Tag Archives: Style Rookie

LINKAGE: T-Shirts, “The Colour of Beauty,” Fatuosity, American Able, Tavi vs. Terry

These first few links are for Hoang, who responded to a query on our Facebook and requested that we consider the function of the t-shirt in politics. Hoang is specifically thinking about the thousands of “red shirt” anti-government protesters in Thailand. As Michelle points out in the comments, the political situation is far more complicated than Western press reports can convey, and I know virtually nothing about the histories leading up to the present conflict. The most I can say about it is there are certainly precedents for political movements to adopt a textile or a garment as a signifier of solidarity (e.g., Gandhi’s khadi cap for anticolonial Indian independence), and as Minh-Ha mentioned, t-shirts are often chosen as carriers for political messages because they are understood as a “democratic” garment (in the small-d sense): cheap to make, cheap to purchase.

This is not necessarily relevant to the rapidly escalating situation in Thailand, but it is one example of the t-shirt as a medium for a political message: You Might Find Yourself here discusses British designer Katherine Hamnett, who in 1983 wore her “58% Don’t Want Pershing” t-shirt to meet then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, of whom Hamnett was no fan.

But she decided to seize the photo-op [upon being named designer of the year by the British Fashion Council] to make a political statement. The United States had recently deployed controversial Pershing II guided missile being in West Germany, and Hamnett wore a slogan T-shirt declaring “58 per cent Don’t Want Pershing”, specifically ensuring that the lettering on the shirt would stand out in photographs. She wore it under her stylish jacket, and removed the jacket just before meeting the prime minister. She made headlines the next day.

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Also in t-shirts, Kathleen Hanna is hosting a contest to design a Julie Ruin t-shirt, the only project she’s been involved with that hasn’t had one. The deadline is June 1st! Check out the entries so far here, here, here, and here.

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From Racialicious, Latoya Peterson posts on The Colour of Beauty (dir. Elizabeth St. Phillips, 2010), a short documentary film that follows up-and-coming black model, 24-year-old Renée Thompson, as she tries to get cast for New York’s Fashion Week, with a partial transcript. The film is part of a series from Work For All: Films Against Racism in the Workplace, a project in collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada and Schema Magazine. (You can watch the video at Racialicious or Work For All. I can’t for the life of me get it to embed here!) Reflecting upon an agent’s explanation that “white” features read as “elegant,” Latoya prompts, “And the idea of white faces as ‘elegant’ implies that those who do not carry those features cannot have an elegant face. I’d love to see a list of fashion codewords. Readers, what do you think?” Really, it’s a great exercise in the codes of race discourses about beauty and ugliness.

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Fatuous, self-described as “fat, girl, academic, writer, Australian, chronic procrastinator, fashion slave,” is in the midst of writing a dissertation on fat embodiment and sexual subjectivity. Love it! Check out Fatuosity, in which she shares her reading lists and smart observations about the myth of a “natural” body, fat and sexuality, “fat diva citizenship” (borrowing from incredible scholar Lauren Berlant), and a fat aesthetics:

A recognition that fat bodies are different to thin bodies (and different to other fat bodies, and that thin bodies are different to other thin bodies, and that the line between fat and thin is pretty impossible to locate definitively) and that finding ways to make a fat body look as much like a thin body as possible is not necessarily the ultimate aim of the game.  That there might be a way of fashioning fat bodies, of valuing the visuals that doesn’t have to be about ‘curves’ and cleavage (although it can be), that isn’t about adapting and adopting a certain set of standards, that isn’t about ‘what’s inside’ being the only thing that counts.

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In online magazines, we’re excited that the beautiful Style Sample released its newest issue, featuring Shini Park from Park and Cube as its cover girl and an article about fashion photographer Shae Acopian Detar authored by Fashion Intel’s Natalie. And the always smart Worn Fashion Journal posted this interview conducted by Julia Caron (of à l’Allure Garçonnière) with the creators of American Able, the American Apparel parody by photographer Holly Norris and model Jes Sachse. I particularly like these answers:

What do you hope people will take away from the American Able series?

