Category Archives: LINKAGE

About Face (Burcu Buyukunal)

A headshot of a woman with a piece of jewelry --a single wrought wire-- worn around her head and face.

A headshot of a woman with a piece of jewelry --a single wrought wire-- worn around her head and face.

I’m a little fascinated by these subtle, face-altering jewelry pieces by Turkish designer Burcu Buyukunal. I do often like work that allows us to consider the effects of disrupting the certainty of the face — whether for communicating (“face-to-face”), for truth-telling (“tell me to my face”), for identifying (“I need to see your face to make a positive ID”), or for simply “making beautiful.”

(Found at I’M REVOLTING, photos by Arthur Hash)

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LINKAGES: Maquiladoras Enchant Rodarte and Fashion Pretends Technology Is Not Its Friend

I’ve been working at a frenetic pace lately trying to toggle between researching and writing a chapter on the relationship between fashion, creativity, and copyright (from a critical race and gender studies perspective, naturally); responding to queries about our exhibition on the fashion histories and practices of women of color (such queries are increasing so YAY!!); and playing Julie the cruise ship director for our impending family trip (we are not going on a cruise).

All this is to explain why this post is full of links rather than original writing. If I had the time to blog, I’d finish this post about Rodarte’s upcoming Fall collection, inspired by the maquiladora workers in Juárez, Mexico. (I have to admit that I missed the news on this collection and only caught up with it when a link showed up this weekend on my personal Facebook wall to a blog post on Oh Industry. So thank god for social media doing its thing!)

As Nicole Phelps from Style.com explains, the collection came to the Mulleavy sisters (the design team behind Rodarte) as a brainstorm while on a recent roadtrip from El Paso to Marfa, Texas:

[A] long drive from El Paso to Marfa, Texas, got them thinking they might like to explore their Mexican roots. From there, they became interested in the troubled border town of Ciudad Juárez; the hazy, dreamlike quality of the landscape there; and the maquiladora workers going to the factory in the middle of the night. And that, according to the designers, who certainly know how to romance a pitch, led to this conclusion: They’d build a collection off the idea of sleepwalking.

While it is frequently speculated that the Mulleavys were attempting to comment on the mass murders of maquiladora workers along the Juárez border with this collection, their message clearly did not telegraph. Consider the ways in which luminaries from the runway show describe the collection (see video below).

Glossed over by the fantasies of fashion (consider the descriptions by Glenda Bailey and Nadja Swarovski in the above video: enchanted forest, the modern American fashion spirit) are the harsh physical and economic realities of the thousands of maquiladora workers who provide the hidden labors of globalized fashion and the hundreds (some argue, thousands) of women who have been murdered between Tijuana and Juárez. (For more about maquiladoras, check out Vicky Funari and Sergio de la Torre’s documentary Maquilapolis.)

I know Mimi would have a ton of smart things to say about this collection as well as Rodarte’s forthcoming collaboration with MAC on cosmetic products inspired by their latest collection, which was inspired by their depoliticized aestheticization of maquiladoras. Beginning on September 15, 2010, customers can purchase lipsticks called “Ghost Town” and “Sleepless”; lipglass called “del Norte”; eyeshadow called “Bordertown”; and nail polish called “Factory” and “Juarez” (and there’s more). Addendum: Looks like MAC is backing off maquiladora-chic: see here and here.

Mimi already has several posts in her draft queue for when she returns from her much-deserved vacation but I’m hoping she’ll have a few choice words about this collection as well. But for now,  why not revisit her crazy smart post on a related topic on the tangled complex of race, gender, labor, and fashion representation in Background Color?

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As anyone who peruses the fashion media complex with any regularity knows by now, luxury fashion designers and companies have both praised and vilified new media communication technologies for democratizing or massifying (depending on your perspective) fashion.

Here are two recent pieces on fashion’s vexed relationship with technology. The first is Amy Odell’s blog post called “The Recession Has Forced High-Fashion Companies to Use the Internet” and the second is an article in the New York Times titled, “High Fashion Relents to Web’s Pull” . . . “Forced” and “Relents” – ha! – as if the fashion elite hasn’t already benefited enormously from the free labors of bloggers and other social media types who deftly use these technologies. Sigh. So much to post and so little time.

Ok, see you next week when I get back from week-long vacation from thinking about work (hopefully)!

