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.
The Dress section this time around contains a selection of papers presented at the ‘Imagining the Unusual’ conference organized by organized by RANEPA School of Advanced Studies in the Humanities, HSE Art and Design School, MSSES Faculty of Cultural Management and Fashion Theory journal on 19–21 September 2019.
Tatiana Bakina’s paper Feathers, Fruits and Mallows: Extravagance in 1920s — 1940s Hollywood Costume Design focuses on unusual and overthe-top dress in classic Hollywood movies. Taking a detailed look at the factors behind this phenomenon, the paper also examines the importance of these costumes within the overall structure and plot of specific films. Bakina sets out by analysing the design of stage and performance costumes for 1930s — 1940s Hollywood musicals, pointing out in particular the influence of Broadway revue shows, primarily the theatrical revues of Florence Ziegfeld, Jr. In the second part of the paper, the author looks at the expressive impact of masquerade costumes in films. Bakina also examines the visualisation of the external transformation of female characters through changes in their external appearance, dress, and style. The paper then discusses the tendency towards symbolism in screen costume design, pointing in particular to the frequent use of animalistic imagery. Sexuality, Bakina argues, is often portrayed through the incorporation in dress and accessories of edible symbols, such as colourful fruit and berries, or pastries and sweets. The author concludes by stressing that the exaggerated imagery and spectacular effects in Hollywood costume design were not due merely to the specific plot of this or that film, or even to the evolving role of costume at this or that stage in the American film industry’s development. These visual images were also used to attract attention, to produce a vivid impression among the audience, and ultimately, to develop an almost sensory level of film appreciation through a focus on corporeality and fine detail in the costumes.
Tatiana Dashkova’s Babette Goes to Moscow: The Expansion of Foreign Film into Soviet Everyday Life looks at the ways in which fashion styles spread in 1950s — 1960s Soviet culture. While the relevant institutions such as fashion shows, specialised publications and advertising were poorly developed, one of the main channels that ‘transmitted’ fashion was cinema. The rapid growth of the film industry during the Thaw was due not only to increases in the number of cinemas, but also to film’s growing role in shaping public life and in transmitting Western fashion styles and body culture. The author’s focus in studying the influence of foreign film on the Soviet audience’s practices of fashionable behaviour was on the iconic hairstyles worn by two French film stars in well-known movies: Brigitte Bardot’s ‘Babette’ beehive, and Marina Vlady’s ‘Blonde Witch’ hairdo. Given the diffi culties in copying dress, Soviet viewers shift ed their focus to actresses’ fashionable hairstyles. It was the imitation of these that made Soviet audiences part of the international cult that had formed around French actresses. By studying the reactions to the different hairdos through looking at literary works, press articles and the representation of these hairstyles in contemporary Soviet cinema, the author helps deepen our understanding of the internal contradictions within Soviet fashion during the Thaw.
Jo Turney’s article Extraordinarily Luxurious: Sensory Lifestyles and Home Decor in the 1970s.
Recession, social and political instability, increased unemployment and real threats to personal and environmental safety, marked the 1970s as the era of realisation; realisation that the throwaway, live in the moment ethos of the 1960s was unsustainable, realisation that the promise of postwar restoration was political rhetoric, and the realisation that life in the UK was never going to be the same again (decimalisation, the common market, social unrest). This 1970s wake-up call, in relation to design history at least, negates the era from its pages, consigning the decade as an embarrassing footnote between the exciting Pop 1960s and the Designer Decade, the 1980s. This paper questions this marginalisation, considering design in the 1970s as experimental, considered, and innovative.
By focusing on the ways in which ‘cheaper’ synthetic materials were promoted as luxurious, using the language of Romanticism and the iconology of the exotic as erotic, this paper will discuss how design grew up, establishing the narrative of the tactile and sensual home, a precursor to today’s experiential and user centred design. The home will be discussed as a site of exploration and as a metaphor for the body, stimulating the senses and creating states of pleasure that elicit feelings of personal luxury. Examples will draw from contemporary advertising for laminates, flooring, carpets and wallpapers, and analyse the ways in which luxury came to embody the sexual and sensual self.
Petra Egri presents her paper The Allegoric Deconstruction of the Socialist Style: Tamás Király’s Fashion Performances in Hungarian Late Socialism. Hungarian fashion designer Tamás Király was radically opposed to so-called ‘socialist fashion’. Demonstratively avoiding integration into any system and rejecting the path of commercialisation, he is usually considered a representative of the Hungarian neo-avant-garde. The author’s research interest lies in Király’s dress performances and street-based shows, which he called ‘fashion walks’, as events of the late socialist era, a historical period characterised by a centrally planned economy and scarcity of resources. In the 1980s, the system began to break down, approaching disintegration and political transformation. The paper focuses on a fashion performance that took place in the fi nal years of the regime, just before the political system changed in 1989. Through allegoric or catachrestic techniques, references, and a deconstruction of referentiality, the author argues that Király’s fashion performances created special narratives, a kind of fashion poetics. Egri’s perspective stems from the idea that Király initiated a late modern or postmodern perspective, a far deeper artistic direction. The ephemeral garments created at the end of the Kádár era were not merely inspired by scarcity of resources and criticism of the political system. Presenting her arguments, the author refers to documentary photographs from one of Király’s fashion performances of 1989 to confirm her hypothesis. Referencing the ideas of Paul de Man, whom she calls an ‘outstanding literary critic of irony’, Egri argues that the performance put forward a stance of deconstruction.
