25 March 2013

Collective Traces

Junya Watanabe
Autumn/Winter 2013

"Fashion debunks the dream of a total history and totalizing narratives, it overtly flouts the demand for any clear points of origin, any closure, telos, or coherent and ideologically logical resolutions, owing not only to its penchant for ceaseless recycling but also to its patently anti-chronological admixture of past and present, the old and the new."
Alexandra Warwick & Dani Cavallaro, Fashioning The Frame (Berg: New York, 2001)

A constant stream of information assails us from all directions, all places and at all times. It has come to destroy the notion of a singular grand narrative, giving rise instead to theories of fragmentation. Fragmented histories, fragmented stories and fragmented experiences. This sense of fragmentation is paradoxically upheld as the embodiment of individuality, whilst simultaneously creating and defining small groups of outsider others. Fashion relies on this fragmentation, for it allows it to constantly reappropriate, recycle, recombine, simulate and imitate any number of past references in its desire to define the moment. It seeks in this way above all to escape its own inevitable demise, living ever in the present, but yearning for eternity.

Designers dream of being able to create fashion that transcends the idea of time, which is to say, transcends the very idea of fashion itself. For to be outside of time would render it necessarily outside of the moment, and thus the ephemerality that defines fashion becomes instead something far more constant (and ideally eternal). So here we find the paradox that so many designers face, for how does one work within the cycle of fashion, but create something that stands outside that cycle? Fashion has arguably become the very thing art strove to be, a visual representation of the current zeitgeist, but the downside is that this inevitably locks it into a process of requiring ever-constant change. Can this need to always change and the desire to exist outside of the cycle of fashion ever be reconciled?

Fashion assimilates the past in such a way as to make it obsolete, for nothing is out of bounds, instead it all becomes instantaneously present. And so it is with dress, where we pull together so many disparate pieces hoping to present some notion of a complete image, a complete fragment of self, for this very moment. The body is no longer a fixed constant, but rather an envelope in constant flux, and this is reflected in dress. It is not about what is there, but rather of the possibilities of what could be there. And this process of reflexive self-creation is enacted for all to see. The Cartesian world-view states that a person lives two parallel histories: one that happens in and to the body, and one that happens in and to the mind. The former happens in public, the latter happens in private. Dress mediates between private desires and public expectations, allowing us an avenue to attempt self-representation.

Dress may be our social (public) skin, but it also comes to bear signs of our actual physicality too. Indeed we yearn for those traces, for they attest to a relationship far more meaningful than allowed to us by the majority of habits today. They hark back to some romanticised notion of the past where the very functionality of the dress becomes the crux of its contemporary aesthetic beauty, and to an idea, not of eternal history, but of an individualised sum of personal experiences. The creases, the folds, the fraying, the fading, all attest to the presence of the individual body and its individual movements. The garment becomes a visible envelope of self in such a way as to hold up our individuality for all to see even in the absence of our actual bodies.

It is this desire that leads men and women buying a pair of raw denim jeans to wear them for six months or longer without washing, and thus creating in those creases and patterns of fading an authentic marker of self as opposed to the mass-produced factory finishes that simply ape the ageing process. For we have become a society of fast fashion, fast production and even faster consumption. Nobody has the time to allow a garment to age gracefully with wear, it must instead be pre-distressed and pre-aged, ideally (rather comically) in as authentic a fashion as possible, in order to fulfil our desire for instant gratification. This faux ageing means we are not tied down, not invested in any real way with the garment, and thus may discard it with utmost speed as soon as the next fashion comes along. We all know that feeling of not being able to throw away a much-loved and much-worn garment, but these days it is a rare occurrence.

The allure of vintage (second-hand) clothing is that it already bears these traces, these fragments of history made visible upon the cloth, in an authentic manner. It appeals in particular to the young, for they have not yet had the time to form such a relationship with any garment of clothing (considering they were children for the majority of their lives, and as such their bodies were ever-growing). You pick up a garment already worn, already aged, not made to look as such in the factory, but authentically so. It holds a talismanic quality - an object with its own rich history, its own story, and it represents all our romantic notions of the past. It is a fragment of the past which we resurrect much in the same way as the fashion designer. But it is seen as ostensibly more valuable than what the fashion designer does, because it is actually from the past, not simply a simulacrum.

The designer who perhaps best explored this idea was Martin Margiela, whose use of second-hand clothing quite literally exposed the process of fashion (which was rather absurdly translated into the H&M collaboration of replicas). However the idea does not necessarily require authenticity in the form of aged materials, and indeed it can quite happily exist within the paradox of fashion. Take for example a designer such as Yohji Yamamoto, who wishes he could design with cloth that is already a decade old. For him it is the traces of age, the traces of time and the traces of death that are most fascinating. History becomes for him a collection of individual experiences rather than a grand narrative, and it is actually in that individuality that its personality and allure lies.

Alternatively consider the Junya Watanabe collection posted above. It is an undoubtedly romanticised view of migrant workers, their clothing patched, adorned with mismatched buttons, all alluding to age and wear. The metaphor becomes one not only of the beauty of these collective traces of history, but here the very newness of the garments, and their obviously aged look, highlights fashion's constant recombining and recycling of fragments of history to create something so very much of the moment. New? Yes, but that is surely the point.



  1. I see,I did not notice these fashions are sophisticated version migrant workers.I love patched jacket! Coordinate of stripe shirt and socks ,roll up trousers are so cool.

    I always find word I never encounter in your essay.Fun and study time!

  2. I really appreciate this outlook on worn clothing. I do tend to veer towards the clothes I've "broken in" so to speak. Maybe that's a result of growing up in ballet and knowing that my attire/shoes were never properly functional until they'd been properly broken in and aged.

    Also: I have a very very very belated birthday card sitting on my desk for you. It will make it to the mail eventually. I promise.
    Hope all is well.

  3. Love your blog!



  4. This sounds just and amazing collection of Men's wear with the perfect designs and fabrics, love this styles.
    custom fitted dress shirt

  5. i'm always amazing by his designs.. the layers are what get to me.


  6. Watanabe's use of patches on the coats were interesting. I like the loose pants in rugged fabrics.

  7. Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts! SizeGenie is your personal body scanner. Quickly and accurately take your measurements so you always get the perfect fit when buying clothes online. Body-Cloud is the creator of SizeGenie, with a Kickstarter campaign on the way aiming to change fashion shopping for good.