Vanity is my favorite sin.
Postmodernism and the culture industry - how pop culture has deprived us of free will: Comme des Garçons S/S 2007 

The recent years of irony and an “It’s called Fashion, look it up” mentality of bizarre clothing construction has ruled the 21st century with the reconstructed houndstooth of Alexander McQueen, the deconstruction of Maison Martin Margiela and most notably the ambiguous narrative of Rei Kawakubo contributing to a meta-narrative of post-modernism in fashion. 
Following the ‘modern’ enlightenment of the 18th century, the notions of rationality and order meant that everything had a specific connotation (overexposing skin meaning a woman was a prostitute, for example). Post-modernism, however, developed as a counter-movement against modernism, and in the realm of thought and fashion it sought to destabilise and challenge traditional (mostly western) cultural values in taking away the specific connotations that created meaning - it meant to make us question what we understood to be true, to create ambiguity and the double-meaning that allows for the satirical, the ironic and the sarcastic, and to put the power of subjectivity back into the limelight where the modern era’s scientific method had placed objectivity before. 
True to post-modernist form, Kawakubo’s spring 2007 collection wasn’t governed by any specific message, save for her declaration “I’m tired of mundane, everyday fashion”.  The visionary behind Comme des Garçons was a true post-modernist in valuing subjectivity beyond anything in creating meaning behind her work - she even criticised her own spring 2012 collection for this reason, saying "For me, White Drama was too easily understood, the concept too clear." This particular dress in her spring 2007 collection I found to be particularly post-modernist: a synthesis of pop culture (in the cartoonish ears) and surrealism in the reference to Elsa Schiaparelli’s iconic 1930s designs (in the hands clutching the chest), a mixture of low art and high art. 
There have been many interpretations of this particular outfit - one that the use of the cartoonish ears was in keeping with the Schiaparelli theme, as Schiaparelli herself referenced 1930s ‘popular’ culture in her work. In the style.com review, Sarah Mower gives a (particularly weak) interpretation of “an adolescent’s dream of a virtual boyfriend”. However, my interpretation is that Kawakubo was making a statement on the ‘Culture Industry’ - a term coined by Adorno and Horkheimer - and the lack of free will in supposed ‘freedom of expression’.
Supposedly we have a choice on what we can wear - we may believe  this to be true, we may believe we have free will in choosing how we express ourselves through clothing. However, the cartoonish hat symbolising pop culture refers to the fact that today’s popular culture is so mass produced that we no longer create our own culture - it’s created for us. The danger here, with magazines like Vogue, is that the power of this culture industry means that we have false psychological needs forced on us, that constrain us, like the hands on this S/S 2007 dress - needs that can only be met by the goods and services advertised in these magazines. So to an extent, we no longer get to choose what we wear, because subversively it has been determined for us: Spring collections force us to wear a certain colour, and force us to believe that we like it, that we’re choosing one pastel pink from another pastel pink. 
We no longer create culture - we are a product of culture. Kawakubo used post-modernism as a vehicle to deliver a message that rings true in a world that has become passively involved in its own legacy.
Written by somethingvain

Postmodernism and the culture industry - how pop culture has deprived us of free will: Comme des Garçons S/S 2007 

The recent years of irony and an “It’s called Fashion, look it up” mentality of bizarre clothing construction has ruled the 21st century with the reconstructed houndstooth of Alexander McQueen, the deconstruction of Maison Martin Margiela and most notably the ambiguous narrative of Rei Kawakubo contributing to a meta-narrative of post-modernism in fashion. 

Following the ‘modern’ enlightenment of the 18th century, the notions of rationality and order meant that everything had a specific connotation (overexposing skin meaning a woman was a prostitute, for example). Post-modernism, however, developed as a counter-movement against modernism, and in the realm of thought and fashion it sought to destabilise and challenge traditional (mostly western) cultural values in taking away the specific connotations that created meaning - it meant to make us question what we understood to be true, to create ambiguity and the double-meaning that allows for the satirical, the ironic and the sarcastic, and to put the power of subjectivity back into the limelight where the modern era’s scientific method had placed objectivity before. 

True to post-modernist form, Kawakubo’s spring 2007 collection wasn’t governed by any specific message, save for her declaration “I’m tired of mundane, everyday fashion”.  The visionary behind Comme des Garçons was a true post-modernist in valuing subjectivity beyond anything in creating meaning behind her work - she even criticised her own spring 2012 collection for this reason, saying "For me, White Drama was too easily understood, the concept too clear." This particular dress in her spring 2007 collection I found to be particularly post-modernist: a synthesis of pop culture (in the cartoonish ears) and surrealism in the reference to Elsa Schiaparelli’s iconic 1930s designs (in the hands clutching the chest), a mixture of low art and high art. 

There have been many interpretations of this particular outfit - one that the use of the cartoonish ears was in keeping with the Schiaparelli theme, as Schiaparelli herself referenced 1930s ‘popular’ culture in her work. In the style.com review, Sarah Mower gives a (particularly weak) interpretation of an adolescent’s dream of a virtual boyfriend”. However, my interpretation is that Kawakubo was making a statement on the ‘Culture Industry’ - a term coined by Adorno and Horkheimer - and the lack of free will in supposed ‘freedom of expression’.

Supposedly we have a choice on what we can wear - we may believe  this to be true, we may believe we have free will in choosing how we express ourselves through clothing. However, the cartoonish hat symbolising pop culture refers to the fact that today’s popular culture is so mass produced that we no longer create our own culture - it’s created for us. The danger here, with magazines like Vogue, is that the power of this culture industry means that we have false psychological needs forced on us, that constrain us, like the hands on this S/S 2007 dress - needs that can only be met by the goods and services advertised in these magazines. So to an extent, we no longer get to choose what we wear, because subversively it has been determined for us: Spring collections force us to wear a certain colour, and force us to believe that we like it, that we’re choosing one pastel pink from another pastel pink. 

We no longer create culture - we are a product of culture. Kawakubo used post-modernism as a vehicle to deliver a message that rings true in a world that has become passively involved in its own legacy.

Written by somethingvain

Tags: #academia #Rei Kawakubo #comme des garcons #postmodernism #the culture industry
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