Art and Fashion

Society has been immersed and controlled by fashion for centuries. Within society systems, fashion and styles are dictated and people follow. Some take it as far as transforming and perfecting the human figure through cosmetic surgery. Women everywhere are on constant watch with hawk eyes content to absorb and imitate the fashion filled media. Individuals adopting the given ‘fashion’ as authority ponder few questions if any of the origins and influences of these fashions. The many driving forces of fashion are omnipresent in the modern life. The shift of power in the industry has changed dramatically since ‘fashion’ became universally accessible and acceptable.

Historically fashion was a figurative art that accompanied the human body. Functionally it acted as a social signifier of class. Clothing not only is an interpretation of self but also offers protection both physical and psychological. Artist, Elise Siegal explores this notion of clothing in her art “It is about who we think we are and how we choose to represent ourselves… how we are seen and culturally defined”0. Clothing tells of our psychological, sexual and cultural identity. The role of clothing is therefore prominent in the construction and deconstruction of identity. It is a codified system that communicates the structure and system of society that it belongs to.

There are many purposes of fashion in the modern day that an individual may choose to dress in a particular way, some more prevailing than others. But what are the driving forces that determine the shape and colour of a woman’s wardrobe? Many may argue the reason being necessity. However our underlying sense of self; the ego is a much greater driving force. Everyone wants to be better, the best ever searching for perfection. In a world where so much emphasis is placed on image, we are always searching for the ‘perfect outfit’. An outfit that might encapsulate our unique sense of self, who we are and allow others to perceive us as we wish? Even if no such outfit exists, we are led to believe so. Is it a question of sex, power, status or money that influences and dictates, that which is fashionable?

Dress is the element that has classically been used to raise the perceived status of an individual. In the context of the performer, which holds precedence; the appeal of talent or the appeal of the implied, generated by dress. Social Psychologist, Floyd Henry Allport explored the notion of how man develops a sense of himself ‘from infancy our consciousness of ourselves is largely a reflection of the consciousness that others have of us’. In other words as an individual the choice to dress in a certain way lends to communicating to others how we wish to be perceived. The perceptions of viewers influences and molds our actual sense of self. In this instance dress merely acts as reassurance of whom and what we think we are.

Socially dress has the influence that may generate success or aid failure professionally or socially. When society held the Court as the basis of social structure those who were received by it were few. These few took for granted that everyone was acquainted or at least knew those who were fit for them to know. After this system collapsed, introductions between people became necessary. And as a social signifier dress became increasingly advantageous. However the disappearance of strict dress conventions also created a problem. The importance that dress holds in society lends to the insecurities of the modern woman and the problem of how to dress. Originally choice was extremely limited and those who were allowed choice were fewer. Generally the poor dressed in relation to profession, within guidelines of trade practicality and imposed sumptuary laws by the elite. Today one of the lasting impressions of convention of dress is exercised at Royal functions; strict guidelines continue to be adhered to by those that attend.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that fashion was married to trade and industry realized that authority in style was necessary and a figurehead of suitable influence was needed to promote the new mass market to boost revenues. The Machine Age is the major instigator in creating the availability of fashion for the masses. Another factor is the change of wealth distribution within society systems.

Clothing holds the elements of fashion, the influences of creative art and embodies the course of society. The Machine Age bred a new type of wealth, that which was created from commerce and trade. Money was made through it’s management and organization by the men; which allowed their wives to express this newfound rise of status and the securities and wealth born by the industrial revolution through their clothes.

Although the Singer sewing machine was invented in the 1850’s it was slow to encourage change within the industry. It was the combination of commercial faith, mechanical industry and it’s product, the customer and advertising that facilitated the boom in mass fashion. Industry has created mass fashion but implementing rules, which normally apply to mass production, are detrimental to fashion as it is born from individuality and creativity.

As can be seen when French couture lengthened the hemlines of skirts in hope that it would encourage sales. Commercially it failed as few women adopted the new style. At a similar time English designers Ossie Clark and Jean Muir, as a part of creative progression lengthened skirts, their styles sold and they reaped the intended success that French couture aimed for. Arguably, their success arose from their creative need and process as opposed to commercial stimulated change.