In Body we turn back to the constuctions of masculinity and start with Olga Vainshtein’s paper A Hundred Games in One Face: The Costumes and Contexts of Andrei Bartenev which looks at the aesthetic idiosyncrasies of Andrei Bartenev’s art, and at the cultural context behind his experiments. In her paper, Vainsthtein examines Bartenev’s work within the context of the historical tradition of performance art in Russian and Western culture. The author pays particular attention to the ways in which fashion is represented in Bartenev’s performances, and to his ‘party’ outfits. The key ‘algorithms’ used by Vainshtein in her analysis of Bartenev’s work are the concepts of corporeality, the ‘grotesque’ body, and the ‘giant’ body. The author also looks in detail at the ‘fleeting’ nature of performance art, and at Bartenev’s stance on environmental issues. Vainshtein’s study is underpinned by Mikhail Bakhtin’s writings on carnival culture, and Susan Sontag’s concept of camp.
Ben Barry contributes his paper Fabulous Masculinities: Refashioning the Fat and Disabled Male Body.
At the start of the twenty-first century, three phenomena have converged in men’s fashion: the emergence of the slim-fit silhouette, a svelte fashionable male body, and men’s self-documentation of their clothing and physiques on social media. The nexus of these three forces has not only emphasized men’s dressed bodies but also marginalized and stigmatized men whose bodies do not conform to the current lean or muscular non-disabled fashionable male physique. In this paper, I analyze wardrobe interviews with three queer and trans men who are disabled and/or fat and also examine their participation in a fashion show. While these men are the most distanced from fashion’s male body ideals, they enact a series of strategies to make fashion and fashion culture work for their bodies. By drawing on Moore’s (2018) theory of fabulousness, I argue that these men practice what I theorize as fabulous masculinities: They make, assemble, wear and photograph outfits in ways that generate new relationships between the dressed body and masculinity. Although my participants are ostracized from the fashion system and dominant masculine ideals, they have power to assert agency over the fashionable male physique because men and masculinity have not been exclusively defi ned by and valued for the body.
Nicolas Cambridge’s paper New Whistle and Flute: Orchestrating Sartorial Performances of Contemporary Masculinities addresses the shifting dynamics in sartorial culture that have contributed to constructions of masculinity in the modern period and beyond. Specifically, it examines a dominance exerted by the ubiquitous tailored suit — documenting the garment’s emblematic role in geo-political contexts and its appearance in fashion’s representational culture. The initial section provides a historical overview of the suit’s development in the United Kingdom into a “barometer” of power relationships within the commercial and colonial arenas. The discussion goes on to consider Japan’s adoption of Westernstyle apparel as a pivotal moment in a project of modernity undertaken during a period of socio-political upheaval in the late nineteenth century. The article then addresses the visual renegotiations of traditional understandings of masculinity conducted in certain fashion periodicals during the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. The conclusion suggests that these two seemingly separate strands involving the politics and poetics of sartorial culture — a paradigm shift in dress practice experienced by Japan nearly a century and a half ago, and the more recent valorization of Japanese-designed menswear by the British fashion media — have intertwined in “re-tailoring” the suit for consumption within an expanded range of sartorial constituencies in the United Kingdom.
The Culture section turns to the topic of fashion, digitalization and blogging and starts with Agnès Rocamora’s article Mediatization and Digital Media in the Field of Fashion which shows the relevance of the concept of “mediatization” for understanding the contemporary field of fashion and its relation to digital media. It first gives an overview of definitions of mediatization. It then shows that the production of fashion, such as the staging of catwalk shows and the design of collections, is being molded by and for the media, as is its retailing. Finally, the article discusses the relation between the wearing of cosmetics and the use of digital cameras in the fashioning of the self to argue that the mediatization of fashion reaches out to ordinary practices of the self, a mediatized self.
Using Instagram as an example, in her paper Earn by Living: Fashion Bloggers Constructing an Idealised Media Image of Everyday Life, Sofia Arshinova looks at the ways in which fashion bloggers construct versions of their own lives for consumption by an audience of social network users. Through transforming their life into a visual object, a product that must adhere to certain aesthetic standards and be successful on the media market, bloggers are constructing an idealised media image of the everyday. Examining the mechanisms used to create this idealised media image, the author defi nes the process in Maurizio Lazzarato’s terms as ‘immaterial labour’, seeing the bloggers as intermediaries between the manufacturers of fashion, and their target market.
