Category Archives: DEMOCRATIZATION OF FASHION

What is this “Fake” in the Fake Sartorialist?

All images from The Fake Sartorialist


Part I: Free for All = Free for Some

I have to admit that I barely glanced at the New York Times article, “The Sartorialist Blog is a Victim of Knockoffs” when it was published a few days ago. And I gave it very little thought even after more fashion blog parodies were revealed (here and here). The Sartorialist (the blog and the man who created it, Scott Schuman) is located firmly in the cultural imaginary – by Schuman’s own design and with the great help of his throngs of readers and models who provide the bulk of the content for his site. Parodies of The Sartorialist, it seemed to me, was as inevitable as the Times‘ narrative of “victimization” of the most commercially successful fashion blogger in the world is ludicrous.

But what finally caught my attention was the response of 25 year-old resident of Johannesburg, Eduardo Cachucho, who is the mastermind behind The Fake Sartorialist. Here Cachucho is specifically responding to Schuman’s statement that “Now everyone feels the internet is a free-for-all”:

I find it odd that Scott sees this as a “now” moment. The internet has always been somewhat of a free-for-all, that is what makes it such an important medium. Without the internet his very own blog (that is renowned for being reposted all over the web) would not be as popular as it is.

One of the strengths of the internet is in the power users have to create new content from existing sources. And though of course I don’t condone people just copying images willy nilly, I think there is definitely something to be said for new works created from appropriated sources.

I for one used The Sartorialist’s images only as a base and incorporated images from over 100 blogs that I visit every day. It’s hardly a free-for-all; more like a long thoughtfull [sic] sifting through gigabytes of content.

For both Sartorialists, the terms of the debate about the cultural and legal legitimacy of fashion blog parodies turn on the phrase, “free-for-all.” Interestingly, they both seem to agree that the Internet “free-for-all” has its limits. Schuman told the Times that “he was amused to a point” but had to draw the line at “the unflattering depiction of his subjects.” Likewise, Cachucho asserts that free use of digital content should not be available to “people [who] just copy images willy nilly” and that unlike these people, he is doing something more “thoughtful.” In other words, their point is that blog and other new media content while accessible to everyone is not equally accessible to everyone.
And in a way, they’re right.

As numerous Internet scholars have argued, despite the open access of the Internet (for people who must first have access to a computer and a broadband Internet connection), the Internet is hardly democratic. The operating logic of search engines is such that only the most popular websites are likely to show up in searches. The same websites and blogs appear in the top 3-5 results of every web search; all other sites are, as Jodi Dean put it in an NPR interview discussing her book Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics (Duke UP), “drowned in the massive flow [of commercialized data].” As such, Internet democracy is not a democracy of equitability but of popularity. To quote Dean further:

Rather than a rhizomatic structure where any one point is as likely to be reached as any other, what we have on the web are situations of massive inequality, massive differentials of scales where some nodes get tons of hits and the vast majority get almost none.

The Internet’s uneven distribution of cultural power is clear when we consider that before the controversy, Cachucho’s site got 50 hits per day whereas Schuman’s site got an estimated 250,000 daily hits – that’s 5000 times more than Cachucho. (Thanks to Schuman’s objections, Cachucho’s online traffic has spiked since the controversy – a point Schuman’s detractors are beyond giddy about.)

But in debating the concept of “free-(use)-for-all” Cachucho and Schuman aren’t talking about technological or class barriers. Instead, they’re referring to the ethical and legal barriers. Schuman actually provides a comment on The Fake Sartorialist post (March 31, 2010) that ominously intones, “Intellectual property beware. Intellectual freedom beware. En garde.” I think the en garde is pretty funny – even charming in another context – but I’m not really sure if he’s threatening Cachucho or being playful here.

On its face, Schuman’s objection to The Fake Sartorialist site – an objection based on his concern for the “unflattering depictions of his subjects” – makes little sense. First of all, Cachucho isn’t parodying Schuman’s subjects so much as he’s parodying fashion blogs in general and The Sartorialist (the exemplar of fashion blogs), in particular. Schuman’s protective claims on behalf of his subject seems mislaid at best and disingenuous at worst since they’re clearly not the target of the parodies.

