12 March 2014

Try It On

Power Of Witches
Nick Knight x Rei Kawakubo

I was recently speaking to a friend who had just visited Dover Street Market for the first time. She expressed her surprise at the fact that in visiting this store fashion suddenly became "real". It was something she could see in person, something she could touch, and something she could try on. These were not garments immaculately packaged and presented in the pages of a magazine, these were not garments photographed on the body of some celebrity or model, these were simply garments in a shop. And, like in any shop, she could browse as she pleased and pass judgement on what she liked and what she did not like. Fashion was demystified.

Fashion must necessarily be exclusive to exist as fashion, so the mystification of fashion is actually highly desirable. If it is popular and available to all, it is by definition no longer fashion. Fashion carries a complex cultural cache in our society, desirable for its own sake rather than its actual content (hence the insistence of the high street to try and gain the veneer of fashion, either through designer collaborations or rather absurdly presenting with catwalk shows at fashion week). I suppose almost all luxury items, whether expensive clothes or expensive paintings, have to contend with this reality. Yet given that it usually benefits the seller, it is hardly going to be discouraged on their part. The faster fashions change, the more important it becomes to construct this heightened mythic status, otherwise what will entice consumers to part with their money? 

I would argue that the in-built redundancy of fashion makes its demystification essential. Fashion is conceived as an exclusive ideal, but soon becomes passé, by which point it loses its symbolic potency. In order to understand fashion from the moment of its availability, we have to treat it much as we would treat it by the point of its redundancy - not as something exclusive, but as something common. If fashion only ever exists in the mind as something unattainable, distant and perfect, it is only ever an exercise of aesthetic admiration. But more importantly it is an exercise of aesthetic admiration where you have already elevated the status of the garment before you even look at it. It is a scenario played out in museums and art galleries worldwide. By virtue of being presented in a museum context the object is conferred an inflated cultural value. It has been chosen, it has been preserved, it has been put on display. People feel the need to look and admire, even if they do not actually like the object, and seem afraid to voice an opinion. 

Go to an art fair, where the relationship between viewer and object is based on commerce, and suddenly people are more than comfortable to be vocal with their opinions (the memory of a man walking through Art14, stopping in front of several pieces, saying “ugly”, then quickly moving on comes to mind). Removed from the hallowed museum setting, laid out for people to see up close, with decent lighting, and with the potential to actually purchase, and the dynamic is entirely different. Art is suddenly accessible. The elephant in the room is perhaps the issue of pricing - but that issue is made redundant when one actually sees the way visitors interact with the pieces at art fairs. Yes it is primarily window shopping, rather than actual decisions of purchasing, but that in itself is dramatically different to how people interact with art in a gallery.

I believe that the same process is evident in fashion when considered in a shopping environment. Fashion is consumed primarily through imagery, but in the shop setting the garment is made tangible. It is no longer an image, but an actual corresponding garment. Whether that garment carries the full potency of the image of that garment, especially once removed from its artificial cultural context (as presented in fashion imagery and on the catwalk) is of course debatable. Indeed to quote Yuniya Kawamura, "Fashion is not visual clothing but the invisible elements included in clothing". Fashion is manifested through clothing, but clothing can never embody the full extent of fashion. Fabric and thread are far too slippery mediums through which to express the intangible cultural symbolism of fashion, but that is not to say that at times they do not come close.

So we return to the shop setting. Fashion, in terms of its manifestation through the garment, is no longer some intangible symbol, but something very real and immediate - you can try it on. Bring fashion down from its pedestal as an abstract artistic expression, and to the garment itself, something you can wear and interact with as you wish, and suddenly your appreciation and value judgements change entirely. In the shop setting you can be ruthless in saying what you like and what you do not like, and I think that is an incredibly useful process when it comes to fashion. Garments, whether they cost and lot or a little, are there to be bought and worn. You are the one who has to wear it, so you might as well wear something you love rather than what someone else loves. But even if you are not planning on purchasing and wearing the garment, in actually seeing it in person and trying it on you gain an invaluable insight. 

Dress is an embodied practice, thus to only ever consider it in abstract is to necessarily have an incomplete understanding. In trying something on, in seeing how it feels and how it moves, you learn more than you ever can from seeing images or reading descriptions. I actually went and tried on a corset a few years ago simply to try and understand the full implications of wearing a corset. Of course that is somewhat of an extreme example, but the point stands - clothing is meant to be worn, so wear it and you learn more than just seeing a picture of it, or indeed simply looking at it on the rail. The more you try on, the more you understand, and that understanding allows you to make a more informed decision. Try it on, fashion is there to be worn.

1 comment:

  1. Hello. Sorry for my English (I use google translator)
    I think I'm in love with your blog. It is very interesting how you talk about fashion, I like what you say and inspire me.

    Greetings from Chile.