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 held 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.
Kristina Gligorovska offers Holograms on the Fashion Stage: Virtual Mimesis of the Human Body. This article constitutes a study of the postmodern phenomena of holographic representations of actual models on fashion stages. Drawing on this virtual commodity staged on several runways, it investigates the reasons behind the need for a three-dimensional replicated version of the human body. The process of continual metamorphosis, merging and exceeding of borders between reality and dreams, natural and artificial, establishes one of the initial points in the analyses of this mysterious apparition. Focusing on these ambiguous relations, the author examines the hologram depicted in Alexander McQueen’s Widows of Culloden fashion show. The aim is to deconstruct this imaginative construction through analysis of the performance and of the relation between the material and the virtual body, and the perception (the emotional spectacle of the viewer in the encounter with the otherness). In its instance on a body-out-bounds, the author suggests, the holographic replica is translated as a metaphysical object that stimulates the idea of transcendental beauty. This unstable category that exists in another dimension disembodies critique of beauty and aesthetic discussion in contemporary fashion, while simultaneously reflecting the urge for novelty as its raison d’être. To offer multi-layered interpretations, the author views holograms as objects which engender complex interplay between body, identity, and technology. Essentially, the coexistence of both material and virtual bodies in the newly produced corporeality, allows the viewer to test his or her cognitive knowledge of reality in a possible encounter with a holographic doppelganger.
Barbara Brownie presents Dressing the Weightless Body: Subjective Verticality and the Disoriented Experience of Dress in Microgravity. Design practice has historically been constrained by the assumption that designed objects, including clothing, will be made and worn in Earth gravity. The notion that designed objects have an upright state has influenced common approaches to design, including the tendency towards depiction and presentation of designed objects in elevation view, which, for fashion, is frequently understood in terms of silhouette. However, those who have experienced weightlessness, either in space travel or on board reduced gravity aircraft , describe a post-gravity experience that prompts them to revisit these assumptions and consider the extent to which future commercial space travel will liberate creative practitioners to operate at all angles and orientations. As we enter the commercial space age, fashion will be increasingly worn in a variety of gravitational conditions, and the dressed body will therefore be encountered at a variety of orientations, showcasing views of garments that are not often encountered on Earth, and that are therefore often overlooked by fashion designers. This article responds to descriptions of the post-gravity experience by identifying the need to consider alternative views of the clothed body, and consequently to define garments without reference to the silhouette in fashion design for the new commercial space age.
Ekaterina Zhiritskaya presents Breathing in Space: The Olfactory Landscape of ‘Alien’ (1979) within the Discourse of Medicalisation. Last year, Ridley Scott’s iconic ‘Alien’ turned forty. To mark the anniversary, a special 4K Ultra HD new edition was released, eagerly awaited by fans around the globe. An interesting case, ‘Alien’ could so easily have ended up as yet another mediocre commercial horror film. Achieving true cult status, however, the movie — unexpectedly — enjoyed decades of success. One possible reason for its acclaim may be that ‘Alien’ managed to tap into one of the main phobias of today’s society — fear of uncontrollable transformation of the body. The return of incurable epidemics, but this time with manmade diseases; the impact of biotechnology capable of altering the body’s natural state, and the use of genetic engineering without full knowledge of all the potential consequences — all this today serves to heighten a sense of anxiety around one’s body, leading to a growing fear of no longer being able to control it. Scott’s expressive tale of mutation, which shows a human becoming a different species through serving as an incubator for a parasite that alters her body, played perfectly into the heightened anxiety of a medicalised society. The struggle between human and inhuman plays out in space — an ideal arena, in which the boundaries between ‘human’ and ‘alien’ are often drawn by smell.
Opening with Rebecca Arnold’s paper The Kodak Ensemble: Fashion, Images and Materiality in 1920s America, this issue’s Body section explores the relationship between dress and body, focusing primarily on look and touch. Walter Dorwin Teague’s design for the casing of the 1928 Kodak Ensemble, Arnold writes, brought together the latest camera technology with contemporary fashion. Shaped like a clutch bag, when opened the case contained not just a camera, but also a compact, lipstick, and mirror. Available in different colors and marketed to women, it represented connections between looking, seeing, being, and wearing, which expose shifts in 1920s modernity and femininity. This article analyzes the Kodak Ensemble as a starting point for examining interrelationships between women, fashion, and photography, and between optic and haptic, and visual and material experience of dress, cameras, and photographs during a key period in the development of amateur photography and ready-made fashion.