Secondly, the idea that Schuman was fine with the parody site until it became “unflattering” is illogical. Parodies are intrinsically unflattering (though their objective is not always or necessarily to offend); otherwise, they’d be homages. Schuman probably just reached his limit with the parody – and this is understandable – but his being fed up with it is not a sound ethical basis for Cachucho or any other parodists to cease and desist. Arguably, this is precisely the moment when the parody is most effective! By the way, I’m no legal expert but it doesn’t seem to me that Cachucho is breaking any copyright or intellectual property rights laws either. In 1994, the Supreme Court found in favor of 2 Live Crew in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (yep, a reference to 2 Live freaking Crew found its way into threadbared!) that parodists are protected by fair use doctrines so long as “it is unlikely that the work will act as a substitute for the original.” Since Cachucho’s website explicitly announces its difference from Schuman’s (e.g., The Fake Sartorialist) and since the images are so clearly touched-up (unlike other fashion images – Schuman’s included – that disavow or conceal their processes of production and manipulation), no one is likely to mistake Cachucho’s work for the original. Indeed, the aesthetic punch and cultural value of Cachucho’s site depends on this difference! Anyway, I’m hoping law professor Susan Scafidi of Counterfeit Chic weighs in on her blog.

Finally, Schuman’s squabble with users’ appropriation of his blog style and images, as Cachucho points out, is more than a little hypocritical. Bloggers, to varying degrees, depend on external Internet users for their content. The higher the number of reader comments, links, and cross-postings a blog can amass, the more likely it is that the blog will achieve top search status and as such, increase the unique hits it gets. Sites with large numbers of unique hits gain the attention of not only more readers but advertisers, editors, literary agents, and designers who are all in the position to monetize the blog. Put another way, blogs and other Web 2.0 domains (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, etc.) depend on and, increasingly, profit from the voluntary labors of users. That Schuman’s cultural and financial coffers runneth over due in large part to the unpaid digital labors of readers (who are often also fellow bloggers like Cachucho) seems lost on Schuman.

The fashion blogosphere is an inherently referential, associational, and interactive space of cultural production. Typically, readers comb through fashion and style blogs to see what other people are wearing; what they should be buying, wearing, or storing this season and next season; and where to shop for these items. And as part of these consumption practices, they often leave comments on the site that comprise a major part of the digital content of the blog. Fellow bloggers cite, link to, and cross-post each other’s posts as well as the fashion images found in an array of digital sites. An exemplar of the fashion blogosphere – are there any print or digital discussions of fashion blogs that don’t include at least a mention of The Sartorialist? – Schuman’s blog is one of several elite blogs that show up in any Internet search among the hundreds of fashion and style blogs that don’t. The digital buzz about his blog is free advertising that helps to maintain and secure his cultural dominance. Cachucho’s parody is just another – albeit more creative – mode of productive consumption that does free work benefiting Schuman’s blog and blogger profile. Whatever Schuman’s personal feelings are about the parody site, it along with the controversy Schuman has helped to manufacture will likely increase his readership as well as secure his position as the reigning fashion blogger. To echo Amy Odell, “We Thought Scott Schuman Understood the Internet Better” too.

To be sure, parody is double-edged: at once confirming and contesting dominant relations of power. The parody site and the controversy has inarguably raised Cachucho’s cultural capital as well. How many had even heard about The Fake Sartorialist until this controversy? How sustainable this cultural capital is or whether he will see a financial effect remains to be seen though.

Part II: Legitimate Fakeness vs. Illegitimate Fakeness

I can’t end this post without considering this key question: if the Internet’s democratic mantra “free-for-all” really means “free-for-some,” then what are the conditions for accessing and claiming its freedoms (of communication, knowledge, and artistic expression)?

