1 Granary inaugurates the project of approaching fashion in an interdisciplinary way. We invite writers from different fields of knowledge to share their most challenging ideas, to stimulate young creatives’ minds. In the following article, MA Critical Methodologies student at King’s College, Sara Torres borrows concepts from philosophy, cultural analysis, and feminism to expand and enrich our critical capacity in relation to fashion.
“Transgression here means the violation of supposedly inalienable social laws that underpin the very structure of the social world and whose transgression is an affront to or even an assault on the social world itself.” (Bancroft 2012:112)
There can be no transgression in fashion design if it does not entail a revolution in thought. Fashion should aspire to create forms that are not yet ‘readable’, because at the moment that they are offered to the consumer they don’t have meaning or ideology attached to them. If one rejects well established ideas which are part of the so-called ‘common sense’ and instead embraces chaos during the creative process, the aesthetic experience opens up for different modes of thinking the self which involve abandonment, forgetfulness and ecstatic pleasure through the dissolution of one’s identity.
Elizabeth Grosz, in her keynote address at the 2007 Feminist Theory Workshop at Duke University, claimed: ʻIn the beginning is chaos. We need this conception of the real which is outside representation. And the only name we can give it is chaosʼ. Grosz’s research has been mainly directed towards the question of how to approach a notion of corporeality that resists dualism. In other words, she rejects the understanding of the concrete material body as a conventional belief that looks at oppositional pairs in our culture, like ʻmind and body, inside and outside, experience and social context, subject and object, self and other — and underlying them, the opposition between male and femaleʼ (Grosz 1995: 103).
All modes of knowledge, Grosz claims, have subordinated the terms that relate to women and femininity, and placed them as secondary. The idea of the chaos reclaimed by Grosz serves as a kind of ‘disintegrator’ of the binary thinking (black/white, woman/men) that organises the way that we think about the world. If we want to experience fashion as a liberating and creative practice, we need chaos to find subversive ways of re-thinking the body.
Fashion should aspire to the creation of such forms that are not readable because they don’t yet contain ideology —there is neither history nor ideas conventionally attached to them.
The notion of chaos presents a path towards thinking of corporeality as liminal, constantly on the threshold. In the same way, mentioning chaos is to attest to the bodies’ ʻability to always extend the frameworks which attempt to contain them, to seep beyond their domains of controlʼ (Grosz 1995: 106). Now, take a look at the image above which shows a piece that’s part of the Comme des Garcons SS15 collection. The structure of the composition seems unstable, open to sudden change. The red attire appears as if it has a life of its own; it is an object which transcends the material limits of the body. Furthermore, it activates the existence of elements that are not contained by language, words can’t express with accuracy what we are witnessing. There is a collapse of the mythical which detonates an explosion of sensations, making impossible the task of defining who the consumer is and what she is wearing. In their capacity to subvert expectations, Comme des Garcons’ designs bring forth potentiality, while suggesting the magical and inexplicable.
If the clothes that you are wearing are helping you to direct your behaviour towards the conventions of the masculine or the feminine, it is very likely that they don’t embrace the idea of chaos that is developed here. When fashion explores ‘the possible’ as art does, clothes extend our capacity for radical expression, understood as the subversion of the cultural limits imposed on our ways of performing and interacting in the social arena.
The empowered body is not the one which reproduces more accurately a cultural ideal, but the one which can interact more freely with the space.
In ‘In the desert sun’, a fashion film by Ann Demeulemeester, the subject appears as ‘corporeality in-contact’: Flesh, textiles, wind and dunes form a poetic continuum in which each part is affected and stimulated by the other. Nothing in the garments constrains the movements of the subject; they are made by delicate layers that produce subtle and aerial shapes once they are touched by the wind or by the body itself in motion. Who is crossing the desert; is it a man or a woman? —no hierarchy marks the body parts that should be covered or exhibited. What is his/her social position? Indefinite as the sand, capable of producing an unbounded amount of shapes, the subjectivity proposed by Demeulemeester surpasses the concept of the human. Emphasis on the chaotic element: towards the end of the video there is an increase in the rhythm; the ‘beings’ run, trace an unrecognizable dance. While diving in the beauty of dissolution, we have received an invaluable lesson on transgression: The empowered body is not the one which reproduces more accurately a cultural ideal, but the one which can interact more freely with the space.
By Sara Torres
Grosz, Elizabeth. (1995). Space, time, and perversion: Essays on the politics of bodies. London: Routledge.
Bancroft, Alison. (2012). Fashion and psychoanalysis: Styling the self. London:Tauris.