In May 2013 the Fashion Praxis Lab hosted a book sprint on the topic of fashion and politics at Parsons School of Design. The result, The Fashion Condition, is available at Amazon.com, and also here as a pdf: FashionCondition-web.
Some of the co-authors at the sprint offered some insights into the discussions:
Why is fashion powerful today? It is a smart industry that understands the human condition of our society, intuitively. The human condition of our current society is capitalism, it is based on fear, division of labor, division of the people, low self esteem, being in service of capitalist mode of being. It triggers our desires and promises to fulfill them by ever changing and effective marketing strategies. It feeds into our sense of low self esteem , it promises fame, ‘being seen’, being important, being better then anyone else, if one is in the know.
Where does fashion exist? between us, between you and me, on my body, between our bodies, in the commons. the abstract fashion only exists in my head.
Otto von Busch
How is fashion political? It concerns us all, but we have very limited control and influence. As we delegate the means of fashion to the system or industry we give away our autonomy and influence on fashion, and we come to rely on the proxy-choices offered to us through the economy. We consume media and we buy ready-to-wear. These mechanisms of delegation are abstract to us, not too unlike how we transfer power to parliamentary democracy. But we do not have equal votes.
Who makes fashion? Everyone. Fashion is not exclusive, but fashion should be retaken, renowned.
When did you personally experience the power of fashion? I come from a city where people who do not follow certain style paradigms are considered guilty, because they are seen as displaying arrogance and superiority. Expressing oneself through clothes is not contemplated or accepted – especially for men, who are very subdued. That meant that while growing up I was always extremely self-conscious and I had to defend my fashion choices constantly. There were times where I gave up on my favourite clothes because I felt the social pressure was too strong. At the same time, it also became my form of resistance, my armour.
Where does fashion exist? In plain sight. In the unnameable. In language, in sound, in form, in ideas. In gesture, speech, inflection, intonation, suggestion. In the concrete, the theoretical, the symbolic. Fashion is noun, verb, adjective, simile, metaphor, preposition, paragraph, essay, manifesto, experience, narrative, propaganda, comedy, tragedy, beginning and end. It is both imagined dreamscape and lived reality.
What can fashion do? Fashion is not an isolated process or object but a tool to identify possibilities for provoking thought and questioning accepted patterns and choices. We all wear clothes and attach individual associations and different forms of ritual to the clothes we wear. What do these reveal about how we use clothing in our interactions and communications as a society? Perhaps to begin with that the essence and potential of fashion is not only in the clothes but in the nuances that emerge and the story they tell through wearing them. Fashion shows us a history; evidence of activities, interactions and transactions in our society.
Is there a case study you find inspiring in relation to fashion and politics? I spoke with Kerry at Junky Styling for a couple of hours, when I was in London recently. Junky Styling were recently used as a case study in a high school in the UK. They have always inspired me, and I would love to be able to research, document and offer such case studies e.g. in a high school in the U.S. Becky Earley and her colleagues of TED’s Ten offer another valuable case study. Also inspiring to me are individuals like Natalie Chanin, and others with small businesses who are very motivated and have taken ideas, developed their projects, and made an impact through sharing them. I’m also reminded of Becky Earley’s exhibition at Craft Council; Well-Fashioned: Eco Style in the U.K, held at the Crafts Council, London, 2006. It included Amy Twigger (Keep & Share) and Kate Fletcher.
Why is fashion powerful today? Because it signals self-authorship and individuality and one’s identity. It is not only exemplified in the pages of Vogue or on the runway in NY… it is also in the Latin communities in the Bronx, young people on the beaches at Coney Island – the new hipsters in Harlem, the migrant communities of Bed Stuy. It is what I see as a margin to the center conversation of style.
What makes fashion political? Fashioning – making something – becomes political when the action of making is connected to more than one person, whether through collaboration, control, etc. As business and as an industry it is inseparable from the economy, and thus it is inherently political. To design the cheapest possible t-shirt is a highly political act, because it involves the suppression of another (or many others, in fact), whether knowing or not.
More participants of the sprint: Christina Moon, Adrienne Perlstein , Sophy Naess