Fashion Now Archive

“Do You Mind If I Borrow…”: The Fun and Significance of Sharing Clothes

Recent theoretical discourse has sought to emphasise the emotional significance of dress, with many studies – academic and anecdotal – highlighting how the tactile and visual nature of clothing, and its prominence in our everyday lives, can imbue clothing with deep emotional resonance and also can be an important part of the human bonding experience. This idea of connecting through clothing resonated with me as my brother, Zak, and I now regularly exchange items of clothing, and always have a comment ready (usually, though not always, complimentary) on one another’s outfits. We have similar tastes, both favouring bright colours and bold patterns, and find most of our outfits in charity shops or (cheap) vintage markets.

Zak and I both chose some of our favourite garments from each other’s wardrobes, styling them with our own clothes. He chose two of my (many) jumpsuits and a pair of high-waisted trousers that he has always loved the colour of – and annoyingly suit him better than they suit me! I chose some of Zak’s outfits outright – you can’t go wrong with jeans and a t-shirt! – and also incorporated one of his favourite jumpers into one of my usual outfits.

Daisy

Zak

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our discussions on clothing while taking the photos for this blog highlighted to me some interesting distinctions in the kinds of garments currently designed for men compared to those for women. My brother has mentioned that the clothing he sees for men in high street shops is often less colourful and daring than the clothing available to women, while I feel that some of the clothing marketed at women is impractical; as highlighted by the ongoing debate on why women’s clothing often comes without the useful addition of functional pockets.

 

Furthermore, the filtering of clothing styles through the rigid wall of traditional gender boundaries can sometimes seem somewhat one sided. Sarah Wilson has argued that the adoption of traditionally ‘masculine’ garments, such as trousers, by women in the 1920s initially resulted in a popular ‘hysteria’ in response to this supposed transgression of gender boundaries. This raised the point in my mind that while it now is generally accepted for women to wear conventionally ‘masculine’ clothing – I can easily incorporate Zak’s t-shirts or trousers into my outfit – it is still seen as less socially acceptable for men to wear ‘feminine’ garments or cuts. Additionally, I’m not sure if it’s the case that the cut of women’s clothing doesn’t flatter the male body shape, or that we are still culturally programmed to see men in women’s clothing as jarring, but some of my more ‘feminine’ clothing, such as dresses or flared trousers (not shown here), really didn’t seem to suit Zak at all. By sharing clothes with one another, and experimenting with some outfits that we wouldn’t necessarily try on in a shop changing room, we thought more closely about the clothes we choose to wear and why. As such, while swapping clothes with my brother is primarily a fun and playful bonding experience, I also now see it as an interesting exploration of the gender boundaries which have come to define sartorial norms.

 

 

What Does a Clinical Psychologist Wear to Work?

Dressing for a work environment alters our experience of clothing significantly. We are used to uniforms for school, but the world of work has a different set of rules, with each type of work/ workplace having a different dress code. This came to mind for me when I was talking to my friend, Maddy, who is currently in the first year of her doctorate for clinical psychology. She mentioned that when visiting wards and patients she couldn’t dress too formally, as she would appear intimidating, but still needs to look professional as she’s in a working environment. The psychological consequences of Maddy’s outfits interested me, so I decided to ask her some questions about her dress code and how it contrasts with her day to day outfits.

Maddy’s workwear

In relation to the outlined dress code, Maddy told me that what she was given was to be smart, clean and appropriate, a variation really on the (in my opinion) infuriating smart/casual. For example, her supervisor wears jeans paired with a waistcoat, whereas Maddy will opt to wear a cardigan rather than a blazer. She writes that while visiting wards she has to dress smarter than she would on community visits, and she has to adhere to the guidelines on NHS dressing. This means that she doesn’t wear an assigned uniform like nurses and healthcare assistants, but must still look smart (while also not dressing super smart) to be on a relatable level to patients. Maddy also mentioned that the older students gave advice in terms of the dress code, and they responded that it was difficult to know, but a tip was to avoid wearing red, as this is seen as an angry and aggressive colour.

