Monthly Archives: January 2010

New Wave/New Look

The staples of my graduate student wardrobe were striped t-shirts, black skate shoes, a red Members Only jacket, and a haircut given to me by a middle-aged Korean lady who didn’t much flinch when I asked to look like a boy. But, as The Stains snarled, “Do you wanna be a professional?” And can you appear to be one if you are costumed as a post-punk No Wave/New Wave androgyne?

From the classic Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, The Stains perform “Join the Porfessionals.”

Formed in 1976, the legendary X-Ray Spex featured the amazing Poly Styrene on vocals. Here’s “Identity.”

Mo-Dettes were an all-female punk band formed in 1979 by Kate Korris, an original member of The Slits and brief member of The Raincoats. Here they perform their first single “White Mice.”

Formed in early 1978, check out Swiss band Mother Ruin, and their video for “Dreamy Teeny.” (For more like this, check out the truly awesome archival resource for women in punk called Dear Diary.)

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Filed under FASHION 2.0, FASHIONING RACE, FASHIONING THE HUMAN, WIRED FOR THE WEEKEND

Why I feel guilty when I don’t blog

There are buckets of reasons why I’m glad Mimi is my on/offline writing collaborator and dear friend – but surely top among them is her capacity to deliver much-needed kick-in-the-ass motivation from thousands of miles away. At least that was the effect of her two previous blog posts for me this morning.

I’ve had a bit of blogger’s block lately — but it isn’t for a lack of topics to write about. For example, I’ve been following the news and campaigns about fashion philanthropy (specifically, the Fashion Delivers campaign for Haiti and the LA Times‘ piece on Dress for Success) and wondering how much the overstatements about fashion’s capacity to “empower” and “save,” while no doubt commensurate with the prevailing lifestyle politics of neoliberalism in which consumer power is made co-extensive with political power, is also a kind of false bravado that betrays fashion’s own inferiority complex about its social significance.

Add to that, Angela McRobbie‘s admonition (also bouncing around in my head lately) that fashion “colludes in its own trivialization.” Here’s the full quote from the essay, “Fashion Culture: Creative Work, Female Individualization”:

In the absence of a lobby of policy-makers arguing vociferously on behalf of this autonomous sector, and for them to have access to low-rent urban retail spaces such as market stalls, lanes, corridors, and other cheap locations, when designers do find themselves in difficulty they are judged by a model which deems them simply unviable and the fashion press fatalistically announces another fashion label going out of business. Despite the profusion of fashion magazines, the expansion of the fashion media including television, and the appearance of academic journals devoted to fashion, there seems to be no coherent map of the field, which in turn encourages government to rely on simplistic accounts. In this sense, fashion lets itself down and colludes in its own trivialization.

In 2002 when McRobbie wrote “Fashion Culture,” fashion bloggers weren’t nearly as visible as they are today, so she didn’t mention them or any other members of the “creative proletariat,” like online and print magazine editors who finance their own publications. But like independent fashion designers, many bloggers and editors are being edged out by the corporatization of the cultural economy as well. It is increasingly difficult — almost untenable — for independent designers, bloggers, and editors to sustain their cultural projects without some form of material or immaterial corporate sponsorship (i.e., a feature story in a giant media outlet like the New York Times, affiliate marketing, direct ad sales, banner advertising, etc.). All of the social media outreach events planned for the upcoming Fall 2010 New York Fashion Week which, as Mimi puts it, are “aimed at cultivating new contacts and nurturing existing collaborations between fashion bloggers and captains of industry” attest to this.

Fashion and style bloggers understand that the support (material and immaterial) of fashion giants like the Chanel company, Marc Jacobs, or Vogue brings with it an enormous amount of cultural capital that can launch them into the stratosphere of fashion/media. And I certainly don’t begrudge the fashion blog elite the corporate love they’ve received — we’ve considered and continue to consider different strategies of monetization like speaking gigs, consulting, and commissioned articles. (Though we’re not opposed to advertising, the opportunities we’ve been presented with haven’t been right for us yet.)

Fashion bloggers and social media discourse celebrate — quite automatically now — the independent, DIY, and democratic spirit of blogging. Consider this quote about blogging from Jennine Tamm Jacob (The Coveted) in the video Mimi re-posted:

It was something that I could do. I could just set up a blog myself and I could write about whatever I wanted . . . it was just me doing my own thing and I found that to be really liberating.