Lucia Ruggerone and Renate Stauss offer The Deceptive Mirror: The Dressed Body Beyond Reflection. This paper explores the role of the mirror in the act of getting dressed. It argues that in daily practices of dress/ing, the predominance of the sense of sight in defining the experience of both dress and our self is materialized and enhanced by the omnipresence of an object: the mirror. Despite being mostly ignored in analyses of the dressed body, the mirror performs a crucial role in defining both dress and the self in visual terms. By considering how the mirror is implicated in processes of subjectification, the authors analyze how this affects the relationship people have with clothes as signifiers of their selves. Ruggerone and Stauss maintain that in order to escape the gaze and its solidifying effect, we need to look away from the mirror and think of the body not as a subject, but as a fluid composition of forces. By drawing insights from phenomenology and then adhering to the Spinozian philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari, the authors interrogate the body as something that affectively transforms in the encounter with clothes, to then explore it as a site of becoming with and through clothes. The paper aims to offer an experimentation in thinking that might lead to different ways of experiencing our clothes in the everyday, as well as of theorizing about their relationship with the human body and the wearers’ (supposed) identity.
Elyse Stanes contributes Clothes-in-Process: Touch, Texture, Time. Contemporary research on fashion consumption has largely focused on the surface qualities of dress, comprising questions of aesthetics, expression, and identity. Rather than thinking about how clothes look, this paper considers how clothes feel. Theorizing clothes as always in-process rather than stable or static, this paper uses touch as a lens to explore haptic and sensuous engagements that occur across a garment’s prosaic biography. Informed by five vignettes from a broader ethnographic project concerning clothes use, touch Summary is located in conversations with hands and bodies. These conversations cultivate somatosensory relations with clothes that are ‘in-process’, in various states of wear and repair, texture, and time. The material qualities of garments emerge as an active, tangible force that works alongside an evolving dialog of use — as clothes ‘wear in’ or ‘wear out’. This paper illustrates two ways in which touch informs clothes-in-process: how bodies come to know the fabric of clothes, and how the surface qualities of clothes push back against bodies of wearers. Although mundane and instinctive, the liveliness of materials and the haptic skills that attend to the use of clothes-in-process speak to value, care, and responsibility. But somatosensory relations also encompass discomfort and anxiety, leading to accumulations of clothes as matter out of place. Paying greater attention to the somatosensory registers of the body provides insights about the material meanings of clothes as garments wear over time. In light of the social and environmental implications of clothes and clothes use, such insights are important for advancing knowledge about how wearers interact with their clothes, over time.
The Culture column looks at fashioning professional wardrobes and opens with Natalia Lebina’s A Uniform for a Guinea Pig. Vestimentary Practices of the Soviet Female Academic: Documentary and Personal. Op ting for an unusual way of presenting her material, Lebina makes active use of her own personal memories. Offering these in the form of a deliberately targeted narrative, she engages in a kind of ‘participant observation’ in a historical context. A deliberately ironic style of recounting and analysing facts ensures that the author avoids overly dramatic or pompous overtones in her study of the ‘woman scientist’ phenomenon — whilst also allowing her to play with the curious theme of ‘Fashion and Humour’. The paper looks at the particular vestimentary canon of women researchers and academics in the USSR. In the second half of the nineteenth century, a socio-demographic group began to form within Russian society which is now well established. From the outset, this had its own particular features of appearance and style of dress. During the Soviet period, the number of women scientists in Russia rose dramatically. Lebina writes of three distinct periods which saw not only sharp rises in numbers, but marked shifts in other features of women scientists such as their vestimentary habits, also. In the 1920s, for instance, there was no single style of dress dictated by the authorities for women researchers. From the 1930s to the 1950s, within the general context of Stalin’s ‘grand style’, the main feature of women scientists’ appearance was the sober English suit. In Soviet fashion, despite awkward attempts by designers to soften the masculinity of the suit with trendy accessories, this was not an elegant unisex outfit. By the 1960s-1980s, women academics no longer possessed any distinguishing features of dress. As new fabrics and knitwear came into use and items of clothing such as trousers became more widespread among women, the dress style of the female academic evolved to become more ‘democratic’. In the fi nal two decades of the USSR, the appearance of women scientists had less to do with their values or aesthetic views, or with any kind of guidelines from the authorities, and more with the reality of living with ‘defitsit’-era shortages.