The leaders of style early in the century were ladies of strong minds with adequate self-assurance, as fashion was not readily available. The role of designer transitioned from servant of the elite to that of master providing a service for many. The peak of couture began after the 2nd World War, the ‘industry’ removed itself from dressing individual clients to producing and supplying fashion for the masses. As publicity was created in the form of advertising, fashion attracted a new client. The rich without a social status, and naturally lack of taste and confidence; who aspired to be ‘fashionable’. The World Wars were particularly influential in demolishing the old social ranks allowing for the trendsetter to emerge. Industry was unclear on who would lead style so the designer stepped up and took the lead. Designers began to dictate and overnight became stars and authorities of the industry. “Dior was right or Balmain, Givenchy, Balenciaga, and women around the world bowed to their new gods and adjusted their hemlines accordingly”0

In 1912 Cocteau observed, “Duchesses are ready for Poiret to dress, undress and costume them. All they care about is to be the beloved favorite, the silk and fur pillow covers, the lampshades, and the cushions of the Sultan in Vogue”o. This clearly exemplifies women’s preoccupation with the ‘trends’ and the objectification of the female in fashion, and their desire for and willingness to conform at the price of being ‘fashionable’. Poiret was one of the first designers to escape the mould of servant emerging as fashion adviser to the elite.

The influence and status of the designer is exemplified by fabric prints initialed with the designers name. In the 1920’s Jean Patou outlined pockets with his initials, it was Emilio Pucci who signed the corners of scarves and in 1967 Dior implemented the incorporation of the whole word. Everything from scarves to lingerie became licensed to generate profit for the fashion industry. In the past garments were identified by a small label hidden away. It’s identity held in secrecy to protect the origins of an individual’s attire. Another major influence of the century was made by Chanel who made costume jewelry in society both acceptable and chic. Previously for centuries only those of royal, aristocratic or adequate status wore jewels.

Late in 1968 the authorities of fashion became unclear again. In America around this time it became a trend to wear second hand clothes; this originally rose from necessity but acquired the further symbolism of rejecting the machine age for natural and ethnic fashions. 1969 marked the start of disillusionment with fashion by women. They started to opt for fashions of their own choice.

“We must remember that society and the individual are constantly at war with each other. Society desires the individual to stay put in his allotted place, where as the individual desires to elevate himself from his allotted place into a higher social place, dress is the most powerful single aid in the historic game of snakes and ladders”0

After the advent of World War Two, the notion of individuality became universally acceptable. Aided by merchandising the popularity of separates spread and couture houses that offered it were advantageous.

The concept of fully accessorized shows was also conceived post war. In the early days of couture shows, outfits were paraded with assumption that a client ‘knew’ how to correctly accessorize. The clothes were shown without jewelry and generally the model wore beige pumps, and in the Edwardian period dresses were shown worn over a high-necked black body stocking. This move from convention completed the image of presentation and aided in the generation of accessory sales to boost avenues for the fashion houses.

Today, the start of the 21st Century the influence of designers is evident in mass as popular fashion houses signatures are attached to any imitation accessory possible, from Dior sunglasses to Yves St Laurent handbags. To further display the extent of influence these products have been readily accepted and consumed by the fashion conscious.

The mass copying and production of fashion brought the most ‘fashionable’ dresses to the masses and entered them into the market at affordable prices that allowed for maximum profitability. It is said that a top designer can expect a ten-year cycle of popularity at the top perhaps this arises from the difficulty in finding original designers of substance and the constantly evolving and imitated styles derived from the ‘current’ master. More likely this ‘use by date’ is issued by the industry by undermining the talent, individuality and creativity of the designer at the top, eventually contributing to their fall from popularity.

Early this century advertisers implemented changes in their techniques, they shifted focus from the products and it’s attributes to the reader. Walter Dill Scott, a psychologist noted that “ goods offered as means of gaining social prestige make their appeals to one of the most profound human instincts”1. Advertising and it’s implementation was not solely used to promote products but to encourage the individual to ‘experience a self-conscious perspective’1 Historically through art the human form has epitomized natural beauty. Advertising instills a consumer mind frame of insecurity and feeds the fire of self-criticism. Criticism therefore moves from the product to the individual creating dissatisfaction with self. Advertising furthers sales of mass production by offering products of industry that provide temporary solutions for advertising induced faults.