According to Cachucho, “people just copying images willy nilly” don’t count. This is a stunning distinction: here, The Fake Sartorialist is legitimizing his fake art against the illegitimate fakery of so-called willy nilly copycats. Legitimate fakeness vs. illegitimate fakeness? What’s the difference? Cachucho explains that his is a “new work created from . . . a long thoughtfull [sic] sifting through gigabytes of content.” In other words, his fake art is an original and unique endeavor (“new work”) and thus he is a true author of fakes (rather than a real copycat) since he alone produced this new work (a labor-intensive and time-consuming “sifting” of over 100 blogs per day).

By positioning himself as an author of “new work,” Cachucho articulates himself as an individual against the masses of “people just copying images willy nilly.” This is the definition of an author. According to Martha Woodmansee, the author (a figure that emerged in the 18th century alongside print capitalism and the modern nation-state) is “a unique individual uniquely responsible for a unique product.” She also notes that historically the author was never “regarded as distinctly and personally responsible for his creation” but instead was perceived as a master craftsman who was notable for “manipulating traditional materials in order to achieve [desirable] effects.” But the cultural, political, economic, and aesthetic value of Cachucho as creative genius also differs from Woodmansee’s 18th century example. Rather than a unique or original genius, we might say that he is an ordinary genius – an oxymoron that actually makes sense in the era of the democratization of fashion and communication. Rather than a signification of artifice or derivation, “The Fake Sartorialist” is a brand that signifies democratic expression. This is what Cachucho means when he asserts that the Internet enables users to have “the power . . . to create.”

That said, the “fake” in the Fake Sartorialist stands for “the little guy” against the cultural and social giants that the Sartorialist aligns himself with and represents. Fakeness sets right and secures the democratic socioeconomic relations the Internet is supposed to foment (as Cachucho points out).

But it isn’t just Web 2.0 technologies that have opened up a space in the fashion world for those outside to enter and occupy it. For the past 8 or 9 years, cheap chic fashion and democratic design have been valorized as enabling non-elite consumers to access and own the look of elite classes. The democratization of fashion ushered in a new cultural politic that values and legitimizes (some) knockoffs. It is against this political economic and cultural backdrop that the real and virtual consumption and circulation of fashion images, objects, and discourses are given new meaning. Cachucho’s blog is appealing because its fakeness, like the legitimate knockoffs I mentioned in a previous post, is embedded in and enacts the new cultural dominant of democratic design.

The Fake Sartorialist site is a reminder that the margins, as Stuart Hall, bell hooks, and so many others have shown us, is a productive space. It is the site in which new cultural forms, new social relations, and new identities are imagined and produced against their dominant counterparts to struggle over the meaning of “culture”. Thus, “fake” in this new creative economy is not the opposite of “authentic” but rather the other side of the same coin. They mutually constitute each other. Additionally, the fake and the authentic are linked as well by a shared neoliberal logic of the creative economy in which privatized identities (“individuals”) are endowed with political economic protections such as intellectual property rights – protections the unindividuated masses are denied. It is as such that Schuman has been shielded from accusations that he’s copying Bill Cunningham who’s been doing street fashion photography for more than 40 years and that the “ethnic inspired” clothing collections of star Western designers are aesthetically valued in the fashion industry while designer-inspired handbags circulating in underground economies are condemned as “fake.”

** My “fake” title is brazenly taken from Stuart Hall’s essay, “What is the black in black popular culture?” which inspired key ideas in this post.

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LINKAGE: A Case for Legitimate Knock-offs

Charles Guislain, (another) teen blogger phenom

While some in the fashion media have been fixating on the growing importance of editorial coverage by young bloggers, relatively little has been said about a broader democratisation that’s happening in the fashion industry overall. For one thing, runway knock-offs — formerly a marginal industry — have become a borderline acceptable business practice, with stores such as Zara and Forever 21 building successful franchises by copycatting high fashion designs. In a sense, fast fashion collaborations such as Jimmy Choo for H&M or Rodarte for Target seem to legitimise this practice.

This is a quote from a recent article on the effects of fashion’s democratization from the website The Business of Fashion. Unfortunately, Ken Miller (the writer) doesn’t examine the changing meanings of knock-offs in this era of democratization or analyze which knock-offs are acceptable and which aren’t (and why) in the context of the emerging creative economy. Nonetheless, I’m intrigued by the relationship he’s suggesting between cheap chic fashion retailers like H&M and Target and the industry of legitimate knock-offs. Who authorizes this legitimacy? And what are the conditions of cultural legitimation?

