Fashion: A Philosophy
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Fashion is at once a familiar yet mysteriously elite world that we all experience, whether we’re buying a new pair of jeans, reading Vogue, or watching the latest episode of Project Runway. Lars Svendsen dives into that world in Fashion, exploring the myths, ideas, and history that make up haute couture, the must-have trends over the centuries, and the very concept of fashion itself.
Fashion opens with an exploration of all the possible meanings encompassed by the word “fashion,” as Svendsen probes its elusive place in art, politics, and history. Ultimately, however, he focuses on the most common use of the term: clothing. With his trademark dry wit, he deftly dismantles many of the axioms of the industry and its supporters. For example, he points out that some of the latest fashions shown on runways aren’t actually “fashionable” in any sense of the word, arguing that they’re more akin to modern art works, and he argues against the increasingly prevalent idea that plastic surgery and body modification are part of a new wave of consumerism. Svendsen draws upon the writings of thinkers from Adam Smith to Roland Barthes to analyze fashion as both a historical phenomenon and a philosophy of aesthetics. He also traces the connections between the concepts of fashion and modernity and ultimately considers the importance of evolving fashions to such fields as art, politics, and philosophy.
Whether critiquing a relentless media culture that promotes perfect bodies or parsing the never-ending debate over the merits of conformity versus individual style, Lars Svendsen offers an engaging and intriguing analysis of fashion and the motivations behind its constant pursuit of the new.
financial support of NORLA Non-fiction. English translation by John Irons All rights reserved No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers. Page references in the Photo Acknowledgements and Index match the printed edition of this book. Printed and bound in Great Britain by Cromwell Press, Trowbridge,
taste is by no means freely chosen. Admittedly we carry out aesthetic choices but, as Bourdieu sees it, the choice between Matalan and Prada is a compulsory choice. Economic considerations oblige the person with a poor economy to buy at Matalan – and the person concerned will presumably genuinely believe that Matalan has finer clothes than Prada. The person with a strong economy is similarly forced to choose Prada or some other ‘exclusive’ brand. However, it causes problems if taste is
that focuses on general changes in human lifestyles: ‘All fashions are, by their very concept, mutable ways of living.’9 But changes have taken place in human lifestyles that can scarcely be described as ‘fashion’, something with which Kant would agree. The Romantic poet Novalis wrote that the only ‘true improvements’ in human life are within the field of morals, and that all changes in our lives are ‘without exception, fashions, mere changes, mere insignificant improvements’.10 The philosopher
Cosmetic Surgery and the Colonization of Women’s Bodies’, in Body and Flesh: A Philosophical Reader, ed. Donn Welton (Oxford, 1998), pp. 325–47. 32 For an account of body modification as fashion, see, for example, Paul Sweetman, ‘Anchoring the (Postmodern) Self? Body Modification, Fashion and Identity’, in Body Modification, ed. Mike Featherstone (London, 2000). 33 Cf. Jennifer Craik, The Face of Fashion: Cultural Studies in Fashion (London, 1994), p. 153. 34 Harold Koda, Extreme Beauty: The
earlier creations in new collections and in so doing repudiated the demand that he should be ‘new’. This only revealed, however, that Margiela had realized the impossibility of being completely ‘new’ each season. He has worked with this idea in various ways: in 1997, for example, he made ‘new’ clothes out of old collections (a outfit from each of the eighteen collections he had produced) and then made then ‘old’ again by sprinkling them with fertilizing agents and spraying them with bacteria and