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.
In this special issue of Fashion Theory, we immerse ourselves in fin-de-siècle themes of crisis, decadence and ‘end of fashion’ rhetoric. Kicking off with Ekaterina Vasilieva’s The Figure of the Sublime and the Ideological Crisis of the Early Modern Period, we examine the emergence and development of the system of the Sublime in early modern culture. A key factor in shaping the era of industrial revolutions, the concept of the Sublime became a criterion of the very principle on which the contemporary artistic system is based. A yearning for pathos and majesty gave rise to the tradition of associating poetry with conflict, deviance and tragedy, which, in turn, brought about the crisis of positive values. This fascination with the negative is a problem of culture, yet it is precisely this trait that feeds the early modern artistic space. The Sublime can, indeed, be seen as a crisis of the early modern period which, despite its seemingly positive nature, went on to become one of the factors in the emergence and eventual shifting of the contemporary worldview.
Elizabeth Wilson contributes Bohemian Dress and the Heroism of Everyday Life. The elusive and contested figure of the bohemian emerged in Western society with the industrial revolution. There have been recurring debates as to the nature of this character, who the ‘real’ bohemians were and, in particular, whether they were authentic artists or artistic parasites. These debates are beyond the scope of this article, which assumes the existence of groups of artists and intellectuals who formed a recognizable subculture, one distinctive mark of which was the wearing of unusual forms of dress. An examination of bohemian styles will reveal that they are as ambiguous and protean as the groups who invented them.
Bella Shapiro offers Turn-of-the-Century Achromatic Fashion: Belle Epoque or Fin de Siècle? In this paper, Shapiro examines the means of expression that determined the stylistic features of fashion of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The author’s juxtaposition of the internal context of two synchronous, yet diverse cultures looks at both general issues and those pertaining to the specific historical period in question. Did the sense of transition that tends to accompany the turn of the century impact the stylistic unity of the era? Was ‘achromatic’, ‘discoloured’ fashion a clear sign of crisis? And could it be said to be part of a certain stylistic similarity between the Belle Epoque and Fin de Siècle cultures? In the light of these, and various other questions, Shapiro looks at the main contemporary designs, and the textiles recommended by houses of fashion for their execution. Examining the correlation of polychrome, monochrome and achromatic variations, and the dynamic of that correlation, the author pays particular attention to fabrics with ‘rigid’ graphic and geometric designs as the foundation that underpinned the aesthetic paradigm of that era.
Djurdja Bartlett presents her paper Nadezhda Lamanova and Russian Pre-1917 Modernity: Between Haute Couture and Avant-garde Art. Nadezhda Lamanova was the only well-established pre-revolutionary Russian fashion designer who declared her loyalty to the new regime following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The juxtaposition of the extraordinary glamour of her pre-1917 designs with her dedicated post-revolutionary service to the Bolsheviks has contributed to Lamanova’s mythical status in Russia, in which facts routinely mix with fictional accounts. Relying on a meticulous reading of pre-1917 arts and applied arts journals, as well as contemporary memoirs, the paper contextualizes Lamanova’s pre-revolutionary fashion designs, and her personal life, within the social, cultural and artistic avant-garde of her times, thus offering a new reading of Lamanova’s pre-1917 activities.
Hans J. Rindisbacher in his article The End of Dressing? Huysmans’s A Rebours and Houellebecq’s Submission analyzes Michel Houellebecq’s provocative novel Submission from the perspective of the changing dress codes in a future Muslim France. The vestimentary changes are presented through the eyes of the protagonist, François, a professor of literature and unreconstituted male gazer. As he observes with chauvinistic regret the de-sexualization of the female body, increasingly shrouded in Muslim dress, clothes, fashion, and dressing emerge as a system in the manner that Roland Barthes theorized in Système de la Mode in the 1960s. Barthes’s theoretical model is usefully summarized and contextualized by Joanne Entwistle in The Fashioned Body (2000) that builds a transition from Barthes’s linguistic parameters to those of later discourse theory, social criticism, and feminism. These serve as the article’s theoretical framework. In François’s eventual conversion, he easily transposes the Western male-female sexual double standard from the old Catholic to the new Muslim France. The male gaze appears somewhat limited and interiorized behind the closed doors of private spaces, but it is also assured of its object, a wife (or indeed several) in full submission to the gaze and its owner. In François and his views on sexuality, fashion, and male privilege, the novel offers a vestimentary-bodily sub-strand that illustrates and supports Houellebecq’s central narrative of quintessential homologies between Catholic and Muslim France and justifies his ‘critique of cynical reason’ (Peter Sloterdijk) as it is practiced by contemporary French political and intellectual elites. All it takes to get from the old to the new world is an act of submission. In gender relations, it will keep the males safely on top.
