Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I can tell that we are gonna be friends.

Yesterday morning I spent an hour sitting with Ulrich Lehmann over a large skim cap and poached eggs. Like Dick Hebdige, he led the conversation- in fact, he articulated my thoughts exactly then sat back with a satisfied smile as I, amazed, scribbled everything down.

Further to that point, he is a great writer- I have never formally studied philosophy, which is his entire terrain (his book Tigersprung lays out a philosophy of fashion) but I find his writing clear, nuanced and funny. Funny! Get a load of this tidbit in his Introduction:

Should the work, after being read, be dismissed as facile and "fashionable", I can always defuse critique by pretending that the topic, after all, demands such a treatment.

I found myself devouring this book. It is heavy and clothbound, so it's not a volume that lends itself to stuffing in a bag for browsing while you're on the train to work. But it's so fascinating that I want to keep it on hand until I have memorised every single word.

Lehmann makes the argument in this book that fashion reflects modernity (la modernité, from Baudelaire) in its very essence and, interestingly, that it was in fact the inspiration for the coining of the term 'modernité' in the first place (la mode-la modernité. Comprenez-vous?) I'm sure he says a lot more in the bits I've yet to read- it is, after all, a hefty little tome- but for now, the highlights.

A beautiful sentence: "fashion is the supreme expression of that contemporary spirit. It changes constantly and remains necessarily incomplete; it is transitory, mobile and fragmentary." (xii)

On the transhistorical nature of sartorial fashion: "it always appears as the most immediate present, affecting the future with its constant changes, yet it always quotes from the past. Its creators in haute couture 'anticipate the things to come' so well because they do not anticipate at all- they merely create the perfect expression of the contemporary spirit, which, ironically, manifests itself in clothes whose design is drawn from a past sourcebook. They are able to recognise such expressions before they are generally realised, because of the absolute proximity of their works to the human body and its emotive responses. Clothes are closer to the spirit than intellectual contemplation or analysis is; and in the hand of a truly progressive designer, they can operate on an equally fundamental level." (xviii)

Recently, Phoebe Philo's (S/S RTW 2010) vision of modern womanhood, all clean lines and adept tailoring neatly realised in shades of camel, charcoal, taupe and white, seemed to express a prevailing mood which hadn't yet found articulation. This mood seems more interior than last year's woman- the Céline woman is self-assured, she dresses for herself (this collection wasn't traditionally 'sexy', but contained)- this woman's strength seems to come from what is concealed. She is intelligent- the design details are there, the careful eye for line and shape. 

It seemed to me a reaction against fashion's last resounding 'YES' moment which was unleashed by Christophe Decarnin at Balmain in his S/S RTW 2009 collection. 

His was a sexually charged, mussed womanhood whose ferocious shoulders established a feminine strength which was then undercut- or juxtaposed?- by the distressed jeans and OTT crystal embellishment. It was a finger stuck up at classicism, a defiant statement that maybe women 'can have it all.' (By this I mean, she's strong but she's still sexy. She has power but it's a sexual power, which makes everyone happy? Please note that my tongue is firmly in cheek. But that's what I got from that collection.) 
Where am I going with this musing? Perhaps I am trying to say nothing more than what has been said many times before: that in its very seasonality, fashion is positioned to reflect and commentate upon society as it is in that moment in a way that perhaps no other art form is. I think that what is represented by new designs is more than 'this is what is desirable now'; they can also be a statement of what we value now, how we are feeling now- as rendered through what we want to wear. 

The ability of fashion to connect deeply with self-expression is touched upon by Lehmann when he talks about clothes being closer to the spirit than intellectual contemplation or analysis- there is something beautiful and strange in the compulsion to wear something because it feels right. Because it is a visual expression of what is unseen- the feelings, thoughts, moods of an individual, which can be a collective sentiment as well. Which is why I feel so frustrated when people deride fashion as totally vapid, vain or unimportant- the generalised, negative writing off of this field completely ignores the many complexities and subtleties tied up with clothing, design and expression; I think it misses the point entirely. In fact, I find it interesting that so many people are so vehemently against fashion- but that is a blog post for another day. Back to my buddy Lehmann. 

For those who might scoff at my labelling fashion an 'art form', Lehmann's got my back: "fashion as a topic remains embroiled and disputed because of its alleged lack of substance- in artistic as well as metaphysical terms. The profound and eternal are considered worthy of intellectual analysis; what is transient and fugitive will nearly always be equated consciously or unconsciously with the facile and futile. Yet herein lies fashion's most absorbing fascination: it challenges us to transpose transitoriness, also the hallmark of modernity, into a medium of high regard, while maintaining its distinct characteristics; to theorise and analyse, yet not to petrify." (4)

See why I like this guy? Best.

{Images from style.com}

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rosie - the way you feel about fashion is how I feel about stationery! And finally our passions have combined with Kikki-K! She put me onto a website/twitter thingy that I thought you might be interested in (or not as I still have no real idea about fashion) but suggest you check out LOOKBOOK.NU! (to be more precise, go to - http://lookbook.nu/look/710829-back-to-square-one to see our passions in action). Happy blogging!