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The Backlash Against Bloggers: What Does It Mean?

There are some signs that the best days of the fashion blogger phenomenon may be behind us. This isn’t to say that fashion bloggers are going away but the public discourse about them and the value of their digital labors seems to have shifted in the past couple of months.

  • First, Elle editor Anne Slowey described Tavi Gevinson’s commissioned column for Harper’s Bazaar as “gimmicky” and then Huffington Post’s style editor Lesley Blume was quoted as saying that asking adult women to take style cues from young women like the Olsen twins and Gevinson was “insulting.” (Read here.)

This month, Barney’s Creative Director Simon Doonan told GQ magazine that he wants his front row seats back from the teen/tween bloggers that have overtaken runway shows. He even throws a little snark at 13 year-old blogger: “Since they are all about my height, I am going to impersonate one of them. I am going to wear a doily on my head (Tavi!) and tell everyone I’m a teen blogger.”

Late last week, New York Times fashion writer Guy Trebay told WWD that he doesn’t really care “whether Bryanboy gets excited by a handbag or something.”

The easiest explanation for this backlash is to cite the techno-generational divide: the persnickety old guard vs. the whipper-snapping new guard. And I think that’s part of it, but only part of it. Instead of resting the critique of this backlash entirely on the laps of cantankerous sartorial Luddites, I think it’s useful to consider the political economy in which this backlash emerges.

Not too long ago, fashion/style bloggers were embraced as the embodiment of fashion’s democratization. Along with cheap chic fashion, fashion/style bloggers were heralded as proof that fashion had finally become accessible to everyone despite race, gender, class, physical location, time zone, etc. The free flow of fashion objects and images across socioeconomic differences and fiber optic cable lines (as with the deregulated circuits of trade, capital, and labor) signified, according to numerous fashion editors, writers, and neoliberal politicians, a truly democratic society where everyone has the right to access the commodities that will enable them to practice their freedoms of expression, self-determination, and consumer choices. Free market agency, we were told, is coextensive with political agency.

Drowning out previous celebrations of democratization are anxious cries about the massification of fashion journalism. Consider Trebay’s statement: “It sounds like a very Establishment view, but I think that the Establishment is composed, in general, of really skilled people.” The inference, of course, is that bloggers (now positioned as a threat to the Establishment rather than as a sign of the Establishment’s fairness and openness) are unskilled. But the significance of massification rhetoric has implications that go far beyond a techno-generational divide.

Massification rhetoric has historically secured dominant power relations by producing a category of collective identification called “the masses” and then casting suspicion on them as unruly, unthinking, and uncultured. Moreover, as Andreas Huyssen has pointed out, the categorization of “the masses” carries with it gender inscriptions that imagine the masses (here, the collective of “teen/tween bloggers”) as subjective, emotional, and thus feminine. This is evident in the Pulitzer Prize winning fashion writer Robin Givhan’s assessment of fashion bloggers: “[T]heir opinions [are] suspect. They’re too invested. They’re biased. Passion gets in the way of truth-telling.” Establishment fashion journalists, we are meant to understand, are dispassionate and objective reporters.

I don’t think that the recent backlash against bloggers suggests that the era of fashion’s democratization is coming to a close – it’s difficult to imagine that fashion, in this economic climate, would risk alienating any potential customers especially customers with as much cultural capital as star bloggers like Gevinson and BryanBoy. However, I think this backlash does signal a shift in the popular understanding of “democracy” in the creative economy, a return to a social theory of apprenticeship in which hierarchies of power are not seen as opposed to democracy and free market societies but rather as opportunities for “paying one’s dues” and “earning one’s stripes.” This is precisely the link Weber observed between the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism.

Exclusion and exploitation in the forms of higher rates of un- and underemployment and free labor (typical in the new creative economy, in general, and in fashion, in particular), are incorporated and naturalized as part of the cost of democracy. Enduring exploitation becomes a virtue – it demonstrates a faith in and a faithfulness to the meritocracy and magicality of capitalism.

