Featured Student: Joanna Karagiorgou

joanna-karagiorgouWhat is your background?
My background consists of a mix of various fields. I have a Bachelors in Business Administration while at the same time as my studies I was also studying Ballet and Contemporary Dance. After that I studied Fashion Styling, before coming in the UK for my Masters.
What made you decide to study MA Fashion Cultures?
I knew that I wanted to study at the London College of Fashion, so I started researching what course would be the best for me. I’ve always curious in exploring why people wear what they do, what drives them and how that tells about culture and society. This course proved to be the best choice.

vaslan-nijinsky-sceherazade-1912-by-george-barbier

Nijinsky in Scheherazade, by Georges Barbier

Is there a particular project you have enjoyed working on during the course?
I enjoyed my essay on the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, which inspired me so much that I continued with the subject for my dissertation. My focus was on the concept of masculinities and how his performances pushed the boundaries. He was the main dancer for Ballet Russes from 1909 until 1916, and while there are many writers that have focused on Ballet Russes in relation to its influence on female fashion, few have written about Vaslav Nijinsky.

 

What are you writing your dissertation on, and how did you decide upon this subject?
My dissertation focused on masculinities, by analysing Vaslav Nijinsky and two other male dancers of the early 20th century: Jean Börlin, who was the main dancer for Ballet Suédois, and Ted Shawn, who was an American dancer. Those three dancers were of great importance not only because of their performances, but because each one of them pushed the limits of the accepted masculinity of that time.

nijinsky_in_scheherazade-1912

Nijinsky in Scheherazade, 1912

What’s next?
Throughout the year I’ve been working on my portfolio as a Stylist which is what I want to do. The knowledge I gained from my course gave me valuable insight on several aspects on fashion, a fact which I think will be important to my styling practice.

 

Click here to read Joanna’s posts on Intangible

Find Joanna online:
Instagram: @joannaa_kr
E-mail: joanna_kr[at]windowslive.com

 

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Exploring evolving fur discourses through advertising

By Lindsay Parker

label-me

Luxury, glamour, wealth, status, success, exclusivity; these are the words most commonly associated with fur; they conjure up the embedded cultural meanings that have been established through years of use, regulation and representation of the material. Though these meanings have been (and continue to be) challenged by anti-fur campaigners, with arguably some level of success, fur is still considered the ultimate luxury, unattainable to most and increasingly prevalent once again in the collections of luxury fashion brands.

However, as the industry has faced a backlash from anti-fur campaigners, the allure of glamour and luxury alone is no longer always a sufficient tool for the promotion of fur. In the 1990s, in the UK and US at least, the material began to be linked with unnecessary cruelty and out-dated notions of glamour and the industry had to alter conceptions whilst retaining the elements of its appeal which had been built through years of intertextual discourse.

One response has been the use of technology with new techniques used to disguise and enhance furs, and new colours, textures and forms of fur clothing developed, in some instances, to create even more expensive and exclusive products (For example, Fendi’s silver coated, 1 million Euro Coat).

fashionistas

Fur brands have also updated their image through advertisements which aim to appeal to a younger demographic, referencing “highly energetic, totally trendy and gloriously glamourous fur” (Vogue September 2006) and highlighting technical developments. This appeal to youth can be seen as one of the key elements of furs resurgence in recent years, reaching out to those who have not grown up through the height of the anti-fur movement or have tired of the hard hitting and relentless campaigning by animal rights groups.

Increasing consumer awareness of a vast range of ethical and environmental issues has meant that, for many, issues surrounding what constitutes responsible and sustainable fashion are no longer black and white. This shift is reflected in the appearance of advertisements which promote fur as sustainable, natural and timeless, as opposed to wasteful fast fashion or environmentally damaging synthetic alternatives. For example, the Origin Assured “label me…..” campaign featured high profile designers such as Oscar de la Renta claiming that – “Buying Origin Assured furs removes a lot of questions for a customer. It allows her to buy fur with confidence.” the advertisements are designed to introduce the new label which claims to promote transparency and adhere to strict animal welfare standards” suggesting that real fur can be part of an ethical fashion wardrobe.

