Friday, October 05, 2007

The F-Word has linked to a news article on Afghan TV's version of America's Next Top Model. Introducing the stylings of western fashion is certainly a sign of a different kind of life for these women and it's brave in the face of cleric Abdul Raouf, a member of the country’s ulema religious council making statements on the issue. “Not only is it banned by Islamic sharia law, but if we apply sharia law and take this issue to justice these girls should be punished.” Welcome to consumer capitalism Abdul Raouf.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I haven't talked about the death of Jacques Helleu because I wasn't really sure what to say about it. There have been some half hearted obituaries floating around and a few quotes from people high up in the Chanel train but what seems to be discerned is that he was very much in the background despite being Chanel's Artistic Director for almost half a century. Vogue UK quotes Patrick Demarchelier as saying "he was very kind and had humour." It's rare that people in the fashion world are described as kind, even after they pass away. Rather than talk about this I was going to provide links to some of the ad campaigns that Helleu was involved with, it should be recognised that a number of the similarities between them were probably down to him but someone has already done it so...

The Best of Helleu.
Shoes are loved because they are so aesthetic, almost examples of detailed design theory. On a more practical, artistic level they can compliment an outfit or clash with it but the right shoes will always offset your garments. Whether they are simple or complicated in appearance and regardless of the level of comfort, you can always find an interesting pair for any price.

Growing up I hated shoes. I had to search for hours to find a pair that fit. My large, flat feet were the feature I was least capable of adorning well. When I became confident about clothing my size 8’s became less of a trial and more of an exhibition space. Shoes became a joy because I could transform myself simply by wearing tulip red heels or lime green flats, patterned silk trainers with small, swirling flowers embroidered onto the fabric. To those who lack a shoe fetish, an abiding love, I recommend this particular peculiarity wholeheartedly.

So here have some Marc Jacobs, Prada, Repetto, Yamamoto and Trippen.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

New Look is currently selling a smock top featuring the greys and yellows that characterised the Gucci ready to wear collection last week. It has been featured in Cosmopolitan and Elle so if you want one snap it up quickly.

Melanie Rickey reiterated in the comments section earlier this week that sizing is not standardised. The size zero (UK size 4) literature appearing consistently at the moment revolves around false measurement of women's bodies and it constructs an idea of femininity that is at best flawed. Freud noted that femininity and masculinity are simply attributes. I've written about this before in other contexts and it continues to be important in contemporary thinking on the concept of femininity. A century ago corsets were falling out of fashion but they had been extremely popular for a very long time, objects that not only obstructed the movement of the chest but actually caused widespread deformity in women, reshaped their bodies so that the chest became a V rather than the shape that is familiar to us. Tight lacing remained a common practice up to the end of the 19th century, particularly among those who were upwardly mobile. In a sense that reflects the nature of contemporary fashion at the level of consumer. Those with the most money have the most motivation to stay slim, they cannot purchase the best and most expensive ready to wear items if they are not slender enough to wear the clothes. Both the feminine and masculine have been subject to human fashion for centuries and when taking the influence of fashion into consideration it should be remembered that people are less influenced, less controlled by it than ever before.

Many dress historians and feminists think of the corset as an example of women's subordination and from there all kinds of questions concerning the size zero trend arise. The idea of women submitting to a male viewpoint on attraction is often espoused yet this works poorly for both trends. Corsetry was the accepted mode of dress among empowered women, the ideal of the slim waist is ever present in our society and it's not only men who are the driving force behind it. This is the ideal that's accepted by all people and while exceptions are present that notion hasn't changed for centuries. Western ideas of femininity are simply related to the shape of the body, a small waist, curves at the bust and hips and these notions are carried forth even now. The ideal feminine is fetishized by everyone and not necessarily in the sexual sense of the word, it has to be accepted that this discourse leads women to fetishize their own bodies if they have the money and time to do so. The size zero/four obsession is simply another example of our culture creating fetish through the feminine and what better way to get to the feminine than through the female body? Women simply lean further toward the feminine than the masculine. A slender waist is the ideal for masculinity as well, a sense of power displayed through the shoulders and chest rather than through the hips. Jutting curves are not powerless displays, femininity in the most idealised form is as aggressive as masculinity and the size zero/four desire that we are seeing in our culture at the moment is not a desire to be powerless but a desire to be the representation of that ideal. Through weight loss comes consumer power, a sign of wealth and control and though it isn't healthy and the ideal feminine is never attainable, women will continue to construct themselves in line with it.

There is a sense of hysteria around the notion of femininity, in part because many people are scared that its representation signals the end of a recognisable feminism or a change in the cultural landmarks that we are so used to, particularly in fashion. In the 90s the reaction to the strident supermodels, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Elle MacPherson, women with a sense of masculinity about them, was heroin chic. Delicate models like Kate Moss emerged and their size was criticised because it was viewed as an encouragement to anorexia and other eating disorders. The trend has continued and the media continues to view it in the same way but in hand with this is a lack of recognition that femininity is an attribute rather than a rule. Women are not automatically feminine so there is supposedly a danger that they will spend too much in attaining it. That fear fails to recognise our cultural history, that all people have leant their hand to achieving these attributes for most of their lives and that anyone who has seen a face without make up and a body unclothed knows the difference between female and feminine, male and masculine. That difference means that all ideals are ultimately recognisably flawed.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Degraded women has been a subject that has been explored quite viscerally during Milan fashion week. Most of the blogs covering the subject have featured the Nolita anti-anorexia advert, there is an examination of the advert at Back in Skinny Jeans that describes the problems around such an approach, including the lack of backing from any anti-anorexia campaigns. In a sense the ad is worrying, while a lot of people support Isabelle Caro for her decision to post I wonder how she will feel about it in the future, provided she manages to recover from her illness. It feels like it degrades her to an extent, she is someone suffering from something very complicated and she has made it clear, despite being used as an example of a person who is size zero that she has not been specifically influenced by the fashion industry. It has always felt to me that the criticism of the fashion industry has been a convenient ploy that allows communities to avoid discussing anorexia and other illnesses centred on eating appropriately. Food is an intensely complicated issue, most people have worries and obsessions that surround eating, sometimes compulsions arise and no one, absolutely no one can look at themselves in a mirror, photograph or film and see what everyone else can, it is simply too shocking to be confronted by your own physicality when you live only inside your own body. I doubt that this advertising campaign is ultimately going to come to anything when I think about the fashion culture, which is so rarely touched by anything except money and its internal politics.

Then there's the photo shoot that has featured in Italian Vogue. Is it a photo discussion of women as degraded by circumstance or is it a jeering account of how weak they are? It is in parts beautiful but also horrific because it is so reminiscent of how very degrading the actions in Iraq have been. If the women were substituted with men you would have, at times, a celebrated war movie and that's a very telling reading of the culture that we live in because this is a glamorous and degrading war story. It isn't automatically less so because it's a fashion shoot featuring beautiful bodies and clothes. Stories of war must degrade and you can never adequately bring the tale across to people who have always lived comfortably, no matter how horrible moments on film are. So do we command everyone to stop making images and telling stories because there isn't a clear and vocal moral message inherent in pictures or do we let all artists, even fashion photographers explore events that are happening now? The images can be read in so many ways, are these about rape or about women left behind, are they about pain or degradation? It's impossible to tell what the motivation is and even what the story is but it does bring across discomfort, horror and glamour so to an extent it has worked. Finally and importantly this is to an extent a criticism, the photographer Steven Meisel is American, the men are portrayed negatively and are clearly meant to be of US origin.