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Democratization, Schmocratization

It’s not even 9am where I’m at (in San Francisco) and I’m already feeling like it’s getting late in the day for all the things I need to do. No doubt, I’ll feel this way all week – just as I felt this way all last week.

Briefly, though, I wanted to link this article on Jezebel, “Fewer Models of Color Work New York Fashion Week.” There is nothing surprising or provocative about the findings of this article (unfortunately). But I do think the points it makes are worth bearing in mind as the rhetoric about “the democratization of fashion” becomes more and more a part of our cultural common sense. Recall, for instance, all the feature stories on amateur bloggers – this new young creative class of enterprising techno-savvy dynamos – breaking through to the front rows of illustrious fashion runway shows, edging out traditional media and journalists on their way up.

What this article evidences is how popular narratives about democratization actively obscure a persistent reality: race and gender difference continue to organize the labor market of fashion.

Don’t let’s get that twisted.

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FILM: Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags (HBO)

Set your DVRs for tomorrow morning when HBO will be showing a new film on the rise and fall of the New York City garment industry called, Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags. From HBO’s description:

For generations of New Yorkers, the Garment District was the lifeblood of the city. But with the increased globalization of clothing manufacturing, this once-thriving area continues to shrink. This documentary looks at the vibrant, unexpected history of the Garment District and features interviews with workers, labor organizers, designers and fashion executives who look back at their careers in an area that was a doorway to the American Dream for thousands of immigrants. These stories provide an intimate portrait of an industry in decline–and give a timely look at how American manufacturing has changed, perhaps forever.

If you miss it on Tuesday, November 24, you can find it on HBO On Demand through December 6, 2009.

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OF/SB, part II: Blog in the Machine of Democracy

While the form, function, and meanings of blogs vary widely, most operate through horizontal communication or what is sometimes called “distributed conversation” between bloggers and readers. Indeed, these categories are mutually constitutive rather than dialectic. Bloggers read other blogs and readers typically have their own blogs or are inspired to begin them in short time. Reader commentary, linkages, blogrolls, and cross-posts maintain the open, participatory, and dialogic nature of blogging that, for many, exemplify the internet’s democratization of knowledge and communication. In our other world of academia, we have seen and benefited from the collaborative capacity of blogs as virtual research centers hosting renowned scholars via podcast and webcast as well as digital and public research journals where colleagues can share and discuss new research while sitting in offices, living rooms, airports, and cafes hundreds of miles apart from each other. Such online scholarly communications can sometimes be much easier to maintain and more constructive than the “real” and often frenzied meetings and interactions we have within our departments, our classrooms, or at our annual association conferences.

In fashion, democratization has emerged in unstable fits and bursts since its inception. In 1675, the invention and popularization of the “manteau” or “mantua” (a loose-fitting housedress) inaugurated the sartorial trend of “dressing down” which allowed women to break with sumptuary laws that had for centuries maintained and secured class distinctions by dictating who could wear what. As Joan DeJean explains in her book, The Essence of Style, “The mantua meant that for the first time a woman’s outfit did not function as an absolute class marker: from then on, it was far less easy to know at a glance who belonged where on the social spectrum.” Other democratizing moments in fashion include the invention of the mechanical sewing machine and standardized dress patterns that facilitated the production of clothes for middle class women’s mass consumption; the introduction of pret-a-porter fashion or ready-to-wear clothing by Charles Fredrick Worth, the “father of haute couture” and — following him — prestigious designers such as Jeanne Paquin, Paul Poiret, Madeleine Vionnet, and Coco Chanel; Mary Quant’s invention of the miniskirt in the 1960s that incorporated the “low” aesthetic sensitibilities of go-go dancers into high fashion designs produced for mass consumption; as well as the “anti-fashion” ethos of hippies, punks, neo-punks, and cyber punks in the 1970s and 1980s that leaked into fashion’s mainstream through designers like Yves Saint Laurent. So-called masstige partnerships (in which a celebrity or celebrity designer teams up with a mass market retailer to create a designer collection) like Jaclyn Smith for Kmart (1985), Martha Stewart for Kmart (1997), Randolph Duke for the Home Shopping Network (1998), and Mossimo for Target (2000) are also recognized as significant moments in the democratization of fashion and design. Michelle Obama’s preference for emergent designers and mass-market fashion has helped to institutionalize the narrative of fashion’s democratization most recently.