But in understanding the cultural and political economies of the fashion blogosphere, it’s important not to gloss over the fact that computer-mediated communication technologies and digital labor are deeply embedded in capitalist logics.

My 3-part blog post on the state of the fashion blogosphere has had many iterations — a pocket-sized and abbreviated version appears in Style Sample Magazine, issue 5, and there’s a revised and expanded academic essay I’ve been working on as well. In the expanded essay, I point out that the new digital work order in which fashion bloggers labor is shaped and limited by capitalist logics. For example, the structures of digital temporality (i.e., timestamps, the organization and archiving of posts in reverse chronological order, etc.) continue to naturalize and positively secure capitalist valuations of productivity, punctuality, and accumulation (of symbolic, cultural, and material capital). Working overtime (if we can still use that concept in the “flexitime” of digital temporality) is de rigeur for fashion bloggers, especially because their productivity must keep pace with the accelerated rhythms of the fashion-beauty complex organized and driven by the capitalist logic of the New/Now. In other words, the spirit of capitalism and its ethic of dogged and steadfast productivity permeate the digital creative labor of fashion blogs even when that labor is “free” (that is, both free from the 9-to-5 workday/workplace and also unpaid).

So while digital technoculture scholars and fashion bloggers alike celebrate the Internet for enabling the flexibility of work and work hours, it may be that we no longer need the external regulatory mechanisms of the Industrial Age (i.e., factory clocks, etc.) because in the Digital Age, we are self-monitoring and highly multi-tasking subjects whose body, image, and time — commodified as cultural goods — are produced, distributed, and consumed in a global cultural economy that is unprecedented in its pace and efficiency.

It’s little wonder, then, why I’ve been feeling guilty about not posting! And I’m hardly alone — consider how many and how often bloggers apologize for their lapses in posting. Such guilt illustrates the affective economies of digital capitalism as well!

As a salve for this capitalist guilt, I have to remind myself that I’ve been highly productive offline — writing chapters at a maddening pace (for me) and loving (most) every minute of it. All free creative labor, but nevertheless . . .

I have to admit, though, it hasn’t been all work for me. I’ve also been quite distracted and all dreamy about Julie Wilkins’ London-based label, Future Classics, which I’ve only just discovered! (How did I not know about their deconstructed jersey deliciousness and their diaphanous silken wonders until now??) Now, should they want to collaborate on some affiliate marketing . . .

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Filed under FASHION 2.0, LABOR AND THE CREATIVE ECONOMY

Queer Feelings, Gender Presentations

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting links and excerpts from other blogs on questions of queer and non-normative gender presentations. I’ve mentioned before some of my own concerns about the unreliable stories clothes tell, and in recent sweeps of the interwebs, I’ve stumbled across some usefully provocative ruminations and truly engaging conversations about bodies and clothes from queer quarters that I’d like to share. (This, as I contemplate a new haircut I can make into a pompadour.)

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Filed under (AD)DRESSING GENDER & SEXUALITY, FASHION 2.0, FASHIONING RACE, FASHIONING THE HUMAN

Conferencing Fashion Blogs

This has been making the rounds of late, and it seems like a good moment to revisit Minh-Ha’s three-part series on the phenomenon of the fashion blog (which begins with this introduction). Presented at the PREMIUM Exhibitions panel on fashion blogs, the video features Suzy Menkes, Yvan Rodic (Facehunter), Jennie Tamm (The Coveted) and Julia Knolle and Jessi Weiss (LesMads) each providing their own perspectives on the rising influence of the fashion blogosphere.

Fashion Week in New York City is going to be puh-acked with events aimed at cultivating new contacts and nurturing existing collaborations between fashion bloggers and captains of industry. The Chictopia 10 Social Influence Summit suggests something of these efforts to woo the on-line set: “The Chictopia 10 Social Influence Summit is where global online taste makers meet executives from premium brands. This half day conference and cocktail party will feature CEO presentations and high level discussions on what forces are most influential in online brand image.”

Is everyone either looking for, or hoping to become, the next Fashion Toast or Sea of Shoes with their design collaborations with corporate sponsors, or the next designers’ muse, like Bryan Boy and Style Rookie? What should we make of the increasingly intimate and immediate address between consumer and corporation? I cannot wait to hear from Minh-Ha what she thinks. Meanwhile, Independent Fashion Bloggers is hosting its own fashion blogger conference, called “Evolving Influence.”