Maddy’s workwear

These multiple factors demonstrate how many contradictory elements there are to consider when getting dressed. In Maddy’s case, how her clothing is received by others is of prime importance, and she says that it is best to not stand out and conform, as you don’t want the attention on you when dealing with people. She describes what she wears to work as boring, and she doesn’t like dressing smart. At the same time, when I asked Maddy how her clothing made her feel, she replied that she felt more confident, proper and competent.

Maddy’s day to day wear

In reference to Maddy’s personal style, her work clothes differ greatly. As shown by the images of us together (admittedly before nights out) Maddy has a clearly individualised sense of dress which I feel compliments her personality. She considers her work clothes boring, and admittedly they are made up of soberer colours, but I feel that she still manages to inject her personal flair into her work outfits, illustrated by her (Maddy trademark) Doc Martens and the prints on her clothing. I feel that with her career, as with any, there is a careful balance to strike with clothing. She doesn’t have a uniform but has to obey guidelines, while also appearing smart but not excessively so. Maddy’s working environment means that she has to consider not only her preferences for dress, but also her employer’s, the hospital environment, and how her patients will react. This shows the layers of meaning behind a deceptively simple and conformative work outfit.

Maddy and I

Looking at it Backwards: My Visit to the Brussels Fashion and Lace Museum

I visited Brussels over the holiday and had the pleasure of spending a few hours at the Fashion and Lace Museum. Their current exhibition, Back Side: Fashion from Behind, emphasizes the backs of the body and of the backs of garments, quite literally flipping the perspective on viewing fashion in a museum. It asks what is revealed or conveyed on the back of the body, which, according to their press kit, the human being has an ‘ambiguous’ relationship with because it is constantly decorated by fashion, yet remains unseen by the wearer. The show integrates 70 pieces, spanning a period of 400 years, from haute couture to ready-to-wear, and which help to explore the subject from many angles.

I most enjoyed the broad range of objects, but also the curatorial choices that were made to display the garments and communicate with the viewer. Many objects were shown with the back facing the viewer, often in a case with a mirror so the front could often be seen (reminiscent of Madeleine Vionnet’s photographs of models whose fronts were revealed by mirrors). Very few of them were visible in the round. It struck me that only being able to see the backside of a garment, with limited visual access to the front, produced a certain discomfort due to the restricted vision. Normally, we focus attention to the front sides of clothes, whether on our own bodies or others. It felt to me that I was being denied access to the part of a garment I am most used to seeing, and effectively made me consider the ‘ambiguous’ relationship we have to this side of the body.

Dress by Lanvin

The exhibition also highlighted the differing notions of the back as something hidden or forgotten, versus revealed or as an erotic focal point. One display case highlighted examples of the ‘forgotten’ back, including waistcoats embroidered on the front and plain fabric on the back, and one contemporary Lanvin dress with an embellished front of white, densely layered material, and an entirely black back, exposing the zipper and showing the ground on which the layers were attached. The back of this silhouette allowed the construction to reveal itself. Later, the erotically exposed back was demonstrated through the photographs of Jeanloup Sieff, which tread a line between fashion images and tantalizing photos of the female body.

Hilde in a Dress That is Too Small, Paris. Photograph by Jeanloup Sieff
Hervé Leger dress. Published in Depeche Mode 1995

Back Side asks the viewer to see the body in three dimensions, and reconsider how we relate to the unseen sides of our own bodies. It succeeds in mixing historical and contemporary dress, high and low fashion, glamorous and bizarre (a Rick Owens ‘outfit’ comes to mind, in which one outfit is attached to another like a backpack and would have been work by two models, one carried by the other). In addition to the joy of viewing beautiful objects, I most appreciated how the curation allowed such a simple change in perspective to become a rich and complex exploration of the back side through fashion.