In her paper ‘The Sneaker Crisis’: On the Transgressive Reputation of Sports Shoes in the Everyday Wardrobe, Ekaterina Kulinicheva looks at the transgressive reputation that trainers and other sports shoes have gained in contemporary vestimentary culture. In the debate on contemporary fashion and dress, trainers occupy an important place. At first glance, one might be forgiven for concluding that ‘trainers have won’. Upon closer examination of actual everyday practices, however, it becomes apparent that the situation is more complex. If today’s bold fashion press would have us believe that sneakers are now appropriate in any situation, real everyday practices clearly show that this is still a gross exaggeration. Fashion magazines themselves, indeed, can be shown to take a contradictory stance on sports shoes in a non-sporting context. Why do we still trust the persistent cultural belief that ‘city’ shoes and footwear for formal occasions must be somehow special, and that not all trainers can be considered appropriate? Why is a designer’s choice to work with dad sneakers – a type of ‘ugly shoe’ – seen as contradictory and provocative? Why are trainers seen as ‘killers of fashion’ – and what sort of fashion is implied? In her paper, Kulinicheva examines a range of key questions, looking at how trainers as a type of everyday footwear relate to the discourses of fashion and of status. The view that bringing trainers into one’s everyday wardrobe is somehow ‘ugly’ or ‘wrong’ can be seen as a cultural construct, Kulinicheva suggests. Attempting to understand the origins of sports shoes’ anti-fashionable and anti-status reputation, the author examines the archetypal clichés on which this assumption is based, and looks at how views on the contextual appropriateness of sports shoes have evolved over time.
Vicki Karaminas and Adam Geczy present Lady Gaga: American Horror Story, Fashion, Monstrosity and the Grotesque. Stefani Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga, is known as much for her personae and extreme and outrageous styling as she is for her performances and music. In many respects her music can be seen as a carrier, or support, for her own special kind of celebrity, much as art had been for Andy Warhol, whose own enigmatic self was his greatest masterpiece. Like Warhol, Gaga has always had an unconventional attitude to her own gender. Gaga stands as an important contemporary figure in expression of queer identity in terms of the perverse, the misshapen, and the abstruse. Gaga may be a symptom of our times, but her personae, however, is not new. She has emerged from a lineage of artists whose performances are characterized by bodily excess to the extent of the grotesque and the freakish - Leigh Bowery and David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust. This paper uses Episode 5 of American Horror Story to deduce themes of the monstrous and the grotesque as they are expressed with Lady Gaga, discussing the aesthetics of, and attitudes to contemporary queer identities.
Eelko Moorer contributes Critical Approaches to Footwear Design Practise. Conceptual design offers a space free from market pressures, in which design can engage and explore new areas to experiment and develop alternative methodologies around larger social and cultural issues, and anticipate possible futures. Such critical and speculative design methodologies can contribute to different ways of thinking about footwear. The footwear designers’ projects discussed in this article raise a whole range of questions about our current way of life. Salguero and Cope use associative design, exploring non-functional aspects of shoes to be used as a medium, a vehicle for socio-cultural dialogue, pointing out critical areas in which footwear design can function. The two designers turn footwear into poetic art objects that operate by ‘making the familiar strange’ in order to question our mode of thinking.
