21 April 2011

Home, Sweet Home

(photograph by Giovanni Giannoni)

"I'm Turkish.  My family has been living there all their lives.  And...I should feel Turkish, but [...] I don't feel I fully belong there."

Umit Benan
Spring/Summer 2011

Fashion is not created in a vacuum, it is created within a specific cultural and institutional framework.  If one looks at fashion as part of the sociological production of culture, its status as fashion relies heavily on the production of its value as such from external structures.  The modern fashion designer is usually seen as both manufacturer and trendsetter, however they require a specific institutional mechanism to transform their cultural good from design (or indeed, clothing) into fashion.  Describing the system of British fashion design, Angela McRobbie used the analogy of a dress held up between two pillars - the first is that of art schools, the second is that of fashion publications.  Clothes need to be legitimized and disseminated in order to constitute as fashion.

A designer may showcase a collection, however in that specific moment the clothes do not exist as fashion, but rather simply as design.  In order to become fashion, that is, as its definition of a cultural good, it needs to be transformed into that through acknowledgement and broadcast by a third party.  Of course where the idea gets complicated is when the public relation teams and press agents of designers get involved - would Hedi Slimane's collections at Dior Homme have had the cultural impact that they did without the cultivation of an image as produced by his press team?  Generally speaking however it is the fashion media which creates and promotes the idea of fashion to the public.  In an age where the majority of people relate to fashion through imagery rather than actual garments, the intermediary role of the media can make or break a designer.

Trends are implicit to our contemporary understanding of fashion, and indeed one notes that trends and fashion are terms that are often interchangeably used.  Trends are created, or at least formed, through a variety of channels, however are often formed from the catwalk.  Yet one has to take a few steps back to really get the full picture, and this is where trend forecasters and the textile syndicates play a huge role.  Textile tradeshows and certain high profile trend forecasters hold a huge sway over the fashion industry, although it is often not mentioned - perhaps to keep the untainted vision of the designer as auteur?  That is not to say that designers are not original or personal in their creativity, however outside influences certainly play a role within the wider framework, and it is has a noticeable effect on the work of a certain few larger houses that come to mind.

These days it seems that my posts are not complete without at least one reference to Yohji Yamamoto, and in this instance I find myself relating to his disdain for fashion in terms of surface decoration and material consumerism.  Trends and the cultural production of fashion in themselves are entirely vacuous and meaningless.  Specific to the moment however, within those, one can find examples of good design and clothes made with thought and meaning.  I seem to gravitate to that which is outside the mainstream, not out of conscious rebellion, but rather in search for something with that greater meaning, which many designers strive to create. 

I think one such example of this type of designer would be Umit Benan, who for his Spring/Summer 2011 collection returned home, finding inspiration in his Turkish roots, starting with the way his father used to dress.  Benan was not only exploring a facet of his own identity (as he does every season), but was trying to understand the identity of masculinity itself.  In interviews he says that the Umit Benan man is someone like himself, a global citizen, but also one entirely comfortable with their masculinity.  Although that idea sounds simple when one hears it, I think it is a complex and arguably intangible notion.  This collection was however Benan's interpretation of that notion, and one with which I could relate.

In terms of the dissemination of fashion, I do wonder where a collection such as this lies.  Being such a personal collection, and one that is highly localized in terms of geographical style, it is harder to package and broadcast as fashion into the mainstream.  Whilst a collection such as Damir Doma's Spring/Summer 2011 collection (click here for my review), which also had strong Turkish, as well as Ottoman, roots, is perhaps easy to classify as avant-garde by the media, and so sidestepped by the mainstream, Benan's collection was not exactly what you could classify as avant-garde.  It was traditional, it was personal, but I think it was new and exciting.

Collections that fall outside the Western canon are often problematic in terms of the legitimization and the institutional production of fashion.  However I think that is actually a strength.  It is not a collection which is hot for the moment then quickly forgotten and dated, but rather something that can be appreciated and in doing so, understood.  For me it is a clear personal expression from Benan, sincere in its vision, and one I both respect and can relate to.  You can keep your fashion and trends, I'd rather take this any day.



  1. Roots is a way of showing how things are kept..maybe like a fine wine.

  2. I so enjoy your commentary on this one.

  3. I really didn't know of this influence. Thanks for posting about it.

  4. You may have touched on where some designs go off course when they lose that cultural touchstone.

  5. Very awesome entry. I love their paper boy hats!

  6. Your style of writing is beautiful. It reads perfectly. No jolts, no malapropisms and no awkward sentence structures.
    An interesting topic to write about as well.
    Thought provoking. It makes me consider what the definition of a designer actually is... but thats an entirely different matter!

  7. i adore that second man the older gentleman how very dapper

  8. Great blog!