‘Handprint’: The Double Fingerprint of Fashion

One of the most powerful and memorable chapters I read as part of the History of Dress MA course was Kitty Hauser’s ‘The Fingerprint of the Second Skin’ (2005), in which she describes a series of bombings and robberies that took place in 1996 in the Spokane area of Washington. What was remarkable about this case was that the culprit was identified by his clothes: the seams and hems on their jeans showed patterns of wear and fade that were so distinct to the wearer that they acted almost like his fingerprint at the crime scene, allowing the detectives to eventually identify him.

Hauser’s article claims that each person’s clothes bear the imprint of the body of the wearer, becoming a second unique ‘fingerprint.’ However, it is not only the trace of the wearer that is visible on a garment. Clothing does not gain individuating features only from the consumer; the mark of the maker is also present. Visible traces of the creator’s hands can be seen in the structure of each garment, especially along seams and hems, where the subtle differences in the way they work the sewing machines will result in tensions building up in the material. Each piece is not a tabula rasa, it is already a highly personalized record of the maker long before it is worn.

Hauser’s article seems particularly pertinent in relation to the recent Fashion Revolution Day, which took place on April 24, and was conceived as a way to encourage consumers to be more conscious when making clothing choices and to consider where it has come from. It is especially concerned with raising awareness of the unethical sweatshop conditions that many thousands of people, often women, must endure for hours a day in return for very little pay. It encourages consumers to think about what the human cost of their cheap clothing is.

Last year, I attended a Fashion Revolution Day film screening and panel discussion focusing on the issue of ethical fashion. The film, directed by Mary Nighy and entitled ‘Handmade,’ was awarded silver in the Young Director Category at the Cannes Lions in 2014 and highlights the exact same concept that Hauser discusses. It begins with a scene that will be all too familiar to many fashion conscious women: clothes, accessories and shoes are strewn across the floor of a bathroom, while a girl wrapped in a towel washes her face and then proceeds to get dressed.

But it is not her hands that slip her dress over her back, zip it up, fasten her belt and put in her earrings. Multiple hands of different ages and ethnicities dress this glamorous woman; then, she looks in the mirror, and the faces of these people are revealed. The film ends with the quotation ‘you carry the stories of the people that make your clothes,’ forcing the viewer to be more conscious and curious when purchasing their clothes. As in Hauser’s essay, the dress already carries the identities and memory of the people who made it.

To the consumer, the people who make our clothes are completely anonymous, invisible and silent, however, their mark is all over our most personal objects, and therefore there may be more of a connection between creator and wearer than one might think.

 

Sources:

Kitty Hauser, ‘The Fingerprint of the Second Skin,’ in Christopher Breward and Caroline Evans (eds) Fashion and Modernity, (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2005) pp 153-170

http://fashionrevolution.org

http://eco-age.com/handprint-2/

 

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday in June we will be posting the MA and PhD Dress History students’ responses to their chosen texts that constitute our ‘500 Years of Dress Historiography’ display, which is currently on show in the Courtauld Institute of Art. The display was created as part of our 50 Years of Dress History at the Courtauld celebrations, and was on display for our conference ‘Women Make Fashion/Fashion Make Women’. The display was a collaboration between the History of Dress department at the Courtauld and the Fashion Museology department at London College of Fashion. We hope you enjoy reading the posts as much as we did the texts and come back to the blog on Wednesday for the first in the series.

De Djess: A Cinderella Story for MiuMiu

De Djess

The Ninth Women’s Tale for MiuMiu’s Spring Summer 2015 collection is told from the perspective of a newborn dress, or ‘djess,’ according to the film’s fictitious gamelot. In Alice Rohrwacher’s film, the dress, animated by stop-motion, is no mere piece of stuff, but a fully sentient being. According to animator Michaelangel Fornaro, being a feminine object, the dress had to possess the delicate, deft mannerisms of a woman. Certainly, thanks to an internal rig, its white satin body ripples with emotion, and the fringe of polyp-like beads that fringe its deep neckline, function as sensitive antennae.

The dress, which is different from its gaudier sisters in the collection, with their graphic prints, suggestive cuts and jazzy embellishments, resonates with fairytale or indeed couture show endings. Those familiar with either form, might comprehend that the white, ethereal garment is a wedding dress, and that it is saving itself for someone special.

The dress’s original intended is Divina, an Anita Ekberg-like actress with a halo of platinum blonde hair and a hibiscus-red mouth, who courts the paparazzi in a tight, scarlet pencil skirt. However, when the dress is presented to her in her hotel suite, where she reigns supreme in a white bullet bra and sheer tights, she is indifferent to it. She continues to talk on the telephone, despite entreaties from her agent, and caresses from the garment itself. After a tantrum, she reluctantly agrees to wear it, but the moment she touches it, the scorned dress mysteriously pricks her finger, and a drop of blood stains its white surface. It squeals in protest, and sobs ricochet through its satin body, as it sheds a trail of beads, and goes into hiding under the bed.

The dress and Divina’s mutual rejection of one another, somewhat evokes that of Cinderella’s stepsisters and the fateful slipper in Charles Perrault’s classic fairytale. Despite their best efforts, which include cutting off their toes,  in the Grimm Brothers’ later adaptation, the stepsisters cannot deceive the shoe, and by extension, the Prince, that it belongs to them. Rohrwacher’s cinematic tale draws upon the older fairytale’s premise that bespoke garments and their associated destinies, are the property of particular owners. However, her film is less morally clear than the Cinderella fairytale, because though Divina is blind to the dress’s extraordinary nature, she is wise enough to recognise that it is not for her.

De Djess 2

In another modification of the Cinderella story, the dress’s true intended, at first seems an unlikely candidate. A ingenuous, bare-faced, black maid, played by Yanet Majica, appears on scene, when she scrambles out from beneath the dust cloud of paparazzi. The viewer instantly recognises her as the highly-strung dress’s rightful wearer, because she is sensitive to every bead it sheds. However, she is initially  intercepted by a nun, who indicates that she must take it to Divina. Like Cinderella and the slipper, the maid and the dress find each other once more, and when she discards her maid’s uniform, it automatically glides up her stem-like body. If Perrault had scripted this tale, we might have expected the spot of blood to clear away in its contact with the maid’s virtuous flesh. However, Rohrwacher is once again more interesting, as the spot becomes the beginning of a cherry pattern that embroiders the dress.  Rohrwacher described this as the dress’s blossoming, because ‘it hadn’t already blossomed,’ and was therefore unfinished, prior to wear. Equally, the shy, serious maid, is incomplete without the dress, because she only smiles after she has put it on. As they step out to greet the zealous paparazzi, both dress and maid laugh audibly when they recognise that the latter have run out of battery. Thus, the dress lives happily ever after with the one who truly loves it, rather than merely wanting to capture its beauty. Rohrwacher thus subtly implies that aesthetic fulfilment is reached through the wear of bespoke garments, and not through the accumulation of images.

Sources

‘De Djess’ Directed by Alice Rohrwacher, for MiuMiu, Spring/Summer 2015. Posted on February 17, 2015

’De Djess’ Interview with Michaelangelo Fornaro. Published February 18, 2015.