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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Political Facets of Fashion.

From the foreword  of Fashion Now 2: "...the items we choose to buy and wear are a reflection of our personal ethics and choices. ...It is not enough to know the source of the idea. ... ."  (p.28)  Briefly bringing to mind concerns of animal rights, environmental awareness, humane labor practices, and manufacturing ethics - this hefty but small book packs a big punch, brains and beauty.

I recently reread Fashion Now 2, published by Taschen and edited by Terry Jones and Susie Rushton - because one interview question particularly interested me:  "Can fashion still have a political ambition?"  To 160 fashion designers from around the world Fashion Now 2 offers a brief questionnaire. Not all answer the fashion-in-politics question and the reason for this is not evident... perhaps it was not included on all interviews, or some designers chose to avoid the question, possibly.  

Reading Fashion Now 2 the first time, the political aspects of fashion were not even clear to me.  However, the question's intrigue made it memorable to me... and I was reminded of it while reading a new post from Patricia Gaye Tapp at Little Augury (which you can read here).

Tapp's Little Augury post "Power and Style" introduces readers to one of her newest book selections - Power and Style: A World History of Politics and Dress, by Dominique Gaulme and Francois Gaulme - published by Flammarion.  Little Augury's review of Power and Style has me even more interested in the idea of political facets of fashion - hence, my second reading of Fashion Now 2 and its politically-related fashion inquiry.

From the book Fashion Now 2, here are a sampling of fashion designers' responses to the question:  "Can fashion still have a political ambition?"

Agent Provocateur (Serena Rees and Joseph Corre) - "At certain points in time fashion has been about joining a gang and the gang's objective can be political." (p.57)

Alberta Ferretti - "Particular styles in dressing can underline belonging to a group with a specific and identifiable ideology.  Only in that sense can we say that fashion has political ambition." (p.65)

Alexander McQueen - "Because fashion is so indicative of the political and social climate in which we live, what we wear will always be a symptom of our environment."(p.71)

Ann Valerie Hash - "Yes, to start with pants for women were a revolution.  To stop wearing the corset was also a new way to see women.  The best example is the tiny shoes that the Chinese women had to wear during the last century in order to get married - we used to teach them that small feet were more precious!" (p.85)

Antonio Marras - "Yes, of course!  Everything is politics: choose to wear a particular T-shirt, decide not to wear furs, broach certain matters.  Deciding how to live is politics." (p.91)

Barbara Bui - "Of course.  Fashion can convey declared or subliminal messages." (p.113)

Blaak (Aaron Sharif and Sachiko Okada) - "Fashion is a result of what is happening.  Hence political meaning can be decoded from what people wear, but not sure about political ambition." (p.119)

Boudicca (Zowie Broach and Brian Kirby) - "Yes - clothing throughout history has been used as a vehicle for Association/Revolution/Acceptance/Symbolism/Protest." (p.125)

Clements Ribeiro - "It is increasingly difficult to create and maintain a political stance as fashion is now such a big cultural/entertainment scene.  We don't believe the catwalk is a great space for political statements in our times, but outside of it, fashion can be a very cunning tool." (p.161)

C.P. Company and Stone Island - "I really hope so.  I will always defend respect, ethics and mutual understanding.  Fashion has to respect the individual and has to be ethical at every step of the supply chain." (p.179)

Dirk van Saene - "I am always skeptical about designers
(ab)using political statements in order to promote their product." (p.191)

E2 (Michele and Olivier Chatenet) - "Fashion is more a social message than political." (p.211)

Fendi (Maria Silvia Venturini Fendi) - "It should not - but it can because fashion has great power when it influences costume and society." (p.219)

Giambattista Valli - "Street fashion can have a political ambition, when it becomes a designer one, it is a moment after." (p.227)

Giorgio Armani - Yes, of course.  My notions of deconstruction were political in as much as I was advocating a change to the status quo - and I still believe that people should be allowed to be themselves where their clothes are concerned. (p.243)

Guiseppe Zanotti - For sure, fashion and art are instruments of communication and they throw out messages that can make a noise.

Hussein Chalayan - Fashion can be informed and inspired by political aspirations but to actually make it literally carry it  is in my view often contrived. (p.269)

Jens Laugesen - Yes, if fashion aims to relate to and reflect the world it evolves in and arrives from. (p.287)

Jil Sander - I see fashion as part of an ethic of the personal, which has to do with all the decisions, actions, and behaviour of a person. (p.297)

Katharine Hamnett - Yes, industry runs the planet and the fashion industry is the fourth largest.  How we design and consume fashion to an extent decides our future. (p.323)

Gary Harvey of Levi's - Absolutely, fashion should be political.  Clothing is a subliminal language that communicates how you want to be perceived, your personal identity is a political statement chosen each morning, be it 'boring conformity' or 'aggressive reactionary'. (p.237)