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LINKAGE: “Lessons from Fashion’s Free Culture”

One of our fabulous readers, Emily Kennedy (who also blogs at A Radiant Mephit) just tipped me off to Johanna Blakely’s TED talk called, “Lessons from Fashion’s Free Culture.” Like all TED talks, Blakely’s talk is informative, accessible, lively, and quick. After cataloging the “magical side effects” of the “copying culture” of fashion (including the democratization of fashion and the acceleration in creative innovation), Blakely concludes with a question about the relationship between creativity and ownership:

The conceptual issues are truly profound when you talk about creativity and ownership. We don’t want to leave this just to lawyers to figure out. [Y]ou want an interdisciplinary team of people hashing this out, trying to figure out: “What is the kind of ownership model in a digital world that’s going to lead to the most innovation?”

The answer for Blakely, of course, is fashion. But how digital technologies increase creative innovation is a different question, I think, than asking how digital technologies increase freedom (creative or political). In other words, Blakely’s “free culture” is only free in limited ways and in fact, can produce unfreedoms in the process.

I began drafting another post having quite a lot to do with that question so it’s absolute serendipity that Emily clued me into this TED talk! While I finish writing that, check out the video.

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Friday I’m In Love (With Your Blog)

I completely love this drawing from Hark! A Vagrant, a series of historical comics by K. Beaton, in large part because my girlfriend has tried on at least three of these looks (sometimes in the space of a week). Also, historical comics! Oh, Internet, you make working on my manuscript revisions, tapping away on this computer for sixteen hours a day, slightly less painful. Here is more proof of your glory!

There’s such smart commentary going on right now about Lady Gaga and whose gender and sexual deviance gets to be understood as performance “art,” and whose is read through racial or otherwise Other-ed “truth.” Isabel The Spy observes, “lady gaga is allowed to play at being grotesque because it’s understood that she is making a choice to be grotesque; fat, non-white, or otherwise atypical bodies already belong to the realm of the grotesque. the choice is made for them. whether it’s as unfuckable (fat women, women with visible disabilities) or inherently sexualized (black and Latina women) or some weird combination of fuckable but not sexual (asian women) or just grotesque and unworthy (trans women).”

This (and the continuing debates raging across the fashion blogosphere about cultural appropriation) reminds me all over again of Minh-Ha’s citation of what Nirmal Puwar describes as “the universal empty point,” which white female bodies are able to occupy precisely because their bodies are racially unmarked: “[Thus] they can play with the assigned particularity of ethnicized dress without suffering the ‘violence of revulsion.’”

Revisiting the question of “vintage color,” Jenny at Fashion for Writers shows Beyonce some mad love. In it, she cites a post called “Retro and Race” from Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing and another called “Retro Styles and Gender Play” by Latoya Peterson at Racialicious. I’m just gonna add that Jenny looks smashing in high-cut playsuits! I’m sort of wondering now if I should send her my red suede leather shorts…

Tiger Beatdown’s critique of the recent New York Times Magazine profile of M.I.A. is epic: “Is it really that surprising that a performer, signed to a major label, wants attention? Is it surprising or exceptional that such a person has money? Is it surprising that a person subjected to constant scrutiny from millions of people has crafted a public face, a version of herself that she puts on when she’s being observed by strangers that is noticeably different and more suited to mass consumption than the one she wears when she’s alone, or with her husband and child, or with her best friends? And: If you were trying to get attention at all costs, if you were coming up with a fake personality that was guaranteed to garner acceptance and approval from the largest possible number of people, would ‘radical woman of color allied with militant groups’ really be the one you’d pick?” Also check this piece from Change.org called “Who Gets to Define ‘Sell Out’? MIA Meets The New York Times.” Seriously, of the two I pick MIA over the newspaper that featured Judith Miller’s parroting of the Bush administration’s claims that Iraqi WMDs threatened us all.

I’ve also been following The Seventeen Magazine Project, an experiment by Pennsylvanian high school senior Jamie Kelles to spend one month “living according to the gospel of Seventeen Magazine.” Well-written and wry, I’m enjoying her often bemused efforts to comport herself like the supposedly “normal” American teenaged girl found (or more accurately perhaps created) in this magazine. Here’s her rules: “I will read the entire June/July issue of Seventeen magazine from cover to cover. Every day I will utilize at least one ‘beauty tip’ (hair/makeup/skincare/whathaveyou) and one fashion tip. I will follow all diet and exercise tips provided in the issue to a T. I will participate in every activity recommended by the magazine (i.e. host a fright night, score your hottest summer hookup ever, be confident in a bikini, etc.) I will apply for every single ‘freebie‘ offered by the magazine, every day. I will consume all media recommended by the magazine at least once. (books/movies/music) I will hang all provided pictures/posters of ‘hot guys’ in my living environment.”

