Dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of fashion from an academic perspective, the quarterly journal Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture views fashion as a cultural phenomenon, offering the reader a wide range of articles by leading Western and Russian specialists, as well as classical texts on fashion theory. From the history of dress and design to body practices; from the work of well-known designers to issues around consumption in fashion; from beauty and the fashionable figure through the ages to fashion journalism, fashion and PR, fashion and city life, art and fashion, fashion and photography — Fashion Theory covers it all.
This issue’s Dress section takes a look at fashion and national identity. Ekaterina Vasilieva’s opening piece The System of the Traditional, and the Principle of Fashion examines traditional dress and the system of fashion. Besides differing in their formal elements, traditional dress and the system of fashion are also based on different fundamental principles. Where dress is concerned, the concepts of ‘fashionable’ and ‘national’ appear to go against each other in a whole range of areas, from ideology and the dynamics of order, to attitudes towards the phenomenon of the new, and chronological systems. In her article, Vasilieva does not distinguish between ‘folk’, ‘national’ and ‘traditional’ dress, although these types are clearly not identical. The aim of her work is to trace the difference between ‘fashionable’ and ‘national’ dress at the systemic level.
One of the main problems one encounters in examining these structures is the issue of their hypothetical resemblance or differences. So, does the juxtaposition of the ‘traditional’ and the ‘secular’ systems yield differences or similarities? Where does the boundary between the principles of their origins lie? And what principles could underlie this difference? Vasilieva’s article deals with the existence of these closely related, yet also opposed categories in dress and fashion.
Agnes Fiilemile offers Royalties in National Dress — Creation of National Image in the Representational Practices of European Courts in the Nineteenth Century. Parallel to the emergence of modern national identity and culture, from the second part of the eighteenth to the beginning of the twentieth century there also existed an emphasized consciousness in the attempt to create ‘national’ dress. In the court cultures of Europe, a shift in the style of representation from ‘international’ to ‘regional/ethnic’ and ‘national’ served the aim of updating the monarch’s role. Royalties reaffirmed their sense of belonging to their own or adopted nations through the conscious introduction of national elements into the dress code of the court. Furthermore, royal courts played a leading role in the myth-making process surrounding what was called national style. The connection between power, prestige and the dynamics of spreading costume statements as fashion is obvious in this process.
Paola Colaiacomo and Vittoria C. Caratozzolo in their paper The Impact of Traditional Indian Clothing on Italian Fashion Design from Germa-na Marucelli to Gianni Versace explore the complex relationship between traditional Indian clothing and Italian fashion design from the mid-1950s to the 1990s. An atmosphere of reciprocity characterized the encounter between Indian and Italian representatives at the First International Clothing Conference held in Venice in September 1956. The All India Handloom Board had been trying for some years to put traditional fabrics on the international map: it was the ideal moment for Marucelli and Mingolini-Guggenheim to use Indian textiles in their stylized reinterpretations of the sari. Their looking to India for inspiration attests to the acquired maturity of Italian fashion design only a few years after the Florentine catwalks of 1951 and 1952, to which the birth of Italian fashion is officially ascribed. Since Marucelli’s and Mingolini-Guggenheim’s groundbreaking gesture, Italian fashion designers’ engagement with the tradition of Indian dress has been uninterrupted to this day. Their interpretations of Indian clothing aesthetics have reflected, and at times even triggered, radical changes both in lifestyles and modes of production and consumption. Seen from today’s distance, the whole process, from its first imitative phase to Versace’s sweeping restyling of the sari , has been marked by in-depth critical confrontation and progressive blurring of the boundaries.
