Modernity in Fashion

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  • Topic: Alexander McQueen, Fashion design, Fern
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When all that is Solid Melts into Fashion - fashion’s FLIRT with modernity DKDS // CDF // 2006

Two Papers on Fashion Theory

TWo PaPeRS on FaShIon TheoRy
When all that is Solid Melts into Fashion - fashion’s FLIRT with modernity Nikolina Olsen-Rule // External Lecturer, University of Århus // // Research Assistant // Danmarks Designskole // 2006


Ferns in Fashion - on the Logic of Trends Maria Mackinney-Valentin // Ph.D. Scholar // // Center for Design Research // Danmarks Designskole // 2006

ISBn 87-983504-0-4 side 

nikolina olsen-Rule // 2006

When aLL ThaT IS SoLID MeLTS InTo FaShIon

Figure. 1. From Alexander McQueen’s show, ”What a merry-go-round”(AW 2001-02). Photography:

nikolina olsen-Rule, external Lecturer, University of Århus Research Assistant // Danmarks Designskole // 2006

“From ‘heroin chic’ to Alexander McQueen, the distressed body of much 1990s fashion exhibited the symptoms of trauma, the fashion show muted into performance and a new kind of conceptual fashion designer evolved” (Caroline Evans 2003: 4) Several readings of fashion in the 1990’s stress the relationship between fashion and modernity. As the title of this paper suggests it is the connection between the rise of industrial capitalism and contemporary fashion that inspires the following reading.  But how can we analyse this bond between fashion and modernity and avoid re-telling the grand narrative of the twentieth century, and how can we use past-time to prope into now-time? In her article “The Greatest Show on Earth”, (2001) Ginger Gregg Duggan argues that avant-garde fashion in the 1990’s has a strong similarity with performance art in the 1960’s. One of the characteristics of this type of performative or theatrical fashion is that it appropriates the techniques of conceptual 1960’s art performances. One thing to bear in mind however, is that fashion, no matter how artistic it may seem, is a commercial affair 2. True, it is often hard to differentiate between fashion and art, but we must separate the artistic staging of fashion from the clothes and apparel sold in the shops. It is precisely the staging, the acting out, the performance or the artistic branding that I will discuss in the following. But first a clarification of my interpretation of fashion as a search for, and a reconstruction of a “spectacular” and “modern” self-image. As Charlotte Andersen points out in her book about fashion photography Elsa Schiaparelli’s unconventional and conceptual fashion from the 1930’s can be interpreted as a way of inscribing the body in the symbolic language of culture. Thus it is not a question of fitting the clothes to the “natural” body, but fitting the “body” to the clothes (Andersen 2006:

174-175). Put differently, the modern perception of self and identity is strongly connected to visual conceptualization and stylization of the self. From a theoretical point of view then, we can approach fashion as a material matter that sculpts the body and set of ideas that shape the self. Accordingly, in the current interpretation I do not interpret the body from a biological and physiological point of view, but rather view it on a more abstract and metaphorical level. This is why I find the notion of fitting the body to the clothes a suitable illustration – because it describes the strong ties between the modern sense of identity and representational and image-related practices. Furthermore, I find it fruitful to follow Caroline Evans’ method, of segueing into the past in order to understand what it means to be modern in the present and how fashion can be seen, in this context, as an interface between humans and their surroundings. Although clothes cannot talk, they carry stories and memories in the form of traces and shapes that are to be unfolded and reshaped by the contemporary interpreter. Hence, the conceptualization of the cultured body...
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