A Dedicated Follower of Fashion notes that the all-too-common fashion terms “tribal” and “ethnic” are referentially empty (“What exactly are they describing?”), while also politically overburdened.

Meanwhile, Jessica Simpson claims that filming her VH1 series The Price of Beauty felt like “missionary work.” This may seem a far-fetched and ludicrous claim, but it does follow from historical precedents set by Western women journeying into “darkest interiors” to both study and “civilize” native peoples through the documentation and reform of indigenous corporeal and sartorial practices.

Racialicious’s Latoya Peterson ponders both the myth of “hybrid vigor” and the continuing salience of colonial mappings of beauty and ugliness in her examination of the New York Times‘ article about model-scouting in Brazil. Hysteria! delves further into the uses of anthropological knowledges for such scouting missions. Furthermore, “It’s old news by now that patriarchy, racism and classism work together, but it’s rarely illustrated so clearly: racist hiring practices in the fashion industry both prevent women of color from accessing career opportunities open to white women (which could, potentially, offer a better financial situation) and make white women less likely to view their own exploitation as exploitation (after all, this is an elite field they should be grateful to even be in, right?).”

Julia at A La Garconniere has the coolest and smartest friends ever, dammit. Does she exert some sort of gravitational pull that finds her in the midst of a constellation of awesome people? (She is pals with artist Teresa Chang, maker of the zine Dykes and Their Hair, as well as the women behind American Able.) Here, Julia’s friend Iris Hodgson guest blogs on cultural appropriation and in particular style blogger Gala Darling, whose signature sign-off is “Love Letters and Feather Headdresses, Gala xx.” Good grief. Hodgson points out that, “The hipster headdress is perceived by others as being ‘fierce’ or ‘exotic’ or ‘creative’ or ‘bohemian’ at the same time that Indigenous people who might want to dress similarly would be perceived negatively for doing so.”

Meanwhile, Racialicious correspondent Andrea Plaid tackles the insidious racial politics lurking behind a teacher and principal’s expulsion of a young black girl from an advanced-placement classroom, because “her Afro was making [the teacher] sick.”

From Shake Paper, a tumblr subtitled “Smash the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy,” this smart rebuttal to some of the more familiar responses to critiques of cultural appropriation:

Why, for example, are people of colour speaking English and wearing “western clothes?”, you may ask. In many cases, COLONIZED countries were forced to adopt the culture of the colonizer while their own culture was violently removed. Residential schools, for example, forced indigenous children to speak English, adopt christianity, and were forced to wear European clothes and adopt a European culture. Therefore, it is important to understand the history of colonialism and to understand that what you see as a parallel act of “cultural appropriation,” is really the product of colonialism. To equate those things is to deny the historical and continued violence produced by colonialism, and it is also a huge reflection of privilege.

Forced assimilation does not equal the appropriation and the commodification of another person’s culture. Furthermore, forced assimilation does not have to be as black and white as putting people into residential schools, but it can also be an epistemic and ideologically forced assimilation such as “business suits* = a necessary uniform to gain access into the white collar workforce,” therefore, in turn, what this also produces is the idea that the “native dress” of someone else’s culture is devalued and “uncivilized.” Therefore, in order for a person of colour to have a white collar job, they must then wear a business suit.  We have the social and cultural understanding that “business suits = employment,” but we never interrogate where that comes from and what that means.

Let me just say this,

White supremacy works so that white privilege goes unnoticed.

And on that note, don’t skip out on Julia’s call for critical fashion lovers to be more deliberate and strategic: “i think we, as critical fashion lovers, need to think about and share more productive ways we can challenge oppressive systems when we see them at work, wherever we see them happening. if you have any suggestions, now is the time to share them.” Thoughts? My response, in her comments,

Great post as ever, Julia. I think one of the things we have to do you’re already doing, which is making “fashion” legible as a tangled complex of industrial-capital-state imperatives, underpinned by colonial and imperial structures as well as gender and sexual maps for making meaning, that together operate to determine not just how we as individuals wear our clothes or bodies, but that also dictate how we as social beings are assigned degrees and tiers of value and humanness via our clothes or bodies. The cultural appropriation debates are a perfect example of how these macropolitics are brought to bear upon the micropolitics of a hipster in a headdress. This is hard, hard work, as you know.

A black-clad Asian woman and "critical fashion lover" prepares her Molotov cocktail for the fashion-industrial-state complex.

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LINKAGE: “‘Not Our Demographic': American Apparel Denies My Existence”

This Gawker-made collage features images of long-haired and half-clad models from American Apparel advertisements.