Women and Fashion on the Red Carpet

It is awards season in the film industry, which means a proliferation of red carpet fashion reports over the coming weeks. Female actors’ ensembles tend to receive the most attention, with certain garments attracting as much (or more) coverage as their wearer’s nominations. Consequently, red carpet fashion reportage has sometimes been criticised for its apparent focus on style over substance, and in recent years activists have attempted to shift the emphasis from what female actors are wearing to what they are achieving. For example, the #AskHerMore campaign was established in 2014 to encourage red carpet reporters to question female actors about more than their fashion choices.

Ginger Rogers, pictured next to James Stewart, wearing an Irene dress at the 13th Academy Awards, 27 February 1941. Unknown photographer.

It can certainly feel frustrating when female actors are asked solely about their appearance, especially if their male peers receive a wider variety of questions. In turn, red carpet fashion coverage is further problematised because it is connected to the objectification of women as dressed bodies. Close-up, panning footage of a red carpet dress focuses as much on the wearer’s body as it does on the construction of the garment, for example, and fashion-related questions and headlines can quickly become inappropriate or offensive with regards to female actors’ bodies. Feminist criticism of such reporting practices is thus highly relevant in Hollywood’s current climate.

However, not all criticism levelled at red carpet fashion coverage is concerned with the treatment of female actors; sometimes it is based on a notion that fashion is not newsworthy. If coverage of awards ceremonies and nominations is news, coverage of red carpet fashion is still viewed as unimportant by some. Yet, while ‘worst dressed’ listicles or questions about underwear can make the topic of red carpet fashion appear ridiculous, serious coverage of actors’ fashion choices is as relevant as ever. Linked as closely as it is with identity politics, for instance, fashion has an enduring relationship with red carpet protests connected to wider movements. From Ginger Rogers’ donning an economically-cut, American-made dress in an act of wartime solidarity at the 1941 Academy Awards, to the all-black ensembles worn on red carpets in support of the Time’s Up campaign, actors have always known the significance of fashion in the film industry and beyond.

Actors and activists wearing black in support of the Time’s Up campaign at the 75th Golden Globe Awards, 7 January 2018. Photograph by Joe Scarnici.

Moreover, dismissals of red carpet fashion reports as irrelevant have the same undertones of sexism as inappropriate questions about female actors’ appearances. The historical association of women with fashion is long and unrelenting, with the fashion industry (including fashion journalism) still largely focused on women’s wear and catering to female consumers. Red carpet fashion reports can thus all too easily be undervalued as ‘women’s interest’ pieces, especially when they are published alongside coverage of nominations and awards in the male-dominated film industry.

In light of recent criticism of red carpet fashion coverage, some have suggested that it is no longer appropriate to discuss fashion on the red carpet. This sentiment is understandable, but it is also somewhat facile. Outdated approaches to reporting can only change if red carpet fashion continues to be a topic of conversation.

The Currency of Cool

Last year, I wrote my BA dissertation about the portraits by American painter Kehinde Wiley. He is known for featuring African American subjects wearing contemporary street clothing in positions taken from the Western canon of portraiture. Typically, the subjects portrayed are not identifiable, but take on the poses of rulers of history, removed from their context and painted against lush, decorative backgrounds. After finishing his MFA at Yale University in 2001, Wiley began displaying his work in the early 2000s, bringing grandiose images of black and brown bodies dressed in street wear into white gallery and museum spaces. My project in regards to his oeuvre questioned the utility of this kind of portraiture, simultaneously hyper-real and mythologizing, in terms of the politics of representation of blackness in the visual sphere.