Ten Boehmer’s practice is investigative, experimental, indicative and open-ended in offering critical engagement through deconstruction. She uses a strictly technical vocabulary to question the act of walking in all its technical and cultural aspects, with the anatomical pressure points from which she designs and questions the high heel as a construct. Salguero, Cope and Ten Boehmer critically approach footwear through association and negation, raising political and socio-cultural issues through artistic and sculptural expression.
OurOwnSkin and Kristina Walsh use both critical and speculative design. They project fictional scenarios, imaginary but believable everyday situations in which footwear or footwear-related products play a part. By anticipating the incorporation of new technologies and sciences in ordinary life, they contribute to a better understanding and critique of the implications of new technological developments before they enter our daily lives as daily products. Entire areas of fashion are promoted by capitalism’s culture of transition that does not connect to real human issues anymore. All the designers discussed in the paper are putting human elements at the centre of the design experience: Cope by discussing human intimacy, Salguero by referencing objectification, Ten Boehmer through the anatomical pressure points from which she explores the high heel, OurOwnSkin by taking inspiration from the workings of human skin and the possibilities similar technology might have for producing footwear, and Walsh by questioning real and ideal bodies.
Different methodologies and cross-disciplinarity have informed these works involving diverse backgrounds such as jewelry, fashion, biomechanics, kinematics, orthopaedics and plastic surgery to develop alternative visions, not of style (i.e. superficial and transitional, characteristic of capitalist fashion), but real alternatives - alternative aesthetics, alternative modes of production, alternative ways of life, something that is made to endure and to change things in a fundamental way. These critical and speculative approaches are used to counter ‘what we are dealing with now (in contemporary society), which is not the incorporation of materials that previously seemed to possess subversive potentials, but instead, their pre-corporation: the pre-emptive formatting and shaping of desires, aspirations and hopes by capitalist culture’ (Fischer 2012), and, in so doing, reinforcing the status quo, the normative. This is why design as critique is so important, because in our capitalist consumer culture it can ‘pose questions, encourage thought, expose assumptions, provoke action, spark debate, raise awareness, offer new perspectives, inspire and entertain in an intellectual way’ (Dunne & Raby). In so doing, the footwear projects use the ideologies and values embedded in the materiality and production of design to contend a form of decadence inherent in current market product culture, whilst inviting us to consider what kind of society and future we want to shape.
In this issue’s Body section, Irina Sirotkina offers The Disappearance of the Body: The Fin de Siècle in Dance. In this paper, the author examines late nineteenth – early twentieth century dance in the context of the new trends in the arts such as abstraction and Suprematism. Sirotkina also looks at scientific discoveries. Contemporary discoveries brought about shifts in how matter was perceived. Matter, at that time, was coming to be seen as ‘disintegrating’ or ‘disappearing’. Onstage, the body was also disappearing from view: dissolving in rays of light, bathed in clouds of fabric, as in the work of Loie Fuller or, by contrast, concealed by Cubist costumes and geometric figurines, as in the abstract ‘ballets’ of Wassily Kandinsky and the UNOVIS group.
Elizabeth Fischer’s paper The Disintegration of the Body in Western Performance Culture is based on material from the Equipbody project of the Geneva School of Art and Design (HEAD – Genève). The project aims to study the relationship between objects and the body in the contemporary Western context. We live in an era of fascination with electronic gadgets. Since the start of this century, so-called ‘philanthrocapitalists’ have been busy investing in scientific research and directing its aims. They are convinced that technology is omnipotent, that it can satisfy all our physiological needs and even provide a substitute for our very bodies.
Such developments, they claim, are imminent, and no longer sound like something out of science fiction (Drezner, 2017). In view of the excessive enthusiasm around the cyborg world and the achievements of technological progress – which fails to mention the inevitable and expected obsolescence of all modern technological gadgets – the author attempts to place the human body at the centre of the relationship between a human, his or her everyday equipment, and the environment. In this way, Fischer tries to analyze our connection with the devices (both on and offline) to which we now turn in our everyday practices.