Beverly Yuen Thompson offers Academ-Ink: University Faculty Fashion and Its Discontents. The new generation of professors is set against a stereotype that emerged from the era of The Organization Man or Man in a Grey Flannel Suit — the 1950s white man, a family-wage earning provider for a family of dependents. Generation X and Millennial professors with subcultural affiliations and alternative appearances, including visible tattoos, are now altering the image of the new professor. Using the academic literature around fashion studies, this paper contextualizes the voices of the participants as they speak in depth of the stylistic choices within the university, from pajama-clad students, power suit administrators, to faculty in activist T-shirts. Participants may have learned appropriate professional dress choices from graduate school workshops on tackling the academic employment interview, or through snide remarks from advisors or colleagues about the appropriateness of their fashion choices. Looking around at fellow faculty in the university, workers begin to fit into or differentiate themselves from the professional dress choices of their peers. These stylistic choices impact their interactions with others of different levels of the university hierarchy, from students to administrators. Overall, professors are able to dress in a variety of manners while facing few social sanctions. However, straight white men are provided with the most latitude, while those with increasingly marginalized identities, the author claims, felt more pressure to conform to a normative expectation of conservative dress.
Susan Hardy and Anthony Corones present The Nurse’s Uniform as Ethopoietic Fashion. This article argues that the nurse’s uniform is a form of ethopoietic fashion. In doing so it sheds new light on the history of nursing uniforms, whilst also introducing and illustrating key aspects of a theory of ethopoietic fashion. The article shows that eff orts to design and embody nursing identity and character through dress are central to nursing history and practice.
Anouchka Grose’s paper Shrinking Clothes looks at the different attitudes towards work clothes within the psychoanalytic community. While the Anglo Saxon tradition encourages conservatism and quasi-invisibility, the Lacanian orientation is less proscriptive when it comes to dressing for work. With particular reference to conflicting theories of transference, the article outlines how different approaches to treatment and cure might lead to visibly divergent ideas about the personal appearance of the practitioner.
The Science of Fashion column examines the Practice as Research method, an example of which is described in Hye Eun Kim’s Seams and Edges in a Garment: A Practice-Led Research. Seams and edges in a garment transform the personal being into one proper to be presented to others not only by constructing the garment, but also setting where it begins and ends. In this practice-led research, the author chose edges applied to armhole fi nishing, to highlight these signifi cant areas and learn more about them. Hye Eun Kim kept a journal of the practice based on a reflection on the making process as it was taking place. This reflection directed the ensuing practice and research, helping to reach a conclusion. The author also captured the action more objectively by filming it. This documentary shows the author constantly turning the garment over at the openings in order to finish it. This process is also applicable to the wearing of the garment, which is linked to the socialization of its wearer. Each time we put on or take off a garment, we cross and re-cross this boundary. This article concludes that it is through repetitive crossing of the boundary of these openings that garments are made and the individual becomes socialized.
In this issue’s Events section, Myriam Couturier offers Milli: Half a Century of Glamour Fifty Kilometres from Tokyo, her review of ‘Milli: A Celebration of Style’ at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Courtney R. Fushares her thoughts on ‘Guo Pei: Chinese Art and Couture’ at the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, in Guo Pei: Chinese Art and High Fashion.
In the Books section this time around, Karina Nikolskaya contributes Fashion Exhibitions: Documenting the Experience — a review of Fashion Curating: Critical Practice in the Museum and Beyond (eds: Annamari Vänskä, Hazel Clark. Bloomsbury, 2018), and of Julia Petrov’s Fashion, History, Museums: Inventing the Display of Dress (Bloomsbury, 2019).