In these paintings, fashion associated with the visual culture of hip-hop becomes the uniform for Wiley’s subjects. They pose in baggy jeans, chains, puffer jackets, sports jerseys, and popular clothing brands, which are remarkable for two reasons: it is rather shocking to see these casually dressed, ‘cool’ black figures assuming the position of a Van Dyck portrait, but also because it was nearly unprecedented to see this kind of fashion hanging on the walls of a museum space. While European portraits of rulers certainly utilize a visual language of opulence and excess in dress, seeing contemporary ‘bling’ in such an image is rather unusual. Wiley has produced dozens of paintings like these, and critics have suggested that these images have become formulaic. Arguments that these works have a homogenizing, flattening effect over the representation of black life in America have substantial foundations in the repetition of similar iconographies. It is true that Wiley’s paintings are not a representative cross section. They saturate the art market with images of African Americans of a singular social milieu, and rely on stereotypes perpetuated in news media and popular culture of a young black man as a thug or a pompous rapper. On one hand, these paintings introduce a new figure and fashion into the canon of formal portraiture, but risk commodifying the image of ‘coolness’ further than it already has been.

Concurrently with the early years of Wiley’s career, an exhibit opened at the V&A called Black British Style (October 2004-January 2005) which displayed clothing, photographs, and other objects to explore the many notions of fashion in the legacy of the African diaspora, particularly on the African continent, in Jamaica, Britain, and the United States. It spanned many styles, geographies, and times, and blended artifact and image, and narrative and memory, to contribute to the building of an archive of African diasporic history in the legacy of slavery and erasure. Addressed within the exhibit was the fashion of hip-hop culture in contrast to African-inspired fashion in the West. Black Style, the book published in conjunction with the exhibit, notes that hip-hop subverts ‘establishment notions of racial difference through cutting-edge styles that throw back in the face of mainstream America its own stereotypes of inner-city black youth.’ At the same time, hip-hop dress has been continuously co-opted by mainstream white culture, and, like in Wiley’s paintings, can signal popular commodified fashion. However, the display of this style of dress within such an institution was rather groundbreaking. As curator Carol Tulloch noted, ‘It really was a landmark event for a major national institution like the V&A. One magazine wrote: “The fact that the V&A has batty riders on display is worth the £6 entry on its own.”’

Wiley’s portraits and the V&A’s exhibition entered the mainstream art world around the same time, bringing representations of hip-hop fashion into elitist white museum and gallery spaces. They worked in opposite visual languages – one of fantasy, myth, and the art historical canon, the other creating a documentarian notion of ‘truth’ – but attempted to work within the same system to call out stereotypes about the black body. Wiley’s paintings utilize the visual language of visibility; Black British Style the currency of archival information and objects. Although bringing representations of black style into these spaces requires a careful negotiation of celebration versus commodification and appropriation, the dressed black body became visible and present where it had not been before, and has opened a door to more diverse representations of dress and the bodies that occupy it.

References:

Lewis, Tim. “Carol Tulloch: ‘Dressing Well Is Almost Part of the DNA in the Black Community’.” The Guardian. March 06, 2016. Accessed December 01, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/mar/06/carol-tulloch-black-style-the-birth-of-cool-interview.

Tulloch, Carol. Black Style. London: V & A Publications, 2005.

Documenting My Wardrobe: Why My Friend and I Share Daily Outfit Pictures

For the past month and a half my friend, Niamh, and I have been sending each other outfit pictures. We lived together last year in York and now, with her there and me in London, we decided this would liven up our communication. Considering that a large proportion of our conversation is clothing related anyway, this made a lot of sense.

Having a visual record of our outfits gives me much more of a sense of keeping in contact, as the visual translates so much more than a message on a screen. On a daily basis we would have shown each other our outfits and also gauged opinions on new purchases in person, so this felt like a natural addition to our conversation.

We chose our six (tried to keep it to three and failed) favourite outfits from the other’s wardrobe and talked about our choices. As shown by the pictures, Niamh is never not wearing a black item of clothing. When I asked her why, she revealed that “It’s because it’s easy to wear, it’s flattering, I feel like it can be something basic but it being black elevates it in a way, and now I’m so comfortable wearing black it’s hard to wear other things.” She added that she used to steer clear of wearing black, out of fear that it would make her look too pale and stand out. Now she embraces this look, and I love that she took something that made her uncomfortable and turned it into a wardrobe staple.