Trade through advertising has distorted the intentions of designers and fashion universally; by scrutinizing collections, mass copying and the mass availability of imitation ‘looks’. The average individual has experienced an ever-disintegrating relationship with the designer. Women are told what they should wear to be beautiful. The desire for a certain look arises not from necessity but from successful advertising which awakes the subconscious. This appeal to the ego instantly transforms ‘want’ to ‘need’. Advocating the necessity of the fashionable appearance and proportioned body advocated by supermodel and movie star.

The industry has created a new class, the ‘Beautiful People’; dressed by the designer and implemented as a tool to lead the masses. The focal point of art in fashion has shifted from the clothing to the body. The clothing once complemented and adorned the body. Now the body is in the spotlight under constant pressure to fit the fashions and complement them.

The Designer creates from a need for creativity and individualism, within the top ranks of couture this remains, but as fashion is filtered down through the ranks it symbolism dramatically changes. It becomes a commodity, one of commercial viability; sold to the consumer. It is sold successfully disguised as ‘fashion’ and a tool to achieve status, beauty or power. Realistically the ready available fashions made for the masses act only to generate revenues. Advertising and commerce have eliminated the element of art in fashion for the individual. The consumer has been committed to conformity.


Kenzo Advertisement from a Feminist Ideology

Feminism is a part of womens’ identity and consciousness, this visual text will be studied through the ideological perspective of feminism and its position as an advertisement commonly found in teen and fashion magazines. The analysis of this text although being examined through feminist ideology will receive an erotic & fetish focused feminist analysis. The key concepts explored throughout this analysis will include the images, stereotypes of women and how these are portrayed in advertising using erotic and fetish symbolism. The representations and misrepresentations and their legitimacy within this genre will also be explored. Binary oppositions play a significant role in this text therefor the co-existence and struggle between the two binaries will also be explored. The text chosen is an adequate representation of most perfume advertisements and contains signs, which are commonly being used through out this genre. At this time advertisements in this genre are seeking and achieving results that are brought forward by using stereotypes, generalisations and patriarchal ideas reinforced through fetish and erotica. It is only fitting that these issues are studied from the perspective outlined above. The basis for the format of this assignment is drawn from a quote

” Accepting such a theory [feminism] as axiomatic feminist critics have exerted their energies in three fields. They have first unravelled the thick tapestries of male hegemony and unknotted networks of conscious assumptions and unconscious presumptions about women”
(Stimpson 1988, p.116)

The ideological issues which are raised by the text and will be explored are primarily the conflict of binary oppositions, stereotypes, subordination, domination and attempted and achieved manipulation. These will largely be looked at throughout the notion of voyeurism, namely who is being looked at and who is looking.

Within fetishism there is a tendency to prefer old-fashioned clothing. Practices and dress from other cultures particularly eastern, which exceed the normality of other cultures, have also been found to arouse interest in fetishists. An example of this is the Asian practice of foot binding, “Many contemporary fetishists like to associate their individual psychosexual enthusiasms with traditional practices in other cultures” (Steele 1996, p. 96). Questioning the reasoning behind this fascination it is evident that the fetish occurs because of its relativity to dominance and subordination. The dominance is evident in the foot binders and society’s control over the control of the natural growth of size and shape of the foot. The thought of control has always been appealing but has resurfaced particularly because the control over women has diminished and the domination becomes a form of arousal.

Within the text, fetish with the exotic notions of other cultures has been manipulated through the use of make-up symbolic of geisha. Arousal occurs not only because of the visual erotic achieved through the exotic but also because of the universal symbolism of geisha constructing themselves to physically parallel men’s desire, but also because geisha are objects of pleasure.

The subliminal symbolism of the geisha and male control of her physical appearance to coincide with men’s desire also interacts with the symbolism of perfume itself. Perfume signifies the liberation of women, as an object it allows the woman to ultimately control how she is perceived through how she smells. Perfume is iconic of individuality and independence achieved by women. However this positive control has negative repercussions, within the perfume advertising genre commonly the icon becomes symbolic of desire and lust, encouraging the woman to take control of herself to become more desirable to men.

In the nineteenth century the fashions largely emphasized the breasts and buttocks but very little of the legs were shown.