Too often, though, the democratization narrative is an overly celebratory and uncritical explanation of the social and economic configurations and effects of new media forms. The tendency to invest new technologies with revolutionary potential and to articulate them in the language of democracy obscures and sometimes entirely misses the ways in which these technologies are integrated into existing capitalist and cultural structures for the profit of giant corporations and elite classes and as such, can continue or even strengthen racial, gender, and classed hierarchies of aesthetics, tastes, and knowledge. For example, when the radio became a common American household good (in the 1930s), people celebrated radio’s democratization of communication yet much of what was being communicated through the radio to a now much wider audience were sexist and patriarchal views of women and racist and xenophobic ideas about ethnic and racial minorities. (Consider, for instance, the puns, insults, and wordplay in popular radio programs like The Burns and Allen Show. For more on the history of radio, see Susan J. Douglas’ book, Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination.)

Similarly, what is left out in the celebration of fashion/style blogging as a democratizing phenomenon are the processes of what political scientist Jodi Dean describes as “communicative capitalism” and its related “animating fantasies of abundance, participation, and wholeness.” Such fantasies — all fundamental to the discourses that articulate and validate claims of democratization with regard to blogging in particular and the internet in general — occlude or cover up the anti-democratic processes are inherent to internet network structures. For example, the fantasy of abundance is the idea that “everything you want to know is out there on the internet.” But the way the internet works is that only the most popular websites and weblogs (the ones that get the most hits) are likely to show up in web searches. The problem with this structuring of the internet, as Dean explains on the NPR radio program Against the Grain, is “[w]hatever view is the most extreme o rte newest at one time among the abundance–that will be what seems to matter. That’s a logic of capitalism, not democracy.” She goes on, “Each little specific voice is drowned in the massive flow [of commercialized data]” so that “the underside of massive expression is the devaluation of any specific view.” One of the consequences, then, of democratization by popularity rather than by equitability is the concentration of the same websites and blogs in the top 3-5 results of every web search. “Rather than a rhizomatic structure where any one point is likely to be reached as any other,” Dean asserts, “what we have on the web are situations of massive inequality, massive differentials of scales where some nodes get tons of hits and the vast majority get almost none . . . The very structure of communication networks goes against [democracy].”

An article posted on the website, The Business of Fashion, expresses just this concern about the homogeneous content and message of so many blogs. “Are these bloggers really offering any unique expertise or vantage point that adds to the fashion dialogue? Some (though not all) of these bloggers appear to be more focused on themselves and on the celebrities in the front row than on the fashions on the runway. Unique opinions are few and far between.” In this way, blogs are not entirely the independent space of knowledge production and equal access imagined by the term “democratization.” Instead, they exemplify the integration and saturation of dominant culture into the private spaces of home offices, bedrooms, and neighborhood cafes from whence bloggers post and read. Another anti-democratic reality of fashion blogging and to a lesser degree, style blogging, is the fact that a large majority of bloggers post about major fashion events and prominent designers without receiving any compensation or professional recognition from the multi-billion dollar global fashion industry whose material and cultural power it helps to secure. Bloggers produce free labor for the fashion industry without any material benefit and often at a personally-absorbed cost of time and energy to themselves.

But fashion and blogging (and blogging about fashion) remain popular activities because they both contain and promise the allure of transformation through the care and management of one’s body and one’s image. It is in this way that fashion and fashion blogging are “technologies of the self,” a term Foucault uses to describe the everyday processes and practices that individuals engage in to constitute themselves as particular kinds of subjects–here, fashionable, cosmopolitan, modern, innovative, and attractive subjects. Fashion and blogging are especially appealing technologies of the self because of their democratizing promise that anyone (but especially women, in the context of fashion) can be “someone,” that a fashion outsider can be a fashion insider, and that prestige and privilege are available to and accessible by everyone. We see this discourse operating in the now all-too familiar narrative of the awkward but eccentrically dressed geek turned star blogger. These technologies, Foucault tells us, are interlinked with the control and governmentalization of bodies within dominant systems of power like capitalism which operates through commodity accumulation and the desire for the good life which commodities are imagined to bring.