I don’t normally document my wardrobe, but it has now become part of my morning routine. It falls in the five seconds I have to spare after brushing my teeth and before realising that I’m going to miss my bus. I liked the idea of taking a quick snap each day and sending it, as it felt like a real representation of us – for example, the streaky state of my bathroom mirror, and Niamh’s bedroom in the background. It was also interesting to see the poses we repeated, with Niamh going for phone covering part of the face and a bent leg, whereas I opted for a variation of the peace sign or hand on the hip with a pained grimace. To excuse myself, these pictures were originally meant for Niamh’s eyes only.

We discovered our mutual reasons behind our picture choices were a love of a statement coat and the outfits we would wear of the other person’s. My clothing choices have always been based on a love of bright colours and print, but more recently I have shifted to wearing less prints and more block colours. I feel that the outfit pictures show how different our styles are, but also a mix of comfort and (aiming for) sophistication.

The images we chose were our everyday clothes, rather than images we might share on a public platform, such as Instagram. I like that we are giving importance to our day-to-day wear and how we look, which is closer to our personal interactions, rather than presenting a mediated version of ourselves.

Ellen Bhamra

Useful and Beautiful? William Morris and H&M

Coincidentally, two days after I asked whether the bourgeois elite ever matched their upholstery to the fabric of their dress, I took myself to the William Morris Gallery to work out what I thought about the H&M x Morris & Co. collaboration. Spoiler: while I am decidedly annoyed with myself for buying a pretty but unnecessary book about mazes (labyrinths have been on my mind – what else?), I remain ambivalent about the latest of the Swedish fashion chain’s myriad partnerships.

A West End window, emblazoned with the autumn partnership. Photo by author

On H&M’s campaign page, the shopper is encouraged to get lost ‘in a world of exquisite original patterns and modern tributes to the work of William Morris, one of the nineteenth century’s most celebrated designers’, in celebration of ‘nature, style and timelessness’. Two models stride through a moor where they offer daisies, peer through windows, dunk enamel cups in basins, and snap pics with a vintage camera, self-referentially underscoring the ad’s amateur film footage look to induce the brand of lifestyle envy that only the 30-second fashion advertisement can. Then: an array of womenswear, ranging from £5.99 to £79.99, though neither the fabric hairband nor the wool-blend coat book-ending the spectrum represent actual collaboration pieces. Out of 90 products, 33 are William Morris & Co. x H&M. And so while there is nothing extraordinary about a two-pack of knee socks, the collection is meant to be a composition of heavy, heady historical references attenuated by standard H&M basics. Pair pleated skirts, maxi dresses and printed wide trousers with knit jumpers, Chelsea boots and faux fur coats: one can ‘curate’ outfits in a way that, in the age of online shopping, would normally never bear mentioning but which happens to resonate particularly with Morris’s artistic ethos: hand-picked Art for Art’s sake…and for everyone else’s.

A selection of pieces from the H&M x Morris & Co. collaboration. From https://
www2.hm.com/en_gb/ladies/shop-by-feature/1288a-morris-co-x-hm.html?sort=ascPrice&imagesize=
small&image=stillLife&offset=0&page-size=90

William Morris was one of the 19th century’s romantic, disappointing sons who abandoned a future in the church in favour of much more earthly realms. Getting a taste of artistic camaraderie after falling in with the Pre-Raphaelites, larking about on Rossetti’s hilarious ‘Jovial Campaign’ and embarking upon a group artistic housewarming project, he and six partners—whom he eventually bought out—founded the interior decorating business Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. in 1861. Disillusioned with modernism and industrial modes of production and radically nostalgic for an age of highly artisanal craftsmanship, Morris pioneered a sort of anti-Industrial Revolution. As a progressive socialist and firm believer that beauty belonged to the masses, he also understood the limits to what could only ever ideally be a democratic model, apparently regretting that his ‘his high quality, handmade products were beyond the means of ordinary working people’ (William Morris Gallery). In a move similar to that of 19th century couture houses, his evolving company launched more affordable lines to attract a wider range of clientele – the interior design’s analogue of fashion’s ready-to-wear.