Alison Matthews David opens her paper Bare Bones: Surveillance, Exposure and the Skeleton in Fashion with a quote from the groundbreaking book by Anne Hollander Seeing Through Clothes.
‘Men, of course, always had plenty of noticeable bones, in Ancient Greece and in the later history of nude art. The dead Christ and many martyrs display the great vaulted arches of their ribs in all the varying traditions of European Art. The attractive bony female nude with a flat stomach is an aesthetic conception that has only been confirmed in the twentieth century.’
Anne Hollander makes a sweeping historical generalization about the gendered aesthetics of visible bone structures in Western society. While it is broadly true that male bones have been more evident in figurative art, Carolyn Day’s book Consumptive Chic attests to the fact that it was fashionable for women to appear to be on the verge of death starting in the late eighteenth century, with the desirability of a pale, emaciated look reaching its height in the Romantic period. In the 1824 Dialogue Between Fashion and Death, Italian Romantic poet Giacomo Leopardi has Fashion tell her ‘sister’ Death that ‘it is our custom to keep renovating the world’. Like the immortal phoenix, fashion must die so as to renew itself from the ashes in perpetuity. This conception of fashion as constantly ‘renovating’ itself and the world has potentially deadly moral and environmental consequences in an age of fast and globalized fashion. Yet the symbiotic, even sisterly relationship between death and fashion, between skeletal underpinnings and outer ‘skins’, whether of flesh or cloth, has always been a part of fashion iconography in the post-medieval Western world. This essay explores the enduring historical dialogue between fashion, exposure, and death and focuses on how skeletal iconography and graphic reminders of mortality found their way onto actual garments in novel and explicitly gendered ways in the wake of the heightened surveillance culture that was ushered in by the events of 9/11.
This issue’s Culture section opens with historian Alexander Meshcheryakov’s paper From Pride to Bitterness and Back: Japanese Reflections on the Country’s Natural Habitat. Throughout the course of Japan’s long history, the country’s territory cannot be said to have undergone any significant qualitative or quantitative change. Until the late nineteenth century, Japan was seldom at war. The country did not attack others, or fall victim to invasion. The pioneering spirit that inspires adventurers to embark on their voyages of geographical discovery was alien to Japanese culture: even the island of Hokkaido itself was not thoroughly explored until the second half of the nineteenth century. Continuing to exist within the confines of the archipelago granted it by nature, traditional Japan did not in any significant way alter its borders. Traditional Japanese society’s means of impacting its natural environment were relatively limited; thus, on the whole, this environment can be considered a constant. This notwithstanding, social attitudes towards the natural environment in Japan were prone to drastic change, depending on historical circumstance. This remarkable phenomenon meant that at times, the home turf was seen as exceptionally favourable, whilst during other periods, it was considered woefully lacking. The main factor behind these mutually exclusive views was the general atmosphere prevailing in society at a given time. During periods of optimism, Japanese territory was seen as the best place on Earth; in times of gloom and pessimism, however, it was viewed as puny and insignificant.
Natalia Lebina’s Commercial Sex and Everyday Decadence: A Turn-of-the-Century St. Petersburg Phenomenon looks at the deformation of the institution of legal prostitution, a little studied and much mythicized phenomenon from the everyday life of Tsarist Russia in the late nineteenth – early twentieth century. This period saw the emergence in Russia of decadence – a cultural trend characterized by aestheticism, individualism and immoralism. Prostitution in Russia became legal in the 1840s, when the authorities decided to adopt a softer stance towards commercial sex by introducing the so-called yellow ticket, an identification document that saw the prostitute positioned as a marginal in urban society. If some legal prostitutes had tickets and worked in brothels, others simply had a form known as a ‘blank’, and operated on their own. During the decadent period in Russia, the first type of commercial sex, which was more prone to control by the special state institution known as the Medical-Police Committee, fell into decline. ‘Blank’ or ‘free’ prostitution, however, flourished, bringing with it the marginalization of urban society. In literary and art works of the decadent period, the woman of pleasure is a much-romanticized character, plying her trade independently of the brothels.