Holly: I’m really interested in where it will be seen. It is showing on digital screens that are typically ad space, and has the potential to make people do a double take and question what they are seeing and how it differs from a regular ad. I think the realization that it’s a spoof makes people question and critique why – why do they only ever see able-bodied people in fashion advertising? People with visible disabilities are rendered invisible by mass media, and I think the reactions to American Able really highlight that. Even when there are claims of ‘diversity’ it is usually really lacking, to say the least. One rarely sees people with disabilities in advertising, unless it’s in a group photo and then it often seems more tokenizing than anything else.

Jes: It’s Holly’s project, but personally? I hope people see these ads in the TTC, laugh, and put on something skin tight when they go home and stare at their bodies. It’s like an invitation to a healthy dose of vanity. Why does fashion necessarily have to give people complexes? I’d love to be a model. I love designers and fashion, it’s art on bodies. I guess I love modeling because I feel like I embody a piece of that stare in my own work. That “I see you lookin’ at me” stare. I know I don’t look like a stereotypical model, and I like my body, but I get stared at a lot, in a different way. So when I pose, I have the opportunity to engage with my voyeurs. Or act indifferent about their gaze. Or make them question the politics in their stare. Or seduce them. Or pierce them. It’s really fun.

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Lastly, though I’m sure by now “everyone” has seen it, I need to give some blog love to Tavi Gevinson, a.k.a. Style Rookie, for her fearless foray in feminisms and her recent post calling out photographer and industry darling Terry Richardson for his sexual assaults on models, and as well those who support him. With all the blunt and sawed-off sarcasm of a whip-smart teenaged girl, she skewers at least ten of their excuses in one fell blow:

And, let’s clarify: you don’t love women just because you have sex with them and like taking pictures of their ladyparts. I’m not saying that’s all Richardson does, but “love” entails “respect” and also “the basic human decency to not use pictures of someone’s lady parts for your photography show without her permission” and also “the basic human decency to not pressure a girl into giving you a hand job because OH MY GOD I WILL LITERALLY NOT BE ABLE TO PRESS THE FLASH BUTTON ON MY CAMERA UNLESS YOU TAKE NOTICE OF THE FACT THAT I HAVE NO PANTS ON. ALSO I’M A PROFESSIONAL.”

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Digital Work and Child’s Play

Creative director for Elle magazine Joe Zee seems confused about the role of a fashion/style blogger and the role of a fashion magazine editor. In yet another barb against Tavi Gevinson, the ‘tween-age blogger wunderkind from suburban Illinois, Zee reiterates his colleague Anne Slowey’s skepticism about young bloggers’ fashion expertise: “What am I getting out of a 13-year-old’s opinion about fashion? How does that help me distill the collections? What am I supposed to be buying? That’s what an editor’s job at a magazine is.”

Um, yeah. That may be what “an editor’s job at a [commercial] magazine” is but when did telling the public what they’re “supposed to be buying” become the only legitimate mode of fashion writing?

While Slowey, Zee, and other gatekeepers want to keep the “digital natives” off their cultural-economic territory (presumably, they’re nostalgic for a time before the democratization of fashion), there is a growing discourse about the problem of the the ‘tween blogger that is worth considering seriously. By the way, notice how real and virtual territorialism always only works in one direction. Nearly all major fashion magazines now have full-time bloggers on staff. Can you imagine how ridiculous – but also wonderfully hilarious – it would be if ‘tween and twenty-something bloggers protested the print media’s convergence and capitalist takeover of digital media spaces?

To get a sense of how non-territorial bloggers are, check out this very short video from the Evolving Influence Fashion Blog Conference (NYFW 2010) hosted by the Independent Fashion Bloggers. Panelists included Britt Aboutaleb and Lauren Sherman (Fashionista.com), BryanBoy, Tavi Gevinson, Susie Bubble, and Phil Oh (Street Peeper).

