Sunday, 28 February 2010

Why Rouge?

Yesterday I went shopping to buy something red. I didn't quite know what the specific item had to be, but I knew exactly the colour that I wanted; a burnt orange-y vibrant red and I knew that whatever this item of clothing would be (a shirt/ dress/bag/belt?), it would inject some life into my wardrobe. I also had the feeling that a slash of red would be a playful and rebellious challenge to the current 'sorbet' and pastel colours which have dominated my purchases of late. I didnt find anything, perhaps precisely because of the high-street's only selling spring's sorbet shades. Anyway, it didnt matter, but it got me thinking about colour. What is it that makes a certain colour feel 'right' at a certain time of year or for a certain mood? My current obsession with red might have something to do with the recent a/w 10 shows, where splashes of red really resonated on the catwalk, but even if this is the case- who are the people who decide which colours will be 'on trend' and how do these colour choices dictate how we shop and dress from season to season?

A brief foray into the history of colour made me a bit panicky about how little I understand about the whole weird process of how we conceptualise and view colour subjectively. (Can anyone explain Goethe's colour theory to me please?!) I had never even considered analysing sartorial codes and fashion from this scientific perspective, but it surely holds some promise? Pity I am I dont have any scientific grounding to explore this idea in a meaningful way.

On more solid ground, (for me at least), an article by Shinobu Majima in the Textile History journal, stated that the International Commission for Fashion and Textile Colors was established in Paris in 1963. A committee was held biannually before each fashion season. The same year, Pantone started to sell a book of standardised colours. It used computers to sort and numerically match coded colour data and to print out chemical formulae for reproducing the hues. I wonder if this development had more than a commercial results? Did it mark a turning point in our consumption of colour and the way in which it became more integrated into everyday living? Undoubtedly. Has anyone investigated the relationship between 'fashionable colours' (eg. browns and oranges in the 70s) and politics/ social system? Or indeed our subjective and internal relationship with colour in terms of gender, especially in the way in which we dress ourselves? I would be fascinated to know.

Anyway, my quest for rouge continues.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Is this progress?

Twice yearly in the cities of London, Paris, Milan and New York, the fashion industry paints a picture of the future. It provides a glimpse into what will be. To the uninitiated, this 'preview' of the fashion collections of next season might be described an image of progress- a visual display of the way in which designers have evolved from previous collections, ideas and concepts.

However this would be an inaccurate vision of fashion's role. On the contrary, it seems to me that one of the great oddities about fashion is that it changes, but it never progresses. Take for example the new collection by Christopher Kane. The visual shock of his a/w 10 collection, which marked a stark departure from the sexy sweet gingham look of s/s might subjectively be regarded as better, but it could never be said to be 'progress' in any real sense.

Walter Benjamin describes this aspect of fashion through the 'dialectical image', stating that to understand fashion, one must 'overcome the ideology of progress'. What a fascinating idea. Rather than improving or getting better, fashion is cyclical and is 'endlessly caught in a self-cancelling relationship with the other'.

Quite unlike any other industry of the superstructure, fashion never makes any claims to improvement. For me, it is this aspect of fashion that makes it a heroic art. Whereas the newest model of an ipod or a telephone may be considered more functional, more aesthetically pleasing, or more in tune with consumer demand, fashion makes no compromises. It's refusal to evolve, improve or conform makes it 'independent from the use value of the commodity'.

(For further reading on this idea, read Peter Wollen, 'The Concept of Fashion in the Arcades Project', Boundary 2, Spring 2003).