Maria Terekhova offers Eros and Thanatos as Part of the Urban Landscape: Mysticism and Eroticism in Russian Film Posters of the 1910s. The eroticization and aestheticization of death are often seen as elements of a relatively narrow fin-de-siècle artistic culture. However, by the mid-1910s, largely due to the general accessibility of cinema, decadent themes and imagery gained mass popularity, entering the space of urban visual culture through the medium of the film poster. The technical possibilities offered by cinema, as well as the political, historical and cultural context of the First World War period, with its relaxing and eventual abolition of the limitations imposed by censorship, as well as mass demand, produced the conditions for the emergence of a somewhat common, vulgar form of eroticism. Created mainly by little-known or amateur artists, the film posters of the second half of the 1910s turned Eros and Thanatos into a part of the contemporary urban landscape. For this paper, the author researched a range of museum material including film posters from the Reprinted Graphic Art Collection of the St. Petersburg State History Museum.
In Travesty in Soviet Cinema, Mila Dvinyatina looks at far more than the diverse and deliberate transformations in Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible. The theme of travesty in Soviet cinema remains virtually unresearched, most likely due to the purely rhetorical manner in which the realist method was introduced in this area. To this or that degree, Soviet films from different eras attempted to portray the world in its ideal state, and in the Soviet view, such a world was incompatible with carnival, cross-dressing or upside down somersaults. In other words, the Soviet screen, in theory at least, held no place for travesty as a change of clothing, if merely between different genders and ages. Among Soviet viewers, cinema experts and film industry workers, the topic is, indeed, a taboo one. A modern analysis of Soviet films from a range of periods, however, clearly shows that travesty is not merely present, but occupies a significant place. One need only recall that all-important political change of clothing that remained without comment from either filmmakers or contemporary critics. The comical old man, the king’s jester, the dead leader present alongside the living one: in 1930s cinema and in the subsequent mass mythologization, ‘Grandpa Lenin’ was a crucial element of the cinematic canon being formed. In part, this was due to travesty, a theme popular in revolutionary mythology. One need only recall the makeup worn by Lenin to cross the Finnish border, or to make his way through the city of St. Petersburg to the Smolny on the night of the revolution; or, indeed, Kerensky, who dressed as a woman when fleeing the Winter Palace. The comical old man, inevitably played by a young actor, remained in fact a firm staple of Soviet cinema throughout its history. Whether this transformation of a youth into an old man was due to folklore or dramatic tradition, or to a new Soviet ethic that humanised and offered equal rights to youth and old age, is not entirely clear. The warrior-maiden’s glorification on the Soviet, and, indeed, the world screen was, in this sense, more straightforward. Besides these, travesty in the Soviet cinema can be seen as including other, broader examples. Recall the people playing animals, the maniacal obsession with spy-catching in the films of the 1930s, which in the 1960s turned into a preoccupation with elegant detectives. Note also that more universal feature of cinema, the viewer’s ability to see, and the director’s ability to make use of, the diversity and multi-faceted nature of a cinematic character who changes clothes. Simultaneously, the viewer sees the actor in character, the character played, and the person that character is attempting to change into. The theme of travesty in Soviet cinema, the author concludes, is not only present, but clearly requires closer study.
In Webs That Take Root: Perfume Advertising as a Mirror of the New Sensibility, Ekaterina Zhiritskaya looks at the aesthetics of the perfume industry and analyzes the imagery of perfume advertising. Modern advertisements for scent can be seen as combining the Modernist, post-Modern, and so-called post-post-Modern discourses. Modernist trends may be seen as persisting due to the remarkably conservative nature of the Westerm European olfactory paradigm. At the same time, naturally, the creators of ads for scent cannot ignore the shifts in social opinion brought about by criticism from feminists, anti-colonialists and anti-racists. Yet increasingly, sociologists and cultural experts have been suggesting that the era when post-Modernism reigned supreme, is over. Perfume advertising is also reflecting this shift in sensibility. It is these advertisements that Zhiritskaya examines in her paper.