Christine Tsui’s article From Symbols to Spirit: Changing Conceptions of National Identity in Chinese Fashion explores the evolution of conceptions of national identity in contemporary Chinese fashion by analyzing Chinese designers and their work over the last thirty years. Focusing on the post-Mao years of ‘opening up and reform’ since 1978, it draws evidence from a textual analysis of published reports and interviews with a selection of established and emerging designers. The study shows that contemporary Chinese fashion designers still hark to a notion of ‘Chinese-ness’. This invocation of an essential and identifiable ‘Chinese’ quality is a result of China’s nationalistic education curriculum, but is also a mechanism by which Chinese fashion designers seek to gain rapid recognition and a distinctive place in the international community. This distinctive identity facilitates their competitiveness on the global fashion stage. This article shows that conceptions of national identity in Chinese fashion have evolved from the promotion of concrete ‘traditional Chinese’ symbols to more amorphous ideas about ‘the Chinese spirit’. This spirit is manifest in two particular styles of recent years. First, the works of the ‘Zen’ designers that seek to invoke ‘Oriental’ ideas of peacefulness, calm, and harmony by adopting pale or neutral colours, natural fabrics, and naturally flowing shapes. Second, the designers that invoke images of ‘modern’ China, either by sourcing inspiration from contemporary daily life or by rejuvenating traditional Chinese elements with a modern look. This article argues that the evolution from the use of traditional Chinese symbols to the Chinese spirit within the fashion design world signifies a new form of Chinese nationalism: instead of delivering Chinese culture in an explicit, direct, and exterior form, Chinese designers have switched to convey their unique ‘Chineseness’ in a subtle, indirect, and hidden form. Such evolution is a result of modernization, hybridization, and competition between the twin tensions of nationalism and globalization.
In Body section, Laini Burton presents her article Inside Out: Prosthetic Organs as Wearable Art. The growing field of bioart and design raises significant questions for artists and designers working with life as raw matter. The author argues that what is necessary in such practices is that critical discussions centred on ethics and power are integrated into broader cultural dialogues in the creation of objects and products that design or redesign biological parts, devices or systems.
The paper examines specific examples of wearable art produced by architect and designer Neri Oxman. Generative software was used to develop the series titled ‘Wanderers, An Astrobiological Exploration’, in which computational growth patterns give rise to undeniably biomorphic designs that emerge as external-organs-as-outerwear. Articulated as an imaginative set of prostheses hosting their own synthetic biology, these pieces represent a new frontier worn at the threshold of the skin. In the appraisal of these examples, Burton registers speculative critical design as a methodology that interrogates the underlying assumptions of bioart and design processes, as they converge with the life sciences. The author asks what happens when the human body presents as a parasite to the apparatus upon which it depends? And further, what status can a prosthetic organ achieve if it becomes a co-participant in life? Pursuing these questions, the paper examines whether the symbiotic relationships established between humans and their wearable prostheses could enable us to transcend corporeal difference, effectively challenging some of the key analytical difficulties facing a biotechnological future.
In this issue’s Culture section, we offer the second part of the papers presented in the ‘Fashion and Lies’ panel of the conference ‘The Lie and Lying as a Factor of Social Life: Practices and Texts’ organized by the New Literary Observer publishing house together with the European University at St. Petersburg. The conference took place at the European University at St. Petersburg on 28-29 May 2016.
Ksenia Gusarova’s Presumed Guilty: The Cosmetic ‘Lie’ and Its Exposure in the Nineteenth Century looks at attitudes towards cosmetics in Western societies in the time of industrial modernity. With make-up generally perceived negatively, any woman could be accused of using ‘dishonest’ means in order to improve her appearance. Analyzing the reasons behind this situation, the author turns to the development in the nineteenth century of the physiognomic belief that a person’s character can be deduced from his or her appearance. In this context, the use of cosmetics could be seen as an attempt to hide the ‘truthful’ nature of one’s character. Other important factors in the development of perceptions of the cosmetic ‘lie’ were the nature of life in the big city, where visual stimuli are paramount; the symbolic confrontation of old and new elites, their values and aesthetic preferences; and the development of ideas on hygiene, which saw excessive decoration as ‘unhealthy’ and ‘slovenly’. Gusarova considers nineteenth-century discourse on cosmetics an example of panopticism, the total social (self)-control that in the view of Michel Foucault is typical of contemporary societies. Where make-up is concerned, the ‘panoptic machine’ works to produce normative femininity, defined through the figure of the Other, which may be constructed in different ways.