“The campaign to conceal the leg was so effective that by mid-century men were easily aroused by a glimpse of a woman’s ankle,” wrote historian Stephen Kern in Anatomy and Destiny, “ The high incidence at this time of fetishes involving shoes and stocking further testifies to the exaggerated eroticism generated by hiding the lower half of the female body”
(Steele 1996, p 96)

A return to a similar campaign can be seen within this text applying similar dress codes and hiding the lower half of the woman’s body inviting interest and an old fashioned sense of eroticism. The clothing worn by the woman also receives an Asian influenced style containing geisha qualities.

Fetish has many different interpretations, feminist theorist interpret it as a result of capitalism and patriarchy, a mix of objects which are glorified and women who are turned into objects. Therefore it receives a perspective that the woman becomes the fetish itself and the fetishist is the male. However feminists find that this explanation ignores the female’s desires, the following text is generally recognised as adequate in representing their desires

“While emerging within the frame of a phallic order, the fetish disrupts that order by fixing sexuality away from its proper … focus of attraction – that is, the genitals of the opposite sex – and ultimately away from the gendered body altogether. It moves sexuality towards a preoccupation with the fragment, the inanimate, … and since the fetish is an object out of place, its power erupts outside a hierarchy of “normality”… Fetishism is classified as a perversion in that it pushes to the limits and disrupts a phallocentric, or penis-focused, sexual order.”
(Steele 1996, p44)

The perfume bottle holds a large amount of the focus. Its shape is phallic in form and leads to patriarchal ideological identities. Its form is significant and holds dominance over the crouched female figure particularly through its solid, towering structure.

Many critics have used semiotics to decode and explore “how advertising fetishizes commodities through the use of language and imagery: for example how a diamond is made to symbolize love” (Steele 1996, p.51). In the early twentieth century authorities commonly had no problems with fetishism as it focused predominantly on objects and rituals rather than nudity and sexual intercourse. In this text there has been a return to the early nineteenth centuries fetishism pertaining to objects and rituals. The phallic connotations of the perfume bottle are momentarily disguised by the overlayed image of a flower. In the nineteenth century, there was great interest in the language of love and the meanings associated with different flowers. It was common for lovers to exchange flowers giving each other veiled messages. The symbolism of the red poppy dating back to the nineteenth century is pleasure. In the current era the red poppy has also received the meaning remembrance of war, therefore the symbolism of the poppy on the perfume bottle receives binary oppositional meaning of the male and female, pain and pleasure.

Through out time women have had infinity with the earth and nature. Women are seen just like the earth: as passive, receptive, nurturing vessels ultimately dominated by men. This connection is reinforced by her make-up that is also symbolic of the poppy implying that they share the same essence. The imagery of women through out magazines is endless and therefore it is inevitable that the representations of women in advertising and articles within pornography and women’s’ magazines be analysed and compared.

“Society is man-made and within it women cannot be themselves, they cannot speak, since language is male, they can only be what men want them to be. Because the self is a given – there all the time, waiting to be liberated in the case of the female; in the case of the male it is there all the time, expressed in aggression, rape, war and destruction – there is no point working with men who cannot change. Women are by nature good, men by nature evil”
(Grace & Stephen 1981, p82)

Binary oppositions are found throughout this text, both in the denotative and connotative forms. The most dominant binary opposition is that of the man made and the organic. Contrast is created within the actual object; the perfume bottle, a man mad object with a flower, an organic object. The struggle for dominance between the binary’s can also be seen as the flower is a symbol of growth and the bottle is inanimate. The background consists of imagery of a purely static and rigid geometric man made form with an overlay of branches from a tree; an organic and natural form. The binary oppositions can further be seen in the woman; women are naturally portrayed as curvaceous forms, however within the text she has been manipulated and posed in a rigid, geometric and unnatural position. All of the binary oppositions are signs signifying the ever-present oppositions of male and female and the dominance and control, which are forced upon women.

From a feminist stance pornography, erotica and fetishism is essentially ‘about’ women and male views of feminine beauty and desire but it is also representative of masculinity and the male desire. There are many magazines, which cater for this masculine desire such as Playboy and Penthouse. Feminists may be angered that it is men who are addressed and, that women’s desires are not represented fairly and that the representations of women are inadequate. Attempts have been made to find and develop a femininity, which rejects patriarchal ideologies and is defined by ourselves.