[Enough of this gloom and doom! Read OF/SB, part III: Blog Ambition for what’s wonderful in and about the fashion and style blogosphere.]

Return to On the Fashion/Style Blog: Intro
Return to OF/SB, part I: Going Postal

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When Morals and Market Collude: Fashion’s Night Out

On September 10, New York City and thirteen other fashion capitals around the world from the UK to Japan will host “Fashion’s Night Out: A Global Celebration of Fashion.” In New York City, the event is sponsored by Vogue magazine, the Council for Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), NYC & Company, and the City of New York.

There are a ton of events planned at luxury, mass, and cheap chic retail sites all over the city which will hopefully help to diffuse the crowds a bit. (Anna Wintour and Michael Kors will launch the event from the Macy’s in Queens.) To see a full directory of participating retailers, click here. For my part, Opening Ceremony‘s sidewalk sale, car show, and collab with downtown street food vendors makes it the only place to be.

But a brief digression: does anyone remember Fashion for America? The consumerism campaign that Vogue and CFDA launched (with great support from then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani) in the immediate aftermath of 9/11? Fashion’s Night Out – its press kit, its press photos, and philanthropic goals — recalls Fashion for America.

Like Fashion for America, the goals of Fashion’s Night Out are to “promote retail and restore confidence” and like Fashion for America, there are limited edition logo T-shirts (suggested retail: $30). What’s especially interesting to me is that both operate through an ethics of fashion consumerism that intertwines market and moral economies. Consumerism histories are full of examples of economic constructions of morality but most served to constrain spending and to advocate for sober consumerism while these fashion consumerism campaigns articulate shopping as both an economic and universal moral good.

In the Fashion for America campaigns, Americans were urged to “shop to show [their] support” for America, for the thousands of lives lost in the multi-pronged terrorist attacks, and for a declining economy. Fashion’s Night Out elicits fashion consumerism as a hedge against a recessionary tidal wave of unemployment. In Vera Wang’s words, “if people don’t shop, people lose their jobs.” Who wouldn’t want to support America against terrorism? Who wouldn’t want to help save jobs?

The ways in which fashion consumerism campaigns operate as a technology of power that produces and manages neoliberal subejcts whose consumerist practices are driven by a belief that expanding the economy through spending will lead to the expansion of rights, of jobs, of the good life, etc. is what I’ve been thinking and writing about for the past couple of months. Now, I’ll have to add something about Fashion’s Night Out – maybe just a footnote though.

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Uniqlo + Jil Sander = Quality for the People

Jil Sander, the enigmatic and somewhat reclusive German designer known for her minimalist aesthetic is returning to fashion after a 5 year hiatus – but not to the world of upmarket luxury fashion that she’s been associated with since the 1980s. No, she’s coming to Uniqlo.
While this mass retail chain specializing in affordable casualwear (think Japanese Gap) has had its share of high-low collaborations including some of my personal favorite designers Phillip Lim and Alexander Wang, the collaboration with Sander is a little different. Her line at Uniqlo, called +J, is not a limited-time only capsule collection. Sander signed on to Uniqlo as its creative director!

Besides the clothes which are expected to be available by October, I’ll also be interested in the tenor of the marketing campaign surrounding the cheap chic collection. Already, the line (like so many previous cheap chic lines) is incorporating the language of democracy into its sartorial identity. Hangtags for the collection will include the message: “Quality for the people” and Sander has stated that her goal at Uniqlo is “to establish a premium quality in a democratically-priced range.” How will +J, a fast fashion label, articulate and accelerate neoliberal identifications with democracy now that the ethical politics of fashion has shifted to the slow fashion movement of sustainable fabrics and recession-friendly trans seasonal “investment pieces”?