Reviewing advertisements past and present suggests that, no matter how established fur is as a sign, discourse on fur in fashion is subject to change to correspond with the ever altering wider social discourses which impact on the field of fashion. This means that advertisements must respond to these discourses, and more recently this has been through adapting existing meanings to appeal to consumers changing understanding of ethical and responsible fashion and by embracing new technologies to shake off unwanted associations with times gone by.

Gender Fluidity at Berlin Fashion Week A/W 16/17

By Chloe Rockwell-Townsend

emre erdemoglu aw1617 groupEmre Erdemoglu AW16/17 {source}

Ever since Berlin Fashion Week was established in Summer 2007, it has worked hard to gain international fashion status by offering a unique style ethos with gender fluidity at its core. Designers such as Kilian Kerner, Sarah Effenberger and Emre Erdemoglu emulated this gender fluid ethos at the A/W 16/17 shows by sending male and female models down the runway within the same show, styling models in an androgynous manner and offering up unisex designs.

Sarah Effenberger AW16/17, “Fomme” {source}

New talent Sarah Effenberger asks why, in such an open minded and liberated society are men so restricted from dressing in a sensual manner. Her motivations behind her unisex collection “Fomme” was to free men from their reserved dress and prove that a man can remain masculine in more decorative garments.  The collection shows men wearing skirts, chiffon and stereotypically feminine pussy bow ties, offering a fresh take on unisex items. A flowing grey chiffon blouse and wide leg trouser perfectly depicts Effenberger’s aim of showing how men can borrow from typically feminine styles, opening up a whole host of experimental dress opportunities.

Kilian Kerner AW16/17 “The Huntingans” {source}

Kilian Kerner who launched his label in 2004, was also seen embracing gender fluidity by sending both sexes down the runway in an Anna Wintour-inspired look complete with her signature bob and oversized sunglasses, adding an element of humour to his show. Designs were fairly muted in autumnal shades of camel, grey and black, focusing on the sharp tailoring and detailed with interesting bird motifs. The ambiguity of the models’ gender works extremely well in showcasing his creations achieving a great sense of fluidity, in both design and gender.

Emre Erdemoglu AW16/17 {source}

Emre Erdemoglu’s show was a spectacular blend of striking metallic ensembles in silver, rose gold and champagne, for both men and women including matching skirts and coats alongside more subdued monochrome pieces. Anyone brave enough to invest in a shimmering masterpiece from Erdemoglu’s collection will be sure to turn heads walking through the streets of Berlin come autumn.

Vladimir Karaleev AW16/17 {source}

Vladimir Karaleev‘s show was influenced by contemporary architecture and he demonstrates a clear understanding of clothing as both a medium of expression as well as its functional purpose. The dark understated colours combined with geometric shapes highlight his aim of creating clothing that capture one’s individuality whilst letting their personality remain the focal point.

Reviewing the diverse and exciting range of designer talent showcased at Berlin Fashion week has opened my eyes to the way in which we view gendered fashion. With gender fluidity being a key theme of Berlin Fashion Week ever since its conceptualisation,  it appears that the designers showcasing at Berlin Fashion Week along with a growing variety of other designers around the world are situating gender fluidity at the heart of their design aesthetic. Attitudes towards gender fluidity are progressively positive in today’s society and it seems we have a lot to thank for the designers that are using their creative talents to put gender neutral fashion on the map.