Hardy Blechman of Maharishi - Yes.  The media coverage it attracts means it can be an effective channel for expressing political messages.  Politically charged clothing can also help people assume their chosen political identity (for example, an environmentalist might wear hemp clothing and an anti-war protester might wear recycled military surplus). (p.341)

Marithe and Francois Girbaud - Perhaps not 'fashion' per se but the textile industry reaches everyone.  Buying and consuming are political acts.  It's easy to condemn Third World countries which produce at very low prices while we are the ones shaping that situation with our conquest or economic wars with napalm and guerillas. (p.361)

Mihara Yasuhiro - I think so.  Fashion is one way of expressing political beliefs and interests.  Everyone pays attention to fashion so it's easy to convey anything to people.  It's one of the privileges in fashion, I guess.  However I think fashion today is more concerned with business and a label is rated against its sales figures.  I think it's such a shame. (p.375)

Angela Missoni of Missoni - Fashion is mirroring women's condition, it talks of the freedom most women have on this planet.  It is a medium of expression and a channel of communication: the authority of fashion brands can be used to bring to the public attention crucial problems of our culture and society, to raise funds and to increase public participation. (p.379)

Richard Nicoll - Of course, but I think it falls on deaf ears.  Maybe to have a social conscience is not really in harmony with the essence of the fashion industry. (p.433)

Rick Owens - I've always seen fashion as a response, reaction or protest to social conditions.  I'd have a hard time considering it more... . (p.437)

Roberto Cavalli - I believe that fashion has partially lost its political ambition.  Just think about the difference between the folk fashion in the '70s and the ethnic trend of the last period: while in the past it meant a radical rebellion against the institution, nowadays it represents a charming journey towards unexplored territories in search of new vibes. (p.441)

Olivier Theyskens of Rochas - As fashion designers, we're obviously reacting to our environment (even if you're denying it by escaping reality).  Then we're expressing a certain point of view which can be considered as social and political. (p.445)

Rogan (Rogan Gregory) - Oh yeah, there has to be more to life than the daily rat race.  It's time to pay attention to what is happening around us.  The health of the planet and the people living on it is in jeopardy.  You can make a difference by what you choose to purchase and the lifestyle you choose to lead.  Why not choose to buy clothes made of responsible materials and manufactured by responsible people.  We have a responsibility to future generations to take care of the planet one step at a time. (p.449)

Sofia Prantera of Silas - I feel it is impossible to still make a political statement with clothes.  But you can make it with the way you run your business and portray yourself, if that counts. (p.453)

Siv Stoldal - Clothes are a very powerful way to communicate.  A designer's work ends up being worn on somebody else's skin and taking part in somebody else's life.  So political ideas can definitely be communicated through fashion by designers prepared to address them. (p.455)

Stephan Schneider - As all ideas in fashion are used by the mass industry to sell their products, the 'stop the war' T-shirts hang all over the high streets.  The message became a commercial stunt.  I guess every designer has the desire to reflect and influence our thoughts by his work.  This means politics to me. (p.467)

James Jebbia of Supreme - I think that it can, whether the message actually resonates with the people that you're ultimately trying to reach is another story though, at least here in America... . (p.473)

Valentino - (Valentino Garavani) Yes, because fashion gives work to so many people that it is a very important political power. (p.489)

Vanessa Bruno - Yes, I think there is a missing representation of women in the fashion world.  "Doll models".  Let's give them space to be real women. (p.491)

Vivienne Westwood - I look upon government as a one-way corridor, to facilitate the interests of business.  At the same time, the government tries to convince everybody else that this is good for them.  And so people are being trained by the media to be perfect consumers of mass manufactured rubbish.  The people who wear this stuff have bought the system, and their appearance demonstrates the fact that their brains have been removed.  I think it's important to make great clothes so that people can look individual, and not a product of mass advertising. (p.511)

Yohji Yamamoto - ... Art cooperates by resistance.  In this sense, fashion could have something to do with social ambition.  But political ambition?  I don't see it in fashion.  But, if fashion does have such ambition, I would describe it as 'freedom'! (p.521)

Stefano Pilati of Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche - I think it would be genius if we achieved that.  It would be a very mature step for fashion, to show that we can communicate something.  Personally speaking, knowing how much I put into my work, such as a spiritual sense of making clothes, or the thoughts I have around women's evolution, men's roles, society and all of that; why not exchange it?  Now could be a good moment to do that.  Benetton was probably the only one who broke those barriers because it had that really huge machine behind it. (p.527)

Zero Maria Cornejo - Fashion can provoke thought and discussion, and through uniforms provoke fear and repression. (p.531)

I woke up this morning, thinking of uniforms, the contrast of a bride's dress compared to those of her ladies-in-waiting, wigs worn by British Parliament, statement T-shirts, and the robes of clergy - and decided that yes, fashion certainly does have political facets - whether it represents higher authority, importance, protest, or representation of concepts.  Perhaps now you - will too - see the clothing you wear, as not just something chosen for protection or warmth - but a creation touched by many hands and proclaiming many ideas.