“The attempt to perceive such relations – which are suppressed by bourgeois ideology – involved a conscious break from existing representations. At the same time, there has been a reactive response which in effect involves a denial of feminine pleasure, a denial of our desires by men, since it is held that only women can know ‘what women want’.”
(Grace & Stephen 1981, p.84)

As ideals, imagery of ‘spontaneity’, sisterhood, independence and strength are representative of feminism but these ideas are just as unrealistic as the current representation and idealisation of women in advertising, fashion and magazines today. The imagery created by representations with advertising is limiting, as it is unable to show the social construct, relations and processes involved.

There has been great difficulty experienced in developing a non-exploitive, non-sexist, feminist eroticism that can be adequately explained in terms of a woman’s heightened reaction to touch rather than the gaze

“The prevalence of the gaze is particularly foreign to feminine eroticism. Woman takes pleasure from the touch more than the gaze and her entry into a dominant scopic economy signifies again her assignment to passivity; she is to be the beautiful object of the gaze”
(Grace & Stephen 1981, p85)

In this text the woman knows she is being watched and is looking back at the voyeur. Her gaze is ambivalent containing simultaneously a daring and inviting look. Interestingly the visual text originates from a woman’s magazine therefore the intended voyeur is female. The concept of voyeurism is further explored in the following text

“Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relation between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male; the surveyed female. Thus she turn herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision; a sight … To raise the question of the look and to suggest a feminist strategy of the reappropriation of the look raises interesting possibilities for the development of a feminist/feminine eroticism. By ‘the reappropriation of the look’ is meant a strategy in which we recognise the we do look in ‘ideologically unsound’ ways at others, that we begin to look at pornography as well … to discover what is to be learnt of masculinity in informing an effective response to men and in understanding femininity.”
(Grace & Stephen 1981, p.85-86)

Once again it is possible to see that an attempt to control women and how they perceive and interact with imagery is at play right down to the layout of text and colouring. Two main blocks of text are evident in the text, a vertical type and horizontal type. The vertical text is bigger, mimics the perfume bottle and has phallic symbolism. Whereas the horizontal text is subordinate, it is smaller and less significant and placed under the woman almost implying that the woman has grown from this text. The colours throughout the text are predominantly black, white and red. The black and white; evil and good are signifiers of the constant struggle for power while the red signifies the erotic. These colours are also showing the gap and contrast between male and female.

Male desire as a representation is constantly transforming and to maintain this male interest constantly evolving devices are being created and utilised within advertising and pornography. The common pin up is an excellent example of this, found commonly in male workplaces amongst grit and grime. The picture itself is often set in luxurious places and this acts to contrast the environment in which it is viewed stimulating interest and creating an erotic effect. This text has also been placed within a similar context; the setting of the image is superior and more luxurious to that in which it would be viewed.

“Soft porn uses a social context to structure desire. Some Playboy images make the worksite the basis for the fantasy by inserting a small photo of the pin-up girl as a secretary in the office. This device produces the fantasy that any secretary, any woman can be transformed into a pin-up by an act of male imagination. The fantasy exists at the point of dislocation from work to play and in the process everyday surrounding are given an erotic function within the page”
(Grace & Stephen 1981, p.88)

The style of photography also has a large significance with relation to how the photograph is read. Feminist ideal of positive imagery created portraying women generally takes the form and draws on the essence of the “snapshot”. Largely because a ‘snapshot’ is usually one friend taking a photo of another, therefore the photo is significant of the relationship and friendship between the two. The ‘snapshot’ is seen as being real and telling things as they are

“Other conventions are also operating – the convention of the ‘decisive moment’ as revealing of the character, the essence of the person; the unposed, the spontaneous, the ‘natural’ which operates … to construct the notion of truth, honesty.”
(Grace & Stephen 1981, p90)

However within this text it is evident that this is not a ‘snapshot photograph’, it clear that the woman has been manipulated to form a pose which reinforces woman’s subordination and the dominance held by the male. Her crouching posture signifies her succumbing to the male’s view and ideals of women.

Within this text varying degrees of ambivalence occurs and can be seen in the above analysis. The signs held in this text are presented both directly and indirectly and their connections with the ideology are highlighted in the analysis. Although this text has a target audience of women and employs notions of self-control, independence and growth it is deceptive in how it achieves this. Ultimately this text and product has been marketed so women will manipulate themselves for the desire & pleasure of men. All of the sign reinforce the ideology associated with fetish and erotica as a source of pleasure and domination created by men.