I am in my early 20’s. I will wear stupid pants. So will just about everyone else who is my age. Stupid pants are an important part of human development. By not catering to the enormous market of plus-sized/fat/whatever young people, American Apparel, the INDUSTRY LEADER in stupid pants (not to mention stupid shirts, stupid shorts and stupid nipple-baring leotard things) is missing out on a lot of money.

What irks me more than their hard-headed stupidity, however, is this insistence that fat people are not “part of their demographic.” What does that even mean? That fat people can’t be hipsters? Trust me, fat people are just as capable of being vapid, superficial and pretentious as any thin person. We can forgo bathing, smoke lots of cigarettes and dress like hobos. I’m verging on morbidly obese (according to the oh-so-legit BMI scale), and I had an ironic “hobos and Mormons”-themed 18th birthday party. Two percent of my ample MacBook Pro harddrive space is taken up by the entire discography and an extensive bootleg collection of Manchester indie gods the Fall. I complain on a regular basis about the negative turn country music took in the 1980’s. I dressed up as Jean-Luc Godard for French class when I was 15 years old. Pretentious and superficial? I’ve been there and back again.

This amazingly awe-inspiring excerpt is from “‘Not Our Demographic': American Apparel Denies My Existence,” by Lillian Behrendt, who blogs at My Unacceptable Body: A Fat Acceptance Blog. (Hat tip to The Rejectionist.) For the recent Gawker investigations into American Apparel’s hiring practices and standards for employment (including lists of banned garments and shoes), see here for internal e-mails and contracts discussing these. We’d like to add, as Renata Espinosa points out, that many retailers have some version of a dress code (and even a corporeal one) for their employees, and that this is a broader problem of sartorial profiling.

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LINKAGE: “Holographic Fashion Memories,” Irenebrination

If you already used Google this morning, you’ve probably noticed that today’s logotype is dedicated to the 110th birth anniversary of Hungarian-born electrical engineer Dennis Gabor, the winner of the 1971 Nobel Prize for Physics for his invention of holography and famous for his researches on high-speed oscilloscopes, communication theory, physical optics and television.

Gabor carried out his first experiments in holography – at that time called “wavefront reconstruction” – in 1948.

The engineer continued experimenting further in this field for years: the first respectable results were achieved in the early 50s, but the goal was still far away.

Twenty years later, electron and optical holography finally became successful also thanks to the introduction of the laser that amplifies the intensity of light waves.

Holographic techniques were often applied in fashion to create futuristic effects on clothes and accessories (though the very first experiments with these techniques were dubiously tacky…).

The most amazing application of holography in fashion remains the vision conjured up by video maker Baillie Walsh during Alexander McQueen’s Autumn-Winter 2006-07 catwalk show.

As the catwalk ended…, lights dimmed and a holographic twisting cloud of smoke generated inside a glass pyramid turned into a dreamy image of model Kate Moss wrapped up in an ethereal and billowing dress.

The spirit-like vision disappeared again after a short while, poetically vanishing in the darkness.

The effect was probably one of the most moving ever seen on a runway.

–Anna Battista, “Holographic Fashion Memories,” from the truly wonderful art and fashion blog Irenebrination: Notes on Art, Fashion, and Style

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LINKAGE: “The Lobby for Abu Dhabi, An Essay By Carrie Bradshaw” (Muslimah Media Watch)

The women in Sex and the City 2 enjoy their expensive Abu Dhabi resort with requisite Arab manservant.

Recently, Ms. Bradshaw traveled to the Emirates for a glamorous vacation with a few pals. Here, she recounts her thoughts about her time in Abu Dhabi.

As I sit here in my sparkling new genie shoes, I am in a post-vacation glow. It was easy to become overwhelmed with the glittering luxury of our suite in Abu Dhabi, the cocktails, and the shopping. Upon returning from my trip, I could not help but be overwhelmed with a bit of patriotism. I have always been the greatest fan of this tiny island of Manhattan, but our trip to Abu Dhabi got me to thinking about sexism in the Middle East.

Underneath the burqa of fabulous glamour, we saw a whole lot of oppression of women in Abu Dhabi. Between the drab black and the lowered gazes, gender norms in the Middle East could do with a bit of a makeover. After all, even though we don’t exactly have equality here, at least our oppression can strut down Fifth in couture. I wonder what can change for women in the Middle East. Is oppression a timeless classic, like my Chanel dress, or do we toss it completely, like Charlotte’s paint-stained Valentino? I have a few ideas myself, and these are things that I think can help spin an old classic into a funky modern hit.

