For individuals in East Berlin, using fashion for self-expression risked being seen as subversive. As such, attire was purely practical: garments were designed to be functional and durable. Material shortages meant that those individuals choosing to sew their own garments had to be resourceful, with some opting to deconstruct pre-loved garments in order to make new outfits. Despite the German Fashion Institute’s efforts to maintain control, creative fashion was happening on both sides of the wall, with a niche counter-culture movement spanning the early 1980s to November 1989 with the unification of the city. During this time an innovative community of designers who were living in virtual isolation from the outside world, began to create cutting edge couture from found materials and industrial textiles, offering freedom within the bell jar of a socialist state.
In order to transcend shame and to take action in the realm of sustainability, we need support and a collective vision. We know from other domains of shame, for example that of the recovering alcoholic, that the sharing of experiences of shame plays an important part in moving on. Yet shame is often lonely in fashion, as the industry is constituted of strong individuals instead of a cohesive collective. The culture of fashion is not always one that promotes an easy sharing of doubt, fear or inadequacy. Without easily negotiable paths to address them, environmental degradation, child labour and over-consumption risk remaining uncomfortable areas to venture into.
In his lecture to the International Health Exhibition at the South Kensington Museum, London in 1884, William Morris gives a detailed history on textiles – weaving, tapestry and dyeing – and the textile industry. His talk traces the lineage of textile craft, spanning Classical Greek decoration, Byzantine ornament, Medieval textiles, Italian silk of the fourteenth century, to Morris’ contemporary time. Morris, a textile designer himself, as well as a poet and essayist, was prominent spokesperson of the arts and crafts movement which occurred in the United Kingdom and spread to Europe and North America from 1880 to 1910.
Like all new-borns, wearable technologies are invariably smooth, precious and pure. In an i-Device era, the consumer is hidden from the processes of making that lie beneath the surface of the technological sublime. In the world of high fashion, designers like Iris van Herpen are weaving technology into textiles within the usual stomping ground of the avant-garde haute couturier.
Catwalk shows hardly ever begin on time. Delay, anticipation and deferment are traditionally part of the routine. Waiting for the show to begin is, in other words, an integral part of the experience of the catwalk show as a live event. But time is precious and waiting not only exemplifies anticipation, but also holds an explicit value in itself. The time spent waiting for a catwalk show to start can be described as liminal, a moment that implies transition or passing from one state to another. In the age of information technology and instant image production, waiting – as both process and ritual – is, however, a rare occurrence.
Today, Helmut Lang works an artist. His minimalist and deconstructivist work is no longer presented on runways, but represented by contemporary art galleries. After resigning as creative director of his fashion house in 2005, Lang indeed turned away from his former profession to focus solely on fine art. This decision came with creative freedom, unencumbered by the functional and economic restrictions of the moving body and wearability.
It was a particular form of masculinity and male expression that Eldridge Cleaver believed had been suppressed through conventional male clothing and through the design of a new style of trousers wanted to ‘free up’. He said, ‘We’ve been castrated in clothing. My pants open up new vistas. I’m against penis binding. Men wear their penis either down the right pants leg or the left […] strapped to the leg.’
While some would argue the format of the freak show never gone away, the scopophilic frisson of the American sideshow, coupled with the message that internal depravity rather than physical disability is the true marker of the ‘freak’ has largely been absent in popular culture since Tod Browning’s ‘Freaks’ was filmed in 1932.
Though journalist James Harkin‘s theory sits in the context of economics, it could be applied to the rise of niche fragrances we are currently witnessing. While large beauty corporations like Coty, Givaudan or International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) continue to thrive, small ‘niche’ companies have proven to be highly successful competitors.
The Fashion Cycle, or Trend Cycle, helps us trace a garment’s journey from ‘in’ to ‘out’ of fashion. It’s a idea most would be familiar with, even those who don’t maintain a particular interest in fashion, since it presents a framework for looking at the economics of the fashion system as a whole, encompassing high to low.
The term ‘unisex’, rather fittingly, was coined in the Sixties. Prefixing ‘sex’ with ‘uni–‘ (meaning ‘one’) in the context of fashion refers to a single garment or aesthetic that is shared by both sexes. It suggests that a garment or hairstyle is not engendered and can be worn by either sex without connotations of masculine or feminine.
‘There is an obvious and prominent fact about human beings,’ notes Bryan Turner at the start of The Body and Society, ‘they have bodies and they are bodies.’ However, what Turner omits in his analysis is another obvious and prominent fact: that human bodies are dressed bodies.