A Tactile National Identity: Latvia’s Map in Mittens

By Anushka Tay

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Mittens Map of Latvia – Sena Klets, Riga, March 2016. Photo: Anushka Tay

To what extent can a place be experienced, understood or consumed through dress? I recently spent a day in Riga, Latvia, where I made sure to visit Sena Klets – the National Costume Centre. Nestled in the touristy heart of Riga’s Old Town, I was expecting it to be a museum of Latvian traditional dress; so was surprised to discover that it functioned equally as a display of folk costume, organised by region; and a tourist souvenir shop. I was previously aware of Latvia’s famed knitting traditions; but didn’t realise that the patterns were governed by location. The hand-made items on display were presumably created specifically for sale to tourists, and were priced to a reflect some consideration for the labour time (€54 for a pair of mittens). As is so common in tourism, national identity is presented as a commodity for consumption. However, in this case, what is also being sold is the concept of supporting cottage industries, and of promoting a country’s textile heritage.

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Hand-knitted colourwork mitterns – Sena Klets, Riga, March 2016. Photo: Anushka Tay

Is this yet another iteration of what Simona Reinach refers to as the ‘romantic nationalism of the past’?  Traditional dress, or folk costume, occupies a strange place within the discourses of fashion in today’s industrialised, increasingly globalised world. In academia, fashion is largely agreed to constitute the system of change, with the individual styles of clothing themselves irrelevant (Kawamura, 2006). The adoption of the Western fashion system has in many ways come to symbolise a marker of progress, and Reinach (2011) demonstrates how with the rise of more and more smaller fashion weeks around the world, the fashion industry is more than simply an arm of commerce, but has come to consecrate national identity and mark countries’ presence as a major player in the global economies. Skov (2011, p.149) further analyses the relationship between fashion designers and folk culture, whereby on the one hand there is ‘the common perception that folk culture is the opposite of fashion— rural, static, backward, and soaked in nationalism’ – yet ‘fashion…has had no qualms about incorporating all kinds of colorful elements from non-Western, including Russian, folk culture. The new demand is that designers engage with their national culture and dress tradition, but in such a way that it can be attractive to outsiders.’

Whilst the mittens and other items in the National Costume Centre weren’t presented as fashion items, I personally found it fascinating to see that colours and patterns often used as references in ‘folk style’ fashions were still being produced. Integral to their production and display was the notion that they were still being worn; a sense of national identity embedded in craftwork, and displayed in a strange contradiction of exhibit and commodity.

 

References:

Kawamura, Y. (2006) Fashion-ology: An Introduction to Fashion Studies. Oxford and New York: Berg

Reinach, S. S. (2011) National Identities and International Recognition” in Fashion Theory 15:2, pp.267-272

Skov, L. (2011) “Dreams of Small Nations in a Polycentric Fashion World” in Fashion Theory, 15:2 pp.137-156

Transgender representation in fashion – Part 1

By Siân Hunter

Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as reality television star and former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner, poses in an exclusive photograph made by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair magazine

Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as reality television star and former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner, poses in an exclusive photograph made by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair magazine and released by Vanity Fair on June 1, 2015. REUTERS/Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair’s cover that launched Caitlyn Jenner into the public eye in June 2015 signified the growing importance and acceptance of transgender representation in fashion and popular culture. However, the styling of Jenner — and of Annie Leibovitz’s photographs — reproduces the traditional idealised femininity that permeates much of the fashion press and advertising. While the fashion industry can be key in expressing societal tensions and signal-boosting marginalised groups, there are still strict codes to which it must adhere. In this two-part blog I will explore the theory behind the representation of gender, both in the media and in everyday life and apply this to examples of transgender individuals who are present in the fashion media.

The gender binary
In Gender Trouble (1999), Judith Butler states that individuals ‘only become intelligible through becoming gendered in conformity with recognizable standards of gender intelligibility’ (Butler, 1999: p22). Gender norms are based on ideals of masculinity and femininity, in order to continue the ‘heterosexualization of desire’ (Butler, 1999: p24).

