25 July 2012

A New Space

Fall/Winter 2000

Seduce Me
October 2010
Photographer: Craig McDean
Model: Lara Stone

The mind is situated within the body, and it is through the perceptive awareness granted by our bodies that we experience the world. With none of our senses operating, we cease to experience life in any real, which to say commonly understood, capacity. The body is our environment of self, yet this idea of the individual, of the self-contained self (as I believe Norbert Elias described it), is a relatively modern understanding. This contemporary body seems to exist in a state of constant flux, it is never quite finished - it can be trimmer, it can be more muscular, etc. And so we are made all the more aware of our own shortcomings, which are in reality anything but (I do not find perfection truly beautiful, humans are not meant to be perfect). Religion once provided a certainty of self, that the body was a mere vessel, and that meaning lay within the soul. However the self-contained self destabilizes this certainty. Where now lies the meaning? Where now lies the authenticity? And it is with an understanding of that uncertainty, or at least perceived uncertainty, that fashion can operate in a truly fascinating manner. 

I may touch a piece of silk, you may touch the exact same piece of silk, and though we may feel the same object, that interaction is entirely individual for each of us. The perception, the feeling, the memories, the emotions, they are all distinct. And yet there is something common to be found amongst that individuality if you know how and where to look. Situated as we are within a body, it is important to note that that body is almost always a clothed body. Dress provides the body with social meaning, but also personal and intimate meaning. The clothed body is seen by others, it is the envelope of self that we present to the world, but it also used to denote that we belong. Black tie at a black tie event, a suit for a job in the office, a football scarf at a football game, a wristband at a music festival. But it is also immensely personal - we dress, it is an activity rather than a function. We engage both mind and body - we consider what will make us feel beautiful, what will make us feel protected, what this certain fabric feels like against the skin, how comfortable these shoes will be for whatever activity we are about to undertake. 

So let us consider the perceptive awareness our bodies provide in the personal relationship between our selves and our clothing. The interstitial space between body and dress is one of the most important considerations for any designer. Clothing operates on a body, without one it does not work in its full capacity. Whether a designer chooses to work closely to the body to reveal, or work in such a way as to obscure the body, both approaches actually require a very precise understanding of the body and the way fabric will fall and drape against it. Knowing also how the body will feel inside the garment is vital. I have garments which look unremarkable on the hanger, but when I put them on, they feel just right. Finding that, that feeling of just right, understandably requires a designer who understands the importance of that feeling, and one who also understands the body. A garment can be cut in such a way as to feel just right on a single body, or on a number of bodies. The second is admittedly uncommon, but it most certainly exists, and it is there that I think true skill lies.

Above I have posted two examples of the way that dress can operate in such a way as to obscure the perceived naturalness of the body, and yet both highlight that one actually requires an innate understanding of the body in order to make that reality work. The perfect fit is something held as the greatest achievement of all. Perfect here is ordinarily considered perfect in that it highlights the naturalness of the body. A suit is apparently best if it fits the shoulders closely, slims the profile, provides a tall silhouette. A little black dress is apparently best if it provides a smooth line to the curves (of course they have to be the right curves). Whilst both require an understanding of the body, they rely on a very slight, and often static, use of interstitial space. The fabric follows the body, it follows its movements. It requires skill, it requires understanding, it feels comfortable.

But what if dress did not seem to follow the body? What if it created new spaces, new areas in movement, a fluidity and space both intimately linked yet vividly distinct from the natural body? New bumps, new curves, a new fit. I would argue that in order to be successful the designer would have to understand the body in just as comprehensive a way as the designer who yearns to highlight the perfect figure. They would have to understand how the body moves, how the fabric works against it, exactly how the body occupies the garment and how that dynamic interstitial space works between body and dress. Done correctly and the garment that creates a new shape or new curve feels just as right (if not more exciting?) as the garment that works in visual harmony with the shape of the body. The dialectic between body and dress in this instance becomes something that raises more questions. Why should the body look a certain way? Rather than using dress to adorn the body, why not approach dress in the awareness that you are the main adornment? Clothing does not provide beauty, it merely helps reveal it, but that does not mean it exists only in the body. The self is beautiful, and in creating an image that works with the body to create a new shape, the idea of beauty is perhaps displaced from the body and placed onto the individual.



  1. I like CdG's Lumps and Bumps. That collection is beautiful and humorous.

    But I don't understand these dresses.I can't write my feeling.

    Your essay was intresting as well.

  2. I found Yohji in your tumblr. What a kind smile!And Yohji and Rei they used to be lovers long time ago.Romantic.