Mannequins dressed in collaboration pieces at H&M. Photo by author

While the ideal Morris client would have afforded an exquisite, hand-crafted, bespoke interior – despite the designer’s empathy for broader swathes of society – there is nothing inherently bespoke in today’s accessible, ubiquitous fashion lines. To be fair, what H&M has done is, superficially, no different from what countless museum gift shops – commercial spaces with much closer ties to art and history – do: if the scarf my mom wears at the Huntington Gallery is not printed with a Morris design, it certainly shares the look. Even his contemporaries ‘dressed themselves with his wall hangings’ (William Morris Gallery). Perhaps it is simply that, what with H&M as an established, popular clothing store, I am more inclined to critically analyse the partnership in terms of fashion and art history and get caught up in notions of integrity; and because Morris had such striking aesthetic principles, I am more invested in an ideological dialogue that I find lacking. Ultimately, the collaboration between Morris & Co. and a mostly-affordable fast fashion company that tends to satisfy and disappoint me at an equal pace oscillates between seeming antithetical and completely fitting. I have not purchased anything, nor do I plan to, and, as mentioned above, I remain ambivalent. But perhaps it would be more fitting to frame this ambivalence as a blossoming response to William Morris’s motto, ‘Si je puis: Pourquoi pas?’

A Portrait of Jeremy Scott

How did Jeremy Scott capitalise on his ‘aura’ whilst simultaneously crowning himself the Founding Father of (21st century) Fast Fashion? 

The campaign artwork for Jeremy Scott’s 2018 Moschino X H&M collection, at H&M’s Regent Street flagship store, London, 2 November 2018. Photo taken by author

‘Some company recently was interested in buying my “aura”. They didn’t want my product. They kept saying, “We want your aura”. I never figured out what they wanted. But they were willing to pay a lot for it. So then I thought that if somebody was willing to pay that much for it, I should try to figure out what that is.’ -Andy Warhol

I am unsure as to whether Andy Warhol personally believed he was successful in ‘figuring out’ the marketability of his ‘aura’, but he most certainly triumphed in utilising its inherent mystique to cement his place within the Western art historical canon. If you see a Warholian work of art, the shadow of his authorship looms over its image: his soup cans, his saturated Marilyns, his acidic hibiscus flowerpieces—each undeniably drenched in the saccharine scent of his ‘Pop’ personhood. In the figure of Jeremy Scott, I am reminded of Warhol’s mass-appealing ‘aura’. However, in Scott’s case, his aura’s RRP is far more affordable, and by next season (or by the time his next collaboration drop hits), it will have metamorphosed to possess an entirely new face and/or aesthetic. 

Campaign artwork for Jeremy Scott’s 2018 Moschino X H&M collection

In the campaign artwork for his latest Moschino collection, in collaboration with H&M, Scott places himself front-and-centre. A large, gilded portrait bust of Scott eerily hangs in the backdrop, his icon securing his role as Creator of the collection, the luxury Italian fashion house he directs, and a generation of kitsch-kids who will queue for hours on end to invest in their own slice of 21st century pop-culture history. I was somewhat stunned by the intoxicating jolt of hysteria I experienced viewing this bust of Scott through the glass of H&M’s Regent Street flagship store on my walk to work. There were so many burning questions: Is he aggrandising the role of Designer? Is he mocking himself? Is the use of a sculptural relief with such strong classical connotations important? Why, oh why is it gold… 

Campaign artwork for Jeremy Scott’s 2018 Moschino X H&M collection

I am not shocked by Scott’s use of license in this play on portraiture: he has always heavily publicised the indoctrination of his self-image within Moschino’s branding. In conversation with Alice Casely-Hayford of British Vogue regarding the Moschino x H&M drop, Scott stated, ‘I started with the thought of how to make it the most Jeremy Scott for Moschino collection ever.’ I am not even shocked by the garishly bombastic representation of the self that lingers in this spectral, chain-ridden bust. Jeremy Scott has consistently inspired a playful subversion of the fashion industry’s grandiosity, with his Moschino collections of the past five years undoubtedly poking fun at the veil of exclusivity that shrouds the luxury goods market. 

