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).

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