With the idealised ‘hyperbolic versions of “man” and “woman”‘ (Butler, 1993: p257), those who fail to fit specific ideals can risk punishment. In fact, the myth is believed over the lived experiences of individuals. As Simone de Beauvoir writes, if the feminine ideal ‘is contradicted by the behaviour of flesh-and-blood women, it is the latter who are wrong: we are told not that Femininity is a false entity, but that the women concerned are not feminine’ (de Beauvoir, 1949: p283).

The performativity of gender
According to Butler, gender norms are achieved ‘through a stylized repetition of acts‘ (Butler, 1988: p519) that include bodily gestures and movements as well as dress (Butler, 1999). In this way, gender is performative: the reality is only true to the extent that it is performed (Butler, 1988).

The desire for coherence in our identities causes this repetition of acts through our bodies, which in turn creates the illusion of a natural gender that is being expressed. Acts are repeated by other actors and the illusion continues as imitations of imitations proliferate. This construction of gender conceals the reality that it is based upon fiction (Butler, 1999). There is no such thing as a ‘real woman’ and yet fashion is complicit in the perpetuation of this myth. Magazines and brands rely on our desire to re-enact gender in order to sell their products.

In Part Two, I explore how gender is represented by fashion brands and the media. Click here to read Part Two.

References:

Butler, J. (1988) ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,’ Theatre Journal 40(4): 519-531

Butler, J. (1993) Bodies that matter: on the discursive limits of “sex”. New York: Routledge

Butler, J. (1999) Gender trouble. Tenth Anniversary Edition. London: Routledge

De Beauvoir, S. (1949) The second sex. London: Random house

The trouble with androgyny

By Anushka Tay

Marlene Dietrich

{ Marlene Dietrich – image source }

Understanding fashion as a social process suggests that if a fashion trend is to spread, it must capture and reflect the cultural zeitgeist; this includes our attitudes towards gender. 21st Century culture is moving towards the idea of gender as a wider spectrum, not a binary. In fashion, styles for men and women have grown closer together throughout the 20th Century as the cut of clothing and use of surface decoration bear more similarities between genders. The common acceptability of women in trousers, and the increasingly homogenised colours, has led to a widening of gender styles in fashion. This, alongside the increasing de-stigmatisation of men’s interest in fashion, may allow fashion to provide a basis for expressing the complexities of gender and sexuality. Using fashion to communicate our innermost personalities and broadest identities, unbound by societal binaries, seems to be the ideal manner of dressing in a society defined by equality (and tolerance). In this sense, adopting an androgynous look, through wearing either a mixture of gender-specific clothing or else unisex clothes, could be liberating. Arnold (2001, p.118) writes, ‘Unisex dress that disguises gender distinctions and presents a masquerade of equality for all, has been a recurring utopian dream.’ Avoiding assumptions and stereotypes associated with gender, androgyny could be used to offer choice: to dress in multiple ways, or one, or both.

However, in many ways, feminism’s struggle for gender equality has stressed the importance of adopting stereotypically masculine features, rather than championing both; this bias extends to works of queer theorists such as Halberstam’s Female Masculinity (1998). Oates-Indruchová (2003, p.48) criticises this common practice in gender studies: ‘These approaches work with the prevailing social and cultural assumption of the lesser value of the female/feminine in relation to the male/masculine, or show how the assumption operates.’ Even the concept of androgyny is not as neutral as it may at first seem. Williams (2003) studies the etymology of the words ‘hermaphrodite’ and ‘androgyne’, revealing that the Greek and Roman roots of both of these words open with the male reference (Hermes – the male god of virility; ‘aner’ meaning man), and are grammatically male. ‘Both words make strongly masculine first impressions, then, just where one would expect the second halves to redress the balance, revert to the masculine’ (Williams, 2003, p.127).