In the past few months, a number of people have raised concerns about ‘tween bloggers and child labor laws. The spark, I think, was lit by the news that Gevinson had been commissioned by Harper’s Bazaar to write a column for their January 2010 issue reviewing the Spring collections. Here’s what some of them are saying:

The ethics of the industry employing young models have been discussed at tedious length, but because of the “massification” of bloggers, Tavi gets to elude these discussions because we can pretend that she’s just an “amateur,” that she’s not at work when she’s at fashion shows. Yes she is. She is being invited to these shows for economic reasons, so we’re not just talking about techno-generational issues; we’re talking about child labour. (March 5, 2010)

Having exhausted teenagers in the pursuit of fresh material to exploit to connote “youth,” the fashion industry has begun to seize upon ever younger recruits, willing victims fashionized far before their time. Bled of their individuality by the parasitic industry, these victims are left for “generic” . . . (February 16, 2010)

[P]erhaps after some formal journalism training, Tavi could probably make a decent fashion journalist. Still, the question remains: Will she be taken seriously? It’s hard to tell whether she will be greeted with open arms as the new and improved Tavi, or rejected and thrown aside like so many child actors before her. (February 10, 2010)

Each of these critics in different ways are shedding light on the underside of work flexibility that the new creative economy both desires and demands. The Internet’s reorganization of time – what Michel Laguerre calls “flexitime” – and its impact on the meanings of work/leisure, workplace/home, workday/weekend, to name just one set of traditional spatio-temporal binaries is generally celebrated as post-industrial freedom:

[T]he process by which work that used to be done at a conventional workplace can now be carried out elsewhere (locational flexibility) and at a time of their choice (temporal flexibility) . . . allow[s] employees more freedom in the organization of their working hours.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post about the new digital work order and its regulatory mechanisms that induce not only multi-tasking but also omni-tasking (the idea that because one can always work, one should always be working) and which manifests for me as blogger guilt, the flexibility of work in the Digital Age particularly for those working in the creative economy is a complicated thing.

Returning to Gevinson: On the one hand, she is an exemplar of the democratization of fashion and the media that define the neoliberal present moment. Her youthful pluck, unique creative expressions, mastery of information technologies, and enterprising initiative embody the characteristics that are most valued in the creative industries of fashion and media today. Moreover, her age and gender, her location outside the traditional centers of fashion (she lives in Oak Park, Illinois), and her aptitude for multitasking as consumer and producer of fashion objects, images, and discourses confirm the neoliberal beliefs in the democratizing potential of work flexibility and related to it, the flexibility of geographic, social, and economic borders. That a 14 year-old girl (14, this month) from a Midwestern suburb has made her way into the global centers of fashion is suggestive for many people of the decentralization and thus democratization of the powerful cultural institutions of the media and fashion.

On the other hand, as the critics above point out, the numbers of hours she’s working, her integration into the adult world of fashion commerce (where she’s exposed to a host of extracurricular activities that are surely not Board of Ed approved), and yes, the level of public scrutiny she invites and does not invite should make us all seriously think about the exploitation of young bloggers by the high profit-seeking fashion and media industries.

(In the above photos, Gevinson sits front row with BryanBoy at the Marc Jacobs show and hangs backstage with Leigh Lezark and Geordan Nicol of the MisShapes before the Y-3 Spring 2010 fashion show in New York City.)

Ironically, work flexibility was once the “rallying cry” of laborers who were sick of the Fordist industrial work order. As Andrew Ross writes in his latest book, Nice Work if You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times (NYU Press):

The demand for creative, meaningful work in factories and offices was a rallying cry of the 1970s ‘revolt against work’ [movement which led to] calls to humanize the workplace by introducing mentally challenging tasks and employee innovation . . . as an alternative to the humdrum routines of standard industrial employment.

Fashion blogging exemplifies precisely the conditions of labor being fought for in the 1970s. Bloggers work in a field where creative passion and playfulness are job requirements. They typically work from home or from exotic locations like the tents at Fashion Week (in New York, Milan, Paris, Moscow, Kuala Lumpur, Johannesburg, etc.) As such, “work” often looks a lot like “play” – and as the photos of Gevinson attest – what we once considered child’s play (playing dress-up, cutting school to hang out with the cool kids, and poring over the sartorial styles of star designers and celebrities) is now potentially a culturally and economically profitable business.

It is the playfulness of the creative economy that works to gloss over the un-democratic social and labor conditions internal to the capitalist logics driving the media and fashion industries even in the age of democratization. As the critics who are concerned about the issue of child labor in the new creative economy allude, the future of the Digital Age may look a lot like the Industrial Age.

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