20 September 2011

Airborne

Fall/Winter 2011








Estragon: We are happy. (Silence.) What do we do now, now that we are happy?
-Samuel Beckett, Waiting For Godot

Barthes argued that with fashion we yearn for the represented image, but all we end up with is the used garment.  It is the image that sells.  If we are indeed what Susan Sontag labels us as, 'image junkies', than this is hardly a surprising state of affairs.  The postmodern consumer was taught to believe that they should use commodities, or rather the symbolic meanings of those commodities, to construct their identity.  Fashion was there to mark individualism, and yet the paradox of fashion is that it means that one at once belongs to a wider network, and yet is simultaneously believed to be individual.  Individuality is allowed provided it conforms at some level - there is such a thing as too much individuality, especially where fashion is concerned. 

The idea of constructing identity through symbolic consumption is something we are all sold.  And yet what you end up with in many cases is a constantly shifting visual exterior, an expressed identity that changes every season, or indeed every week, with nothing substantial behind that façade.  In and of itself it risks becoming entirely vacuous.  Identity can be deconstructed and constructed again continually with (fast) fashion, it becomes a fully fluid notion, without any sense of permanence or, more importantly, coherence.  You can not only severe yourself from your own past, you are even encouraged to do so.  It is symptomatic of the (post)modern age that identity is no longer fixed, and although Foucault would argue that it is about inventing yourself rather than finding something already there, I find it a bit of an uneasy notion.

The consumer continually looks for their dream object - the perfect pair of jeans, the perfect black sweater - but it most often ends up being a disappointment.  It is an incredibly common feeling, to buy a garment you think will be everything, only to find out that it isn't.  You thought you were done, but you end up yearning for something else.  You yearn for something infinite, but will usually end up disappointed.  It is the perfect consumer for our contemporary market.  The German Romantic Friedrich Schlegel argued that one who desires the infinite does not really know what they desire.  And I believe this rings true for many consumers - not actually knowing what we desire.  Indeed it was one of the major motivations for purging my wardrobe and starting from scratch.    

It is perhaps unsurprising then that the idea of uniform is something that interests me greatly.  Not necessarily in its most literal incarnation, but rather the concept of uniformity of style.  Something understated, something subtle, something clean.  If it draws too much attention, it is perhaps not appropriate to the situation, and perhaps not natural to you.  I would rather wear something plain but well considered, something simple but luxurious, something subtle but beautiful.  A uniform, in the sense of style rather than a rigid dress code, is something I actually find quite liberating as a concept.  It allows one to create a coherent and personal visual identity that breaks away from the all too common cycle of dramatic and frenzied change that I find so needless.

That is not to say that one can not follow fashion, or dress according to the zeitgeist.  Indeed dressing consciously outdated or decidedly unfashionably still requires an awareness of and engagement with fashion, and often seems more costume than dress.  Rather having some sense of uniform, however broad, enables one to filter through the new and find what is relevant to express some sense of their own personal identity.  Of course it can be argued that human nature means that we will always yearn for more, but I think that being more aware of what you want (I hesitate to use the word need) in terms of clothing will always make you the better for it.  I suppose you need to have a good idea of what it is that you desire in order to seek it otherwise you will inevitably end up disappointed.

The reason I decided to post images from the Fall/Winter 2011 Patrik Ervell collection (I was not particularly impressed by Spring/Summer 2012), was because of Ervell's exploration of uniform.  His formula is admittedly strict, but I think it is a good example of a designer who has developed an aesthetic quite organically to produce something subtle but alluring.  There are many designers who have a coherent design model, that is to say not trend-based, however I thought Ervell was a good example for its ease of wear.  His work does often remind me quite strongly of Branquinho or Schneider, but strict originality (or to put it another way, uniqueness) is not particularly of concern here.  Rather I am fascinated by the quiet sophistication of these looks.

Simplicity is always interesting because it makes up the building blocks of any look.  In this sense I think a simple garment will always have a greater dexterity of meaning than a visually complicated garment.  By choosing a context of your own choosing you may ascribe your own meaning.  You choose how to wear it and where to wear it.  By comparison, a visually complicated piece will often dominate any look and provide quite a similar meaning regardless of context (I would argue that this is also the case with 'iconic' pieces, such as a particularly popular and recognizable handbag).  I would not avoid them, but I would approach them with caution, for even though there can never be a singular fixed meaning for any garment, there is still a popular, if transient, meaning for many.  I would much rather wear something seemingly understated than overstated, because it is easier to add to a look than to pull things back.

In terms of meaning and symbolic value, I say ignore the marketed image if it does not apply to your purpose.  A garment or look can only ever have some deep meaning because of you and what you bring to it (whether it be you aligning with the meaning that the designer tried to express, or something wholly individual).  It is the reason people can so easily point out a 'fashion victim' - they are people who wear something without regard or thought.  I'm not looking for something infinite, I'm looking for clothes that best suit my desires and, why not, my needs.  It is a constant journey, and should be, because to come to the end of that journey would simply beg the question - what next? 


xxxx

5 comments:

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