Fashion cannot reflect all the complexities of social life, and it would take concerted effort to break from convention. Even when fashion designers operate as artists, the system of change which defines fashion takes precedent; and styles cannot change if they are not accepted by people in society. Fashion is one tool amongst many which we may use as communication; however, we are far from living in a utopia where diversity is championed. We must return to Judith Butler’s concern for this heteronormative world (Butler, 1990 and 1993), where even diversity is coloured by the dominant ideology of whiteness and heterosexuality, and gender-neutral concepts such as androgyny still contain masculine undertones.

 

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References

Butler, J. (1990) Gender trouble. 2nd Edition. Reprint, New York and Oxford: Routledge, 2007.

Butler, J. (1993) Bodies that matter: on the discursive limits of “sex”. New York and London: Routledge.

Arnold, R. (2001) Fashion, desire and anxiety: image and morality in the 20th century. London and New York: I.B. Tauris.

Halberstam, J. (1998) Female masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press.

Oates-Indruchová, L. (2003) ‘The ideology of the genderless sporting body: reflections on the Czech State-Socialist concept of physical culture’ in Segal, N., Taylor, L. and Cook, R. Indeterminate bodies. Hampshire: Palgrage Macmillan. pp.48-66.

Williams, C. D. (2003) ‘ “Sweet Hee-She-Coupled-One”: unspeakable hermaphrodites’ in in Segal, N., Taylor, L. and Cook, R. Indeterminate bodies. Hampshire: Palgrage Macmillan. pp.127-138

Shoes at the V&A: Take Two

A second take on the popular Shoes exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

By Hiroko Oriyama

shoes exhib 2

{Image  – V&A}

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, displays around 200 pairs of both women’s and men’s shoes from different countries around the world. The exhibition is curated by Helen Persson of the V&A’s Asia Department, and includes shoes from ancient Egypt to contemporary exclusive designer shoes. The purpose of the exhibition is to show us not a history of shoes, but power of shoes throughout history. It is organised thematically and divided into five sections: Transformation, Status, Seduction, Creation, and Obsession. Various types of shoes were selected for each section by considering what stories these shoes are telling us.

The exhibition shows that shoes are a representation of the wearer’s status or identity. Some shoes are extremely unpractical, not everyday shoes for everyday life. As a Japanese person, I highly recommend seeing the extremely high-heeled shoes worn by Japanese high-class prostitutes. You can see how they wore and walked in these shoes in the film ‘Yoshiwara enjo’ (directed by Hideo Gosha, 1987), screened on the ground floor of the exhibition. However, overall there is not enough visual imagery showing how the shoes were worn. Even though each pair of shoes has a written explanation of when, where or what types of shoes they are, it is not enough to understand how these are worn if the audience does not have specific knowledge. If they had included more paintings or photographs, it would have been more interesting, and helped the audience to understand more. Shoes themselves do not have power: they give the wearer power. So I would say, there should have been more concern about the wearer.

Of course, there are spatial limitations, and we can imagine how some shoes are worn. But it is necessary for others; for example, shoes for bound feet in China have an image next to them. But the photograph is not clear enough to understand how such extremely tiny shoes could have actually been worn. There are some paintings, photographs and films but I would say they are not enough for the purpose of the exhibition. Hence, considering the spatial limitations, I could say that there might be too many shoes for this exhibition.

shoes exhib 1

{Image – V&A}

Many shoes are selected from the contemporary period, and are from very exclusive and luxury brands such as Christian Louboutin. These shoes are a representation of contemporary women’s status. However, the display of too many exclusive designers shoes reminded me of the shoe section of department stores such as Selfridges. Though it is not a historical exhibition, it should display a more balanced selection of periods since the curators think that shoes have had great impact throughout history.

Overall, this exhibition has had success and attracted audiences by displaying many unique shoes. However, the purpose of this exhibition is not to entertain us but to encourage us to see the power of shoes. When it comes to this point, this exhibition should have been more concerned about their display methods, and a balance of historical periods.

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain at the V&A is on until 31 January 2016. Click here for more information and booking.