Behind-the-scenes image of Jeremy Scott and model Gigi Hadid on set for the Moschino X H&M collection campaign

Franco Moschino himself similarly antagonised the culturally accepted signifiers of consumption through his irreverent humour and socially-conscious campaigns—which, likewise, featured himself.

I am, however, shocked by the forward motion of Scott’s cult of personality. A strong, creative character that functions as a personified embodiment of the luxury brand under their direction is not necessarily a negative, it is far less common that a fashion house is governed by an introvert. However, the Moschino brand now, in 2018, cannot be examined without the inclusion of Scott; his authorship is a function of Moschino’s further discourse, and consumers invest consciously into his strategically marketed, highly covetable ‘aura’. 

A picture of Venessa Lee after collecting her goodies from H&M’s Regent Street flagship store on 8 November 2018, day of the Moschino X H&M collection drop

Queues outside H&M’s Regent Street flagship store on 8 November 2018, day of the Moschino X H&M collection. Photo taken by author

Hot tip: type “HMMoschino” into the gif feature on your Instagram Stories for a hilarious insight into Mr Scott’s 21st Century aura. You’re welcome 😉 

And I don’t know about the wider consensus but I’m looking forward to future @diet_prada content on Scott, coming soon to an iOS or android device near you.

The copy-cat scandal that @diet_prada reported on in September 2017, regarding Norwegian womenswear designer and London College of Fashion graduate Edda Gimnes and Scott’s Spring 2019 ready-to-wear collection for Moschino

References

A. Warhol, ‘THE Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again): 5. Fame (1975)’ in ON&BY ANDY WARHOL, ed. Gilda Williams, (Cambridge, Massachusetts, The MIT Press, 2016, p.53 

Alice Casely-Hayford, ‘A First Look at the full Moschino x H&M Collection’, British Vogue, 25/10/2018. Online edition. https://www.vogue.co.uk/gallery/hm-announces-collaboration, accessed 15/11/2018 

Fashion Illustration and Instagram

From the creative process to representation in magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, illustration has always played a key role in fashion, its rough, sketch-like appearance giving it a whimsical elegance. Just like fashion photography, fashion illustrations are palpable sources of information about the collective cultural currents of a moment in time.

Today, as long as you have a smartphone, you can capture anyone walking down the street in what you consider to be a fabulous outfit, identifying yourself as a fashion photographer. Depending on the number of followers your fashion account has, you can even be thought of as an ‘influencer’. As someone who loves looking at photos of clothes, especially street-style, I turn to Instagram for my daily dose of visual inspiration. Over time, I have noticed that my feed has automatically curated itself. However, I cannot help but notice the lack of variety in the fashion images I encounter. My newsfeed is saturated with the same overly edited type of photo (I don’t always buy the #nofilter). It seems that every new fashion account is trying to outdo the next most popular one.

In our recent Portraiture and Identity-themed MA seminar, we began by discussing events that would be occurring in London over the next few months. All of the events seemed to have to do with fashion illustration. When I got home I turned to Instagram—of course— to look up a few of the illustrators that we had been discussing. I was so relieved to be exposed to an entirely different, though no less vibrant, dimension of fashion representation. Additionally, there was something exciting about knowing that while I could encounter photos of illustrations at my fingertips, I could also stroll down to the Fashion Illustration Gallery in Covent Garden and engage in a more dynamic viewing experience of fashion illustration.

Fashion Illustration Gallery (The Shop at Bluebird).

Although sketching the runway may seem archaic in a time of live stories and Snapchat, is there not something refreshingly authentic about the process of drawing—a process that offers an escape from filters and retouching? Fashion illustration offers a very different form of real-time representation, one that is organic in its process and tangible in its materiality. Each illustration is unique, rather than a template. There is a rarity in each piece that gives it the special aura of a collectible item.