_______________________

I am saddened by the news that radical historian Howard Zinn (1922-2010) has passed away. A People’s History of the United States (1980) should be required reading for all high school students, and I take to heart his words on being a teacher: “From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than ‘objectivity’; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.” He will be missed terribly.

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LINKAGE: “Fear of a Black Venus”

I’m thrilled that my friend and colleague Isabel Molina Guzman has entered the blogosphere with Color (Re)adjustment, an extension of her valuable scholarship on race and representational politics. In her words, Color (Re)Adjustment (an homage to the late great filmmaker and educator Marlon Riggs) hopes “to disrupt the burden of representation by stepping outside of a commitment to respectability; to move conversations outside of the confining dichotomy of the positive and negative image debate.”

Her thoughts on the mind-boggling controversy over Venus Williams’ tennis shorts at the Australian Open are absolutely right-on. That some commentators might believe or suggest that Venus Williams would perform without underwear in a global arena –examining closely, and inviting others to do the same, photographs of Venus’s backside to try to discern exactly what they might (or might not) be seeing– seems continuous with long histories of discourses and practices of scrutiny and surveillance aimed at black female bodies.

In Spectacle of the Other Stuart Hall writes, “Representation is a complex business and, especially when dealing with ‘difference’, it engages feelings, attitudes and emotions and it mobilizes fears and anxieties in the viewer, at deeper levels than we can explain in a simple, common-sense way.” So I ask you, in a world where women tennis stars are paid millions to wear as little as possible on the courts, what is underlying the public hysteria surrounding Venus Williams 2010 Australian Open outfit, an outfit that she designed for herself under her label?

It appears that the spectacle of the black female bootie threatens the spectra of upper-class respectability surrounding the predominantly white sport of tennis, a sport that has only had two black elite female stars in the last 20 years — Venus and Serena Williams. What I find truly humorous and troubling is that tennis fans and the mainstream media find it plausible that one of the world’s best women’s athlete would actually go on international television flashing her butt and vagina. What does this say about the contemporary representational status of black urban femininity and sexuality?

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LINKAGE: Healthy Nails, Ethical Fashion


Beauty is so often classified as a health concern –consider the layout of drugstore aisles, after all– but just as often there is little to no awareness of unhealthy conditions for the industry’s laborers. That’s where the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative breaks new ground. Literally a collaboration between nail salon workers and owners, non-profit and community organizations focused on labor and environmental and reproductive health and justice, the Collaborative “uses policy advocacy, research, industry advocacy outreach, and education strategies to address health and safety concerns facing these communities [nail salon workers and owners, cosmetologists and their clients]. Our mission is to advance a preventative environmental health agenda for the nail salon sector in California.”

The Collaborative offers loads of information about their campaigns for environmental and labor justice. Here’s more about the health and safety risks for the beauty industry’s labor forces, who are mostly women of color:

In California and throughout the United States, the beauty industry is booming. “Mani and pedis” are all the rage as customers want to be pampered with the latest nail designs, colors, and styles. Over the last twenty years, nail salon services have tripled and cosmetology is now the fastest growing profession in California.

Currently there are approximately 115,000 nail salon technicians in California, and most are women of color. Of these women, 59-80% are estimated to be Vietnamese immigrants, and more than 50% are of childbearing age. Many nail salon workers can earn less than $18,200 a year and work in conditions that can be hazardous to their health.

On a daily basis, nail salon workers handle numerous solvents, glues, and other nail care products. These contain many chemicals known to and suspected of causing acute and chronic illnesses including cancer, respiratory problems, skin problems and reproductive harm. There is very little state and federal government regulation of the chemicals used in these products. Also, little research has been done on the health issues that nail salon workers experience from long-term exposure to these chemicals. In fact, there are over 10,000 chemicals used in personal care and nail products and yet 89% have not been tested independently for their impacts on human health. Nail salon workers and other cosmetologists are at greater risk for health issues related to their work because of various challenges such as language and cultural barriers, and lack of access to health care. In addition, there is not enough culturally and linguistically appropriate education and outreach to this diverse population.

Through the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, advocates are working together at the intersection of workers rights, women’s rights, environmental and reproductive health/justice, and Asian American community health to advance greater worker health and safety for this sector.