A postscript: I’m anxiously awaiting the delivery of three generations of cheap chic style manuals (Caterine Milinaire’s 1978 Cheap Chic: Update; Kate Hogg’s 1982 More Dash than Cash; and Kira Jolliffe and Bay Garnett’s 2008 The Cheap Date Guide to Style). Look for a forthcoming post comparing the principles and meanings of “cheap chic style” and democracy across the disco generation, the me generation, and the O generation!

UPDATE: Vogue now has a sneak peek at some of the pieces from this collaboration.

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Filed under CHEAP CHIC, DEMOCRATIZATION OF FASHION

Soup or Sale

Apologies for our unexpected sabbatical from threadbared! For my part, journal article revisions, rogue or maybe just lost TAs, teaching, and drawn-out faculty meetings about departmental minutiae left me with no time for a lot of things including posting. But the semester is in in its final two weeks! So, taking Mimi’s optimistic cue of things to come, I wanted to mention for now that a pop-up retail store called The 1929 (124 Mott St. in Little Italy) is giving away soup and coffee to shoppers.

I haven’t visited the store yet (will swing by this week on my way to the Alexander Wang sample sale) but Daily News describes the store this way: “The street level store is decked out with racks of snazzy dresses, pants and tops by independent designers. The basement level has been transformed into an art and performance space by night and a spot where hungry shoppers, or even passersby, can pick up a free bowl of soup and coffee during the day.”

The community organizing and activist spirit of this soup kitchen/retail store is intentional – Aaron Genuth, the store’s manager, says the owners were inspired by President Elect Obama. Levi Okunov, part owner of The 1929, notes too, “Fashion has always been something for the rich. Who said it can’t be for the masses? We want people to come here, have a bowl of soup, try on some clothing and maybe check out the artwork downstairs.”

I’ll be interested to see how this new incarnation of fashion-as-therapy-for-the-masses develops. It’s clearly more grassroots than the recent fashion industry-led “cheap-chic” movements which offered up capsule collections by luxury designers like Vera Wang, Phillip Lim, Doo-ri Chung, and Proenza Schouler at mass retail stores like Kohl’s, The Gap, and Uniqlo as a post-9/11 emotional and economic salve. But the idea that The 1929 is “a place where fashionistas and the down-and-out soon could be rubbing shoulders” is too glib. While the recession affects everyone, some of the “down-and-out” are cushioned by their fat assets.

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Filed under CHEAP CHIC, DEMOCRATIZATION OF FASHION

FILM: “Phenomenology of Body”

I just watched Daphne Guinness’ short film “Phenomenology of Body” which premiered on New York Times T Magazine today. Something of a misnomer, “Phenomenology of Body” doesn’t offer a discussion of bodies but rather a broad survey of archetypal women identifiable by her mode of dress or undress, as is the case with Eve and her terribly trite fig leaf. Each celebrated female figure is rotated in and out in rough chronological order—Eve to Joan of Arc to Marie Antoinette and so on. (There’s definitely a Leni Riefenstahl-esque quality to Guinness’ work.) The film’s dramatic end is a Muslim woman in a red burqa who unveils herself. In the feminist logic of the film, this unveiling is necessary so that she can be included in this Western imagined history of women and fashion.

In a Women’s Wear Daily article, Guinness has this to say about her film: “It’s about the body and the soul, concealing and revealing, empowerment; clothing has always been so political. The message is that we all have the power to choose.”

Mimi and I have been working on companion essays that examine the discursive and ideological operations of fashion and beauty in an age of terrorism. I won’t rehearse our entire arguments here—we’ll let you know when/where the papers are published!—but I do want to say that Guinness’ description eerily echoes the mission statements of other programs and campaigns of “empowerment” that aim to unveil Muslim women and democratize fashion for middle and working class American women by linking fashion and beauty to the language of human rights and civil rights. (I hope Mimi will expand on this in a later post or in the comments!) Of course, “empowerment,” as we see in “Phenomenology of Body,” is wielded in patronizing and imperialist ways that suggest the masses of unfashionably oppressed and oppressively unfashionable women are in need of saving.

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Filed under DEMOCRATIZATION OF FASHION, HIJAB POLITICS