a subfield of the field of fashion media by using a Bourdieusian theoretical framework. After identifying the steps in the blogger’s ‘career’, Pedroni’s aim is to highlight the cultural, economic, and social resources (forms of capital) that bloggers use to access the field, and the strategies they mobilize to shape their relations with other agents within it. The empirical terrain which is investigated to answer these questions is the Italian fashion blogosphere; thirty-four in-depth interviews with (mainly female) fashion bloggers and six with key informants (fashion journalists and website editors) were collected between 2011 and 2014. A more general aim is to question common-sense interpretations (blogs as a revolutionary tool in fashion communication and as a new fashion marketing frontier) to give a normalized picture of fashion blogging as a progressively autonomous social field, governed by its own laws. Through an in-depth analysis of the Italian case this article seeks to stimulate an international discussion over other national fields of blog production.
Minh-Ha Pham in her paper ‘I Click and Post and Breathe, Waiting for Others to See What I See’: On #FeministSelfies, Outfit Photos, and Networked Vanity critically examines the political uses and potential of what she calls ‘networked vanity’. While popular online practices of self-regard and self-promotion have been disparaged as examples of ‘digital narcissism’ — a new culture of self-absorption wrought by social media — this article insists on a more historically and politically nuanced understanding of the politics and practices of self-composure. Analyzing the #femi-nistselfie hashtag campaign that emerged on Twitter in November 2013, in which women (and to a lesser extent, men) silently but powerfully declared their self- (or rather ‘selfie’) love, and RAISE Our Story, a project of visual activism that employs street style blog conventions and aesthetics to bring visibility to the issue of immigration reform, this article demonstrates how online acts of sartorial and corporeal displays of physical attractiveness are being incorporated into social activist movements in ways that recall, and are coextensive with, a longer multiracial history of vanity.
In the Museum Business column, we present Larisa Kolesnikova’s essay Haute Couture à la Mayakovsky. This fascinating piece gives an overview of the unique collection of over two thousand memorial items belonging to the poet, housed by the State Museum of Vladimir Mayakovsky. Having given many years to the museum, curator Larisa Kolesniko-va offers an in-depth look at the eminent poet’s preferences in style. While focusing on Mayakovsky’s appearance and contemporary fashion tastes, the author also tells the story of the museum and the collection itself. In shedding light on items from the poet’s possession, Kolesnikova reveals to us a picture, not merely of Mayakovsky the creative genius, but of Maya-kovsky man of fashion, public figure and man of his time.
In this issue’s Events section, Tatiana Karateeva offers a review of the ‘Fashion and Crafts’ exhibition — a joint Russian-Swedish project (25 May — 1 June 2015).
Natalia Goncharova, Marina Yemelianova, Svetlana Kirilina, Irina Sirotkina, Ekaterina Shubnaya and Liudmila Schekoldina visit ‘Inventing Fashion’ — the first textile innovation biennale at the All-Russian Museum of Decorative and Applied Folk Art (20 March – 19 May 2015).
In Through the Keyhole, Ekaterina Shubnaya shares her thoughts on the ‘Stage Costume at the Turn of the Century: 1990 – 2015’ international exhibition project at Moscow’s Bakhrushin Theatre Museum (15 June — 10 September 2015).
Ellen Macintyre visits the Ernst & Young exhibition Sonia Delaunay at London’s Tate Modern Museum (15 April — 9 August 2015).
Ksenia Borderiu reviews the Jeanne Lanvin exhibition at the Palais Gal-liera, Paris (8 March — 23 August 2015).
In this issue’s Books section, Tets Kimura offers Focus on Japan: a look at Japanese Fashion Designers: The Work and Influence of Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo by Bonnie English (Berg, 2011); Feel and Think: A New Era of Tokyo Fashion by Yoko Takagi, Hiroshi Narumi, Mariko Nishitani and Motoaki Hori (Prestel, 2012); Japanese Street Style by Pat Lyttle (A & C Black, 2012) and Hats on the Streets of Tokyo by Shlomit Yaish (MCCM Creations, 2011).
Marta Bellina shares some thoughts on Giorgio Armani: Empire of the Senses by John Potvin (Ashgate, 2013).