Before there was Clinton swag, there was Obama swag. Before there was Obama swag, there was Kerry swag. Whom are these items trying to convince? Do we purchase a Hillary Clinton T-shirt to show solidarity, or to build our personal brands? Do designers create them because they will change hearts and minds – or to reassure themselves that their industry has a role to play in their nation’s critical decisions?
If fashion ‘wants to kill’ its practitioners, that’s because it epitomises capitalist innovation at its bare essence, consisting of the sort of change that is only for the sake of the system’s survival. Fashion is what is left when all pretence to consumer utility or social improvement is stripped away. The sacrifice of perfectly useful goods to the ever-shifting demands of fashion is a kind of corrective purge, an obliteration of what the philosopher and writer Georges Bataille called ‘the accursed share,’ clearing the field so that capitalism’s competitive mechanisms and requirements for endless growth can continue to function.
The luxurious tactility and visual appeal of silk provide a striking contrast with the panic room Nessa, the star of 2014’s The Honourable Woman, sleeps in every night. It is in this room that Nessa’s layers of identity are removed to reveal her fears and secrets.
The classic model is a known prototype in the modeling industry, underpinned by a discourse of enduring youthfulness, a woman whose image embodies an ageless beauty, rather than an ageing reality. These classic models appear in high fashion representing an aspirational agelessness; they are called upon to fill stereotypical roles for older women. This creates an impossible standard, one out of reach without external interventions, such as cosmetic surgery, which plays on insecurities of looking old to sell to the older market.
Set in a white, upper middle-class environment in New York City, the series follows the life of best friends Will Truman and Grace Adler, a gay lawyer and a straight, Jewish interior designer, and their friends Jack McFarland and Karen Walker, a flamboyant failed actor and a socialite with a penchant for drinks and pills who works as Grace’s assistant to escape her motherly duties. As expected, fashion is central to the characters.
The first TV show to feature a transgender protagonist, Transparent’s protagonist Mort, and her transition into becoming Maura, sets into motion a process of self-reflection, dialogue and exchange for the Pfefferman family, who find themselves in the situation of having to reconsider and rebuild their relationships with themselves, with each other and with the rest of the world. Their wardrobes reflect these drastic changes in an organic way: sartorial transitions correspond to the characters’ life transitions.
While initially the difference in ‘UnREAL’ between those dressing for the part – the reality TV show contestants – and those who dress them for the part, the producers, is quite clear, as the series progresses the boundaries become more loose, and the characters’ ethical concerns – or lack thereof – are reflected in their fashion choices.
Calvin Klein’s heritage as a brand that attempts to push the boundaries with controversial, sexually-explicit advertisements has seemingly made a return this season with a campaign that serves up a well-worn narrative of ‘men act, women appear.’ The agenda of the brand’s new Spring 2016 campaign is clear: the trope of woman-as-objects sells, particularly through the lens of the campaign’s gritty, filmic aesthetic. It might sound like something we’ve heard before, but the reaction to the campaign – which, amongst other images, sees model Kendall Jenner presented as a collection of Polaroid body parts – has been alarmingly docile, prompting us to reignite the discussion since it’s hard to believe so little has changed when it comes to the portrayal of women in mainstream fashion media.
The story is an old and familiar one: young, upstart outsiders take on a sedate and conventional system and turn it on its head in the name of authenticity, edginess and cool. Popular culture thrives on this narrative, and in the fashion industry this storyline is a well-worn one. ‘Real’ fashion is thrust, from the street, upon the unsuspecting bourgeoisie, and the bourgeoisie go potty for it.
‘You have to be relevant’ – thus spoke Suzy Menkes in a recent interview. But while Suzy Menkes remains one of the most publicly celebrated fashion journalists, is hers still a significant voice?
If the placement of an object within a museum’s archives is enough to make it a relic, the Juicy tracksuit is now ancient history; having been filed alongside the ‘real’ clothes at the V&A, California’s pinkest cover-up turns iconic. As much a part of history-for-her as the Wonderbra or the Pill, its immortality is assured. Less vaunted by far is its earliest, starriest stockist, the LA store Kitson, whose reputation is as the primordial soup-bowl of do-nothing fame, and whose seventeen American outlets were shuttered this January.
There is a tendency, across fashion exhibitions and publishing, to portray the fashion designer as a creative genius. The ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2015, for example, emphasised its demonstration of ‘the extraordinary talent of one of the most innovative designers of recent times.’ Such a depiction positions the designer outside the realities of the fashion system, as a uniquely autonomous figure of otherworldly measure: as god, or king. While this mode of representation may be customary, even habitual, it is deeply misrepresentative of the designer, and the contemporary fashion system in which their work resides.