As the service industry has taken over goods, the parameters of conspicuous consumption have also shifted. The ‘lifestyle experience’ is how architectural theorist, Brian Lonsway, describes the subtle aesthetic choices used to complement the interests of target consumers. And for spaces like Coal Drops Yard in London and Birmingham’s Custard Factory, where a creative, ‘edgy’ lifestyle is cultivated through its authentic-slash-heritage infrastructure, digital technology has been as essential as the buildings themselves. Embedded within these spaces then is a connection to the past and a lucrative, aestheticised placemaking that emphasises authenticity – an especially important factor in a digital, social media-driven age.
Ms. Fen, a wholesaler, has glossy black hair and nails. She is twenty-eight years old. When we meet, she pulls up in a white Aston Martin, pristine except for a crack on the right rearview mirror. She is wearing an assortment of beautiful clothes: distressed jeans, a négligée tank, a forest-green Chanel bag. She’s aware of what this all conveys. ‘People see me and feel envy. But they don’t know what I went through to get here.’
Fashion and photography share certain characteristics. Each claims the status of art, yet remains at its margins. The claims of photography have achieved recognition to some extent, yet photography-as-art constitutes only a small part of all photography. Fashion’s claim to artistic status remains contentious.
The street photographer, as opposed to a studio image-maker, engages with a working process that observes and captures events and arrangements of people, engaging with elements out of their sphere of control. New York-based photographer Joel Meyerowitz describes the actions of street photography as outward looking and observant, ‘as if we were fishermen in the stream of Fifth Avenue’, in contrast to the studio image, for which the photographer directs their energy inward, and it is therefore an introspective practice.
Fashion and architecture are both telling symbols of the personal, social and cultural identity of an age, reflecting as they do, the concerns of the user as well as the ambitions of the era. The primary function of both fashion and architecture has always been to provide shelter and protection for the human body, but where architecture arguably appears to always strive for progress, fashion can be both unashamedly nostalgic and ephemeral.