In Slowness Milan Kundera, the Czech writer, remarks that ‘there is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting’. In the fashion system this bond seems to take on a particularly poignant meaning, with the degree of velocity often appearing directly proportional to the time it takes to forget a style that just moments ago it seemed we could not live without.
The speed of change is a growing complaint about fashion, both amongst those whose livelihoods depend on it, and amongst those who observe these ceaseless shifts from afar. Grumbles about a ubiquitous acceleration are nothing new however; in fact, the grievance we appear to harbour against velocity is as old as modernity itself. Back then the machines that increasingly replaced the human hand aroused fear and trepidation; today our attitudes reflect much the same ambivalence towards the revolutions of time. It seems we always regard our own time as simultaneously the most progressive and the most relentlessly accelerated. The modernist project, however, firmly rooted the relationship between progress and speed, and in so doing also forever altered our notion of time. A universal temporal framework, with time zones, seasonal changes and accurate clocks, was constructed with the help of new technology, and the previous more subjective understanding of time had to make way for expedience and the hustle of modern life. With a more synchronised understanding of time, the future also became easier to grasp and, by extension, to control. For a future that can be measured in terms of the knowable present, is a malleable future, a future that can be shaped according to our will.
With the advent of modernity, past, present and future came to be understood as a linear evolution, and the ‘temporal architecture’ that philosopher Krzysztof Pomian refers to in L’Ordre du Temps turned into an implicit and integral part of the experience of being modern. Sharing the same chronology is tantamount to sharing a similar basic understanding of the world, but we must not forget that time is a social construct. The sociologist Norbert Elias and the philosopher Michel Foucault have both argued that the modern ‘disciplinary society’ attains its power by the establishment and internalisation of set structures of time, and chronopolitics are consequently a potent tool for domination. In other words, those who arrive first, win.
In terms of fashion, the depreciation of the past in favour of the present is what keeps the wheels of the system turning. Fashion aims to always be ‘of the moment’, but to do so it has to disown its own past. The seasonal changes in fashion that we today are so familiar with, are an old fabrication. As early as the seventeenth century, Paris fashion was organised according to the seasons in order to further French trade and economy. A more regimented system came into being in the early twentieth century when haute couture shows in Paris became organised into biannual fashion weeks, signalling for creators as well as consumers of fashion that the old had to make way for the new.
Fashion scholar Aurélie Van de Peer has written about ‘the temporal anchorage of fashion’ and points out the relationship between the terminology of time and the degree of fashionability of a garment. The aesthetic judgments we make on ‘out-of-date’ fashion tend to be strong, and terms like ‘passé’ and ‘old-fashioned’ are often used as potent tools for ridicule and scorn, symbolising as they do, a past that is no longer relevant. Similarly, idioms like ‘modern’ and ‘of the moment’ are employed to evoke the present, the moment that in fashion terms is the most desirable. We know of course that, as Elizabeth Wilson writes in Adorned in Dreams, ‘the “now” of fashion is nostalgia in the making’ – perhaps this is why a disingenuous term like ‘timeless’ has such cachet in fashion circles. But no matter how much we try and convince ourselves that eternal style is possible, in fashion the past is forever haunting the present. Fashion depends on perpetual movement – onwards, forwards – and in so doing, it must renounce its own history. In the vernacular of fashion, the most stinging insult that can be levelled at anyone is belonging to a past no longer relevant; derisively aiming this judgment at a rival is a way of establishing your own superiority. To be passé signals the demise of a fashion professional.
The politics of time are a significant device for separation; it creates a purposeful schism between those who dominate and those who are dominated, between us and the Other. As the sociologist Hartmut Rosa has pointed out, the ones who lead are, as a general rule, those who understand speed. In fashion, as in everyday life, temporal strategies like keeping someone waiting, changing the rhythm or jumping the gun are often cause for strife, as anyone who has ever waited for a show to begin, had their idea copied and produced faster by a competitor or been compelled to endure an interminable presentation by an important patron can attest.
The philosopher Paul Virilio talks of a ‘rushing standstill’, which seems to describe contemporary culture well. The cult of speed can sometimes feel overwhelming, but in the cracks of the system, a slower, more reflective pace is gaining traction. Whereas Virilio’s phrase appears aimed at a heedless velocity that despite its speed will forever return you to your starting point, slowness by contrast allows you to advance at a pace that encourages contemplation and observation. To be slow is far from remaining static; instead, slowness is a temporal notion that prioritises the journey over the destination. In this world of instant gratification we sometimes forget that speed is not a virtue in itself, nor is it to be confused with success or efficiency or happiness or accomplishment.
So, allow yourself to be idle, to dwell a moment, to delay and iterate. Use your hands to make something a machine could make much faster. Look for the beauty in the impermanent, the imperfect and the incomplete. Take your time. Because, as the writer Rebecca Solnit once so succinctly put it, ‘Time always wins; our victories are only delays; but delays are sweet, and a delay can last a whole lifetime.’
Dr Michelle Bastian, Laura Gardner, Dr Susan S. Bean, Dr Donald B. Kraybill, Nathalie Khan, Karinna Nobbs, Professor Barbara Vinken, Karlijn Slegers, Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada, Nilgin Yusuf, Professor Frances Corner, Dr John Barker, Anja Aronowsky Cronberg and Maria Fusco
Flash Fiction by
Lydia Davis, Giacomo Leopardi, Junichiro Tanizaki
Anja Aronowsky Cronberg
Polly Brown, Edward Steichen, Louise Riley, Mark Borthwick, Ying Yan Quek and Justine Kurland
Art edited by
Erik Hartin and Moa Pårup