Left: Richard Haines, Four Guys Walking, 2017, 42×29.7 cm, digital inkjet pigment print. Right: David Downton, 100 Years, 2008, 59.4×42 cm archival FIG pigment print.

 

David Downton, LOVE YSL, 2013, 59.4×42 cm, digital inkjet pigment print.

Fashion illustration definitely seems to be garnering interest in social media, with Instagram seemingly acting as a portfolio for the fashion illustrator. For instance, the page ‘The Unique Illustration‘ posts what its moderator(s) have called ‘fashion illustration flash mobs’. The page selects an image and then posts various illustrations of it realised by different artists. Like in the case of ‘Alice in Gucciland’, this relatively young display mode showcases a fascinating variety of illustrations, which, interestingly, might never have been seen were it not for the platform Instagram affords the artists.

Fashioning the Dangerous Woman in ‘Killing Eve’

Villanelle wearing a Molly Goddard dress. Costume design by Phoebe de Gaye. BBC America/Sid Gentle Films, 2018.

Killing Eve’s female-led approach to the spy thriller reverses a number of gender stereotypes. However, reversing a stereotype is not always the same as challenging it, and one which the series struggles to challenge is the trope of the dangerously fashionable woman.

In Killing Eve, this woman takes the form of sharply dressed assassin, Villanelle. Her passion for her work is matched only by her passion for designer clothes, and she stalks the streets of Europe in an array of the latest fashions. A hit in Tuscany requires a lace-trimmed Burberry dress, for example, while one in Bulgaria calls for a satin Miu Miu bomber jacket. In Berlin, she dons a frilly JW Anderson top to hide in plain sight as she spies on MI5 agents, before changing into a brocade Dries van Noten suit to stab one of them. Then, of course, there is the striking Molly Goddard dress and Balenciaga boots ensemble that she wears to visit her psychiatrist in Paris. Villanelle’s fashionable clothes are both her tactical wear and markers of her confident, fearless character.

Crucially, Villanelle’s fashionable appearance also contrasts her with Eve, the unassuming MI5 agent tasked with hunting her down. Eve favours ill-fitting suits and anoraks, and is so decidedly unfashionable that Villanelle feels compelled to send her a selection of designer clothes. Eve cannot let herself enjoy them, though, for they represent all that she feels she is not. Over the course of the series, her unfashionable appearance thus becomes associated with a certain rationality and self-control, thereby distancing her from Villanelle both visually and characteristically. As such, Villanelle’s fashion sense might appear confident and fearless in and of itself, but it can also be read as unruly and ostentatious when contrasted with Eve’s appearance.

Eve. Costume design by Phoebe de Gaye. BBC America/Sid Gentle Films, 2018.

In some respects, it is exciting to see a woman as fashionable as Villanelle on screen. Fashion and costume are so often viewed as mutually exclusive, but Villanelle’s costumes show how fashion can be utilised in costume design without appearing distracting. Furthermore, it is unusual for a female character to embrace fashion without fear of being perceived as frivolous or overly feminine, and to completely own her appearance. In turn, Villanelle’s costumes are refreshing because they allow both her and the viewer to unashamedly indulge in fashion.

However, this also makes it all the more frustrating that Killing Eve then associates Villanelle’s fashionable appearance with wrongdoing, for the trope of the dangerously fashionable woman is as old as the moving image itself. More often than not, the fashionable woman is also confident and assertive, independent and liberated, and her fashion sense, as a visible manifestation of modernity and change, comes to symbolise these characteristics. There is a reason that the vamp always wears a short dress and bobbed hair, and that the femme fatale has a fondness for shoulder pads and red lipstick; her fashion sense others her, often prefiguring her downfall.

Villanelle’s fate may not yet be known, but positioning her as the dangerously fashionable woman nonetheless renders her character as dated as it is enjoyable. Might the characterisation of Killing Eve’s leads feel different, perhaps, if Eve were the fashionable one?