And I only recently stumbled across Fashioning an Ethical Industry (FEI), a UK-based education project of garment workers’ rights organization Labour Behind the Label targeting the “next generation” of the fashion industry: “The project works with tutors and students of fashion-related courses to give an overview of how the fashion industry positively and negatively impacts on working conditions in garment manufacture and to inspire students – as the next generation of industry players – to raise standards in the for garment workers in the fashion industry of the future. We run students workshops, organise tutor training events, provide teaching resources and work with tutors to integrate ethical issues related to garment manufacture into their teaching.” What makes FEI even better is the amazingly extensive teaching resources available on their site — books, films, reports, factsheets, exhibitions, and more. I’ll definitely make use of this site the next time I teach Politics of Fashion.

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ART: Pillowig (Joo Youn Paek)


“Pillowig” is hand made wearable pillow comforting tireness of people in daily lives, enabling users to sleep comfortably whenever and whenever they’d like. When user test is done in public spaces – subway, airplane, library, class room and laundromat, viewers commented: “I would like to have it for my trip.”, “Very funny.” “This is practical, but a laugh, too.” I made 50 limited editions and sold 47 pieces at the exhibition of the work and gained “Pillowig” fans. Two months later fans did a group performance piece at the Old Palace, Seoul. — Joo Youn Paek

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The Lady Loves A Tramp




Loads more photos at Project Rungay.

Dear Vivienne Westwood,

Have you not been reading Threadbared? (You should, because one of us is an old punk.) I just read that your menswear collection for Milan Fashion Week is inspired by tramp chic, of all things. Here a mind-boggling excerpt from your press release:

“Perhaps the oddest of heroes to emerge this season, Vivienne Westwood found inspiration in the roving vagrant whose daily get-up is a battle gear for the harsh weather conditions . . . Quilted bombers and snug hoodies also work well in keeping the vagrant warm.”

Your catwalk was covered in flattened cardboard boxes and your models carried bed rolls, their hair silvered with artificial frost from their outdoor travails. What the fuck, Vivienne? Look, I know that between your past as an art-school punk rocker and as a longtime member of the bourgeois avant-garde, it is almost required that you romanticize the poor. (Vivienne, don’t deny it. I’ve seen your past collections and attended your retrospective at the de Young last year.) But it’s been done! A lot! So not only is it not original –in recent memory, John Galliano, Erin Wasson, Ke$ha, and W Magazine did it, proving again and again Rosalind Krauss’s argument that originality is a myth of the avant-garde— it is stupid. Such runway homelessness, this tramp chic, just becomes the occasion for you and your audiences to praise your own aesthetic judgment (in this language, finding beauty in ugliness) and moral sensitivity (and in this, magnanimously granting to the indigent Other a sense of humanity through their aestheticization).

Try harder.

Love,

Mimi

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ART: “Personnes”





I am stunned (as was Susie Bubble, from whom I snatched these) by these photographs’ intimation of the tremendous physical scope of French artist Christian Boltanski’s “Personnes,” an Monumenta installation in the Grand Palais in Paris. (Monumenta is an annual installation series in which a leading international contemporary artist is invited by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication to create a new work for the Nave of the Grand Palais).

Susie confesses to feeling teary, and it’s easy to see why. These clothes conjure the specters of the persons who wore them in some unspecified “before” –perhaps before growth, before divorce, before illness, before death– which the project’s description would appear to confirm: “Conceived as a work in sound and vision, Personnes takes up a new theme in Boltanski’s work, building on his earlier explorations of the limits of human existence and the vital dimension of memory : the question of fate, and the ineluctability of death.”

The two parts of the installation that I can see from these photographs suggest both memorials in the carefully measured, uniformly spaced rectangles laid with a single layer of clothes –calling to my mind the sheer physical expanse of the iconic AIDS Memorial Quilt— and a garbage dump in the giant heaping pile of assorted garments at the other end of the Nave. The installation thus suggests something about the seemingly arbitrary nature of human classification between those we treasure and those we discard. (The same classification that the AIDS Memorial Quilt once challenged, but arguably now reinforces.) Or, as Judith Butler writes, “Certain lives are grievable, and others not, and this works to sanctify the violence we inflict, and to disavow any conception of our own precarity.”

(Images borrowed from Style Bubble, who borrowed from a Flickr selection)

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Emergency Alert: Haiti

Consider checking out some of these progressive links on the Haitian earthquake, including social justice and aid organizations, smart political and historical analyses of Haiti’s situation in particular and on the disturbing concept of “natural disaster” in general (e.g., the devastation of Hurricane Katrina was both “natural” but also racial-historical).

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