In Everybody Lies: Photoshop, Fashion and the Body, Olga Vainshtein discovers how the antinomy between truth and lies works in fashion. Looking at several examples in detail, Vainshtein examines situations in which doubt and suspicions of lying form an important symptom of the emergence of the new in culture. Focusing mainly on debates around the use of Photoshop, Vainshtein offers a brief review of the history of retouch and explains the rules of today’s ‘editing of the body’. The author also discusses cases of evident body deformation in photographs, as well as certain scandals and protests linked to overzealous Photoshop use. As case studies, Vainshtein uses American actress Lena Dunham’s shoot for Vogue US, Australian website MamaMia’s Body Positive project, and the legislative petitions on the Change.org website seeking to limit the use of Photoshop in advertising. The article also looks at other cases of ‘irresolvability’ and doubt around authenticity, such as plastic surgery, the suspicions encountered by transgender models, and, finally, examples of optical illusion in fashion. Vainshtein’s approach is based on the concepts of French Post-Structuralism and on the philosophical ideas of Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard and Roland Barthes. The author seeks to analyze areas of ‘doubt’ and ‘’irresolvability’ in keeping with the ‘postmodern sensitivity’ of our times, and with the constant vacillation between the real and virtual worlds. Last but not least is Maria Nekliudova’s ‘Clothes that Lie’: The Conceptualisation of Travesty in French Seventeenth-Century Culture. In the last few decades, researchers have paid considerable attention to transvestism, including the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A comprehensive range of analytical tools was developed, allowing historians to uncover aspects of the past which had until then eluded their attention or been deliberately ignored. These tools, however, can also detract from the study of certain evident, yet less pronounced cultural phenomena such as the different types of temporary cross-dressing common between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Although these may be seen as ‘play’, ‘theatre’ or ‘carnival’, the study of specific examples shows that the participants themselves, as well as their contemporaries, saw these acts in a different light. For them, cross-dressing was a means of transcending their ‘role’, and could take the form of an inner process as well as an exterior manifestation. As such, it was in its very nature anti-theatrical. And, whilst cross-dressing did not necessarily incur social criticism, it was nevertheless seen as a form of deception, a fantasy somewhat akin to invention, or to a burlesque novel.
In the Museum Business column, Natalia Vershinina writes about the experience of organizing the displays including historical dress that have been held in the Pavlovsk Palace Museum since 1918.
In the Practice of Fashion column we present Irina Sirotkina’s interview with Sasha Frolova, an artist who creates both sculptures and performance art.
In the Events section, Ekaterina Vasilieva offers An Ideal World: her take on the ‘Mariano Fortuny. ‘The Magician of Venice’. Collector. Artist. Couturier’ exhibition at the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (7 December 2016 - 13 March 2017).
Ekaterina Shubnaya visits ‘Fairytale Workshop: Movie Costumes from the Gorky Film Studio’ at Moscow’s All-Russian Museum of Decorative, Applied and Folk Art and shares her impressions in A Sarafan with Galloons and Seven-League Boots (16 December 2016 - 19 February 2017).
In A Soirйe with Consequences, Ellen McIntyre reviews the ‘1920s Jazz Age: Fashion and Photographs’ exhibition in London’s Fashion and Textile Museum (23 September 2016 - 15 January 2017).
In Beauty, the Italian Way, Anna Davydova reviews ‘The Glorious World of Fellini’ at the Erarta Museum and Modern Art Gallery, St. Petersburg (28 October 2016 - 29 January 2017).
In the Books section, Ekaterina Vasilieva offers The Position of Things, her review of Valery Podoroga’s On the Question around the Thing. Experiments in Analytical Anthropology. Moscow, Grundrisse, 2016.
In Time for the Suit, Evgeniya Grigorieva reviews Christopher Brew-ard’s The Suit: Form, Function and Style. Reaktion Books, 2016, 256 pp.
In Instructions for Thought, Rachel Lifter shares her impressions of Thinking through Fashion: A Guide to Key Theorists, ed. by A. Rocamora, A. Smelik. I. B. Tauris, 2015.