– Excerpt from “The Lobby from Abu Dhabi, An Essay by Carrie Bradshaw,” a satire of Sex and The City 2 (2010), by Sara at Muslimah Media Watch. See also the MMW roundtable review of the “orientalist boogaloo” and Latoya Peterson’s Sex and the City, Just Wright, Gender Bonding, and RomCom Fantasy Worlds” at Racialicious.

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LINKAGE: John Waters’ Fashion Advice for “Functional Freaks” (Flavorwire)

John Waters sits for his portrait, white plastic sunglasses i full effect, an old-fashioned salon hairdryer lowered over his head. Photo by Dudley Reed.

Get on the fashion nerves of your peers, not your parents — that is the key to fashion leadership.

From John Waters’ new 2010 memoir Role Models, in “John Waters’ 10 Best Pieces of Advice for Functional Freaks,” Flavorwire

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LINKAGE: Black Fashion Museum

Not too long ago to an artist friend of mine, I was wishing out loud that there were more exhibitions exploring the fashion histories of non-white and non-upper class American women. Recent exhibits like “Night and Day” and  “Fashion and Politics” (both at the Museum at FIT); “American Woman, Fashioning a National Identity” (Costume Institute); and “American High Style: Fashioning a National Collection” (Brooklyn Museum) are wonderful but they emphasize, if not exclusively focus on, white women of privilege. Non-white fashion exhibitions (like many cultural exhibitions) often explore the histories of style and dress of Asian or African women outside of the U.S. – leaving any mildly inquisitive viewer to wonder if Asian American and African American women have all but been wiped out from the national archival imaginary?

That’s why I’m so happy to discover the Black Fashion Museum Collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Robin Givhan has a lovely review of the exhibit that’s well worth reading in full but I want to highlight an important point Givhan makes about the significance of these collections.

So much of the African American experience is stashed in basements and attics. That hidden history is in danger of being washed away by the enormity of another Katrina or even a trifling family rift. Ever since 2005, when Lonnie Bunch III was appointed director of the Smithsonian’s soon-to-be-constructed 19th museum, he has been scouring the crawl spaces of this country for the garments, the tools, the furnishings that will make the past real.

The day Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger, she had been sewing this dress.

Created in 1958, this debutante gown was just one of more than 2,000 one-of-a-kind wedding and coming-out dresses created by pioneering African American designer Ann Lowe in the 1950s and 60s.

Museums and other archival institutions typically display the extraordinary rather than the ordinary, the First Lady’s inauguration ball gown rather than her J.Crew shorts. But because of the implausible convergence of racial, gender, sexual, class, and language barriers that confront non-White and working women, their lives and their accomplishments were not deemed extraordinary in their time. The material evidence of these lives not considered important enough to save or to study. Museums and other archival institutions that privilege white middle and upper class women’s experiences collude in the ongoing marginalization and erasure of the material cultural histories of minoritized American women.

Fortunately, exhibits and collections like the Black Fashion Museum, as well as blogs like Fashion for Writers, b. vikki vintage, and The Renegade Bean are doing some of this work, demonstrating the extraordinary in the ordinary. To cite Mimi in her post on the politics of race and vintage in an outfit post by Meggy of Fashion for Writers: “To me, it feels like Meggy renders visible the historical absence of Asians and Asian Americans in American popular culture as fashionable bodies –and through fashion as contemporaneous bodies– and also corrects this absence in creating another archive through which we might imagine otherwise.” (See also this post on Renegade Bean.)

Now that the Library of Congress has seen fit to archive the digital ephemera of tweets, why not archive the sartorial ephemera (the material, visual, and textual fashions) strewn throughout the crawl spaces, basements, and attics of non-white and working families?

A curated collection of non-White and working American women’s fashions across key periods in American history. . . how great would that be?

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LINKAGE: Cheap Chic Craze

In the summer of 1988 in Linköping, Sweden, I bought what I believed to be the most fabulous cropped – to the midriff! – acid washed jean jacket that ever existed from a trendy store called Hennes & Mauritz.  While popular among the Swedish kids I knew, it didn’t have the global cultural cache H&M does today.

But why does this ABC news feature piece about the Swedish retail giant portray cheap chic consumers as crazy, irrational, hordes of women (or animals, as one observer describes them) who get whipped up into a frenzy in the proximity of discount prices and conversely, cheap chic producers as rational, methodical, cost-conscious business people (led by one very rich man)?

(ABC doesn’t allow video sharing – click here for video – but there are plenty of YouTube videos depicting cheap chic consumers in much the same way. I recommend turning the volume down on this video of a French H&M below.)

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