Evaluating the work of designers outside the established fashion capitals according to (references made to) their cultural identity not only continues to fulfil ‘the centre’s’ need to distil a diffuse and disordered peripheral Other into more rational categories based on collective identities, but also to differentiate and therefore discriminate and exclude, while simultaneously protecting its own boundaries. By setting this fashion apart as ethnic it not only diminishes it and discards it as ‘not real’ fashion, but also confirms French, Italian, American or British fashion as the norm.
If fashion designers can and should shock and provoke, isn’t social media outrage not only to be expected, but also an intrinsic part of increasingly performative fashion conversations as well? And why would fashion designers specifically enjoy unlimited freedom of expression? Who would claim this right next? Artists? TV presenters? Politicians? Do fashion designers really want to be the creative equivalent of Piers Morgan?
Cambridge Analytica’s model is based on the premise that fashion has solid, unequivocal meanings that can be used to profile and target you with political messaging according to your clothing choices; that it is a rational universe where ‘Wrangler ergo Trump’ correlations can be drawn. But can it really hold ground today?
The discourse on class mobility is pervasive in contemporary India, and is in itself seen to be one of liberalised India’s greatest fruits. In particular, the public imagination often portrays creative professionals as fuelled by drive and ambition and thus capable of rupturing historical boundaries of class and caste thanks to this imagined innate power. The National Institute of Fashion Technology Delhi is one of the places where students continue to flock in order to emerge as successful creatives. But considering how many students come from upper caste and class backgrounds, is this idea of class travel a mere myth?
‘Ballet is a purely female thing; it is a woman, a garden of beautiful flowers and man is the gardener,’ the impresario George Balanchine reflected to Life Magazine in 1965. Ballet is an art form enmeshed with its history: steps drawn up in the court of Louis XIV remain today; blockbuster ballets like ‘The Nutcracker,’ ‘Swan Lake,’ and ‘Giselle’ were choreographed a century ago and gendered roles of prince and princess habitually play out with men lifting and women being lifted en pointe. A ballerina dancing en pointe transcends, she floats but she does not meet her partner on equal footing.
The show simultaneously embraces capitalism and activism at once. Queens are both encouraged to build their own brands, while also engaging with the ostracism and trauma they have faced from their families and wider society. A tragicomedy ensues, in which persecuted queer men are made to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get on with whatever bizarre task to promote their brand is in front of them.
Picasso has not yet been honoured with a retrospective on his personal aesthetic, nor has the one-time Comme des Garçons model, Jean-Michel Basquiat. The Brooklyn Museum did though, have one on Georgia O’Keeffe, ‘Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern.’ Women’s work is still viewed through a different lens than men’s; their lives are more closely associated with their art, and their art is oft-seen as inherently more personal than their male counterparts.
Cohen favours indiscreet European luxury: Hermès ‘H’ belts, Italian tailoring, open-necked shirts. He wears clothes like sportscars wear their badges. In court he appears in suits, but prefers soft jackets with loud patterns, worn with loafers and jeans. In corporate law and finance, clothes are expected to reassure clients; you should present a successful business, but not flaunt your bonus. In Cohen’s line of work, lawyers talk, and dress, more like prize fighters.
There is today no stronger argument against the claim of Humanness in women, of Human Dignity and Human Rights, than this visible and all-too-convincing evidence of sub-human foolishness.
In one case the crown was lifted and swollen till it resembled the loathsome puffed-out body of an octopus; and this distorted bladder-like object was set on an irregular fireman’s brim – to be worn side-ways.
Christopher Wylie had an outfit. His whistle was directed not at a government, but its nebulous digital equivalent; perhaps it took someone steeped in the intricacies of personal branding to jam up the algorithms that governed it. Or was this persona too crisp, a meme more than a movement’s spark? Most whistleblowers dress to deflect attention. Daniel Ellsberg, the military intelligence contractor whose leak of the Pentagon Papers helped end the Vietnam War, rubbed elbows with flower children in a suit and tie.
Never, perhaps, have women been better coiffed: hair is waved, frizzed, braided, raised up into wings, brushed back and twisted into ropes … all with truly astounding art. The Parisian comb is the equal of the Greek chisel, and hair submits with greater docility than the marble of Paros or Mount Pentelikon. Would an Athenian sculptor or a Renaissance painter be able to arrange the hair with more grace, ingenuity or style? We think not.
Our relationship with clothing is not only aspirational and image led, a myth that spectacular exhibitions cannot help but propagate: it is cultural, sensory and embodied, and we, as everyday dressers, are also authors of fashion. However too often fashion exhibitions centre around visual engagement with the glamorous surfaces of fashion, rather than forge connections to the real world of senses and emotions. Does this emphasis on a particular kind of visual encounter limit the viewer’s capacity to engage with the garment as a locus of multi-sensory experience, the ways we feel in and feel about our clothes?