Separating the art and fashion worlds from each has become increasingly difficult in contemporary culture: fashion, which has long been a borrower of imagery from art, is also used as material for artists to critique the commercial and social values it represents. With fashion being the thriving image marketplace that it is, there is always an abundance in appropriated or re-contextualised images.
Against an over-saturation of images and information, our aesthetic judgments are complicated by the coexistence of ‘beauty’ and ‘ugliness’ within contemporary fashion. At this intersection emerges ‘good-bad’ taste, identified here as an eclectic montage of formal qualities that evoke past and traditional imagery otherwise rejected as faux pas – fashion ‘don’ts’ – revived in the present and celebrated as beautiful.
Is there a space between the construction of fashion and its otherness? Fashion photographer Mario Testino implicitly investigates these questions in his book Mario de Janeiro Testino (2009) by exploring the myth of the exotic, undressed bodies performed by contemporary Brazilian fashion icons.
Fashion photography is often criticised for presenting visually disturbing images as eye candy, and, as Caroline Evans has pointed out in Fashion at the Edge, undercurrents of violence or pornography has regularly been seen in both fashion advertising and editorials since the 1990s.
A quick online search for fashion internships and you will find ‘dream jobs for fashion divas’ alongside ‘fashion intern horror stories’ as top search results. Unpaid fashion internships have gained notoriety as a critical – and highly coveted – first step to engagement with the fashion system.
Given its infancy in the world of academia, fashion studies still shows signs of a discipline in the making, measuring and comparing itself against the long tradition of critical thinking in subjects such as art and architecture. With this in mind, we can in fashion theory often find a reliance on certain key figures. One such figure is Roland Barthes, whose name reverberates throughout the field.
That fashion is constantly on the move, shifting and changing as soon as we think we have a firm grasp on what it is telling us, is nothing new. But rather than being a pointless sign of debauched times, as its critics would have it, we could argue that the role of fashion is instead to hold a mirror up to our culture.