Christofer Laurell’s paper When Bloggers become Designers: On the Role of Professions in a Fashion System Undergoing Change aims to explore how the rise of social media challenges the traditional borders of the professional fashion system. This is done by analyzing activities related to two fashion blogger-driven fashion brands. In total, material comprising 341 blog posts covering a period of 36 months was collected and analyzed. The presented results show how the two studied bloggers through their fashion brands came to participate in several of the professional practices of the fashion industry and, by doing so, arguably gained access to the professional fashion system early on in their blogging careers. By illustrating the withering of traditional borders of the professional fashion system, this paper therefore contributes to extant literature within the field of fashion marketing and fashion studies by illustrating the ways through which actors situated outside the system manage to approach it by utilizing social media. This paper also highlights the challenges this development yields for established actors within the fashion system.
Ekaterina Kolpinets offers No Filter: Instagram. Between Personal Brand and Performance of Authenticity. The social networking service Instagram has today become a widely accessible and extremely common means of self-representation in everyday life. Recent years have seen two key practices emerge within Instagram, the performance of authenticity, and the creation of a personal brand. If visual ‘authenticity’ and ‘sincerity’ can be constructed with the aid of specific techniques, however, the development of a personal brand requires the user to invest significant emotional energy. On Instagram, a ‘sincere story about oneself ’ has turned into yet another style which may, or may not, have much to do with actual fact. Both practices share the same aim of creating a visual image that will be interesting to followers, and to which they will be able to relate. The author’s main interest in researching this area however was not why Instagram and other users encourage us to create these simplified and improved versions of ourselves, but what such practices tell us about the platforms themselves, and about online communication generally. The author also describes the historical, technological and cultural roots of contemporary blogging, taking a detailed look at the leading theoretical writings on online performance practices and at the content generated by Russian Instagram bloggers.
Synne Skjulstad’s article Vetements, Memes, and Connectivity: Fashion Media in the Era of Instagram relates the contested design collective Vetements to contemporary scholarship on digital connective mediational practices and Internet culture. Vetements has included central ingredients of contemporary Internet culture into the core of their design practice, and applied these strategically. Their design and communication practices are pervaded by Internet meme logic, heavily bringing on participation culture and connectivity. It taps into, and reflects currents in the field of art (and post-art) and go with them — not against them. Key to understanding how this design collective is part of a changing aesthetic in fashion mediation, is to inquire into their mediational activities in the light of recent research on Internet culture, with a particular focus on Internet memes. Via appropriation and ready-mades, Vetements’ positioning in the digital visual media ecology is investigated via the proposed concept of fashion memes.
In Fashion Practice column Olga Gurova and Daria Morozova present their paper The Commercialisation of Wearables as a Practice in Art, Business and State Projects. The theoretical foundation underpinning this qualitative study of wearables is practice theory. By ‘wearables’ — smart electronic devices worn close to, or on, the skin, we understand products combining the elements of fashion and technology, such as smart watches that synch with one’s phone, or underwear which imitates the touch of one’s lover. Despite optimistic forecasts, not many projects for the commercialisation of wearables have been successful on the market. Large electronic corporations such as Apple and Xiaomi have proved an exception. Studies of wearables start-ups have put this lack of success down to shortcomings in the wearables themselves, to the start-ups’ flawed business models, and to the significant time lag as users become accustomed to new technology. The authors suggest that commercialisation should be viewed as a complex integrative practice incorporating material goods, skills and values. With this paper, Gurova and Morozova join the existing debate on the subject. The authors suggest that their approach could help discover more of the connections that influence the process of commercialisation. Using three examples — a state project, one in art, and one in business — the paper examines the ways in which the practice of commercialisation forms and develops, the problems that are common in each of the three areas, and how commercialisation can be interpreted in a wider sense than the gaining of profit via increases in sales.
In the Events section this time around, Rina Volnykh and Mika Plutitskaya offer a review of ‘9 March’ exhibition at the Ground Solyanka gallery, Moscow 9 March — 9 April 2020.
In this issue’s Books section, Tatiana Vedeneeva offers a review of Paola Biribanti’s book ‘L’ironia è di moda: Brunetta Mateldi Moretti, artista eclettica dell’eleganza’, Carocci editore, 2018.
Naomi Clarke contributes her review of Clare Hunter’s ‘Threads of Life: A History of the World through the Eye of a Needle’, Hodder & Stoughton, 2019, and Michelle Hanks looks at Amy Twigger Holroyd’s book ‘Folk Fashion: Understanding Homemade Clothes’, I. B. Tauris, 2017