Dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of fashion from an academic perspective, the quarterly journal Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture views fashion as a cultural phenomenon, offering the reader a wide range of articles by leading Western and Russian specialists, as well as classical texts on fashion theory. From the history of dress and design to body practices; from the work of well-known designers to issues around consumption in fashion; from beauty and the fashionable figure through the ages to fashion journalism, fashion and PR, fashion and city life, art and fashion, fashion and photography — Fashion Theory covers it all.
In this issue's Dress section, we once again take a closer look at the textiles which changed the world.
Yulia Demidenko's Calico: The Russian Foreigner looks at the history of this cotton fabric. Russian calico is a light, brightly coloured or printed material. Unravelling the story of calico, the author delves into the history of cotton-making itself, at the textile industry and particularly at fabric-printing. Originally produced in India some 5,000 years ago, calico made its first appearance in Europe in the thirteenth century. It was not, however, until the seventeenth century that it became popular in European countries thanks to the efforts of Portuguese, English and Dutch merchants. Used to make costly, fashionable ladies' clothing and plain items for peasants alike, calico was also a popular material for covering furniture and decorating walls. Besides French calico and English chintz, Russians were fond of domestically produced calico. The fabric was first made in the country in the second half of the eighteenth century. In the middle of the nineteenth century, production centred around the village of Ivanovo, which even came to be known as "Russian Manchester". The village gradually grew into the industrial town of Ivanovo-Voznesensk. The new era of the 1920s saw a radical revamp of the patterns used on calico: the floral themes and Oriental design that had been staple favourites for centuries gave way to motifs more in keeping with the latest artistic trends — dynamic zigzags and concentric circles. Ivanovo calicos began to sport tractors, seeding machines, smoking factory chimneys and busy construction sites. Today however the calicos of Ivanovo are but a memory, and all the feeble attempts to restore the "Russian Manchester" to its former wealth and glory have so far failed.
Irina Mikhailova offers In the Tender Beast's Embrace: Furs in Fourteenth- to Sixteenth-Century Medieval Russia. In medieval Russia, fur clothing served many purposes: protecting the wearer from bitter cold, it simultaneously denoted his or her social and financial status. It was also believed to serve as a talisman against forces of evil. Until the end of the fifteenth century, furs came mostly from the areas around Pskov and Novgorod; in the sixteenth century, the main sources were the Northern Dvina and Pechora basins, the Volga Region, the Urals and Siberia. The most prized furs were sable, marten, ermine, silver fox and beaver. Although fur was not in short supply, it remained an expensive luxury item. Fur was used to make garments for special occasions and for everyday use: traditional feryaz coats, kaftans, women's kortel fur coats, cloaks, hats, gloves and a variety of collars that could be sewn or buttoned on to one's attire. Fur blankets were used to keep out the cold both at home and when travelling. Seen as lucky charms, fox and sable tails were fixed to sleighs and horses' harnesses, and could often be seen at weddings and other ceremonial events. Furs were used as rich gifts for foreign ambassadors or heads of state, and were actively traded in Western Europe and in the East.
Manuel Charpy presents Craze and Shame: Rubber Clothing during the Nineteenth Century in Paris, London, and New York City. In France, the UK, and the US, the nineteenth century saw a rapid development of ready-to-wear clothing and of its consumption. In this context, one phenomenon allows us to understand more fully the overall changes in attitudes toward fashion, clothing, and the body: the craze for rubber clothing from the beginning of the 1840s. This material appeared to be miraculous, and proved to be equally useful in underwear and in rainwear. Manufacturers dreamed about seamless garments and totally adjustable pieces of clothing. Moreover, rubber items were thought of as hygienic, as they could be easily cleaned. From the 1850s to the late 1870s, rubber cloth conquered both public streets and intimate private life. But rubber was not only used in clothing. From the beginning, it was a material not only for outdoor dress, but also for orthopaedics and for the enhancement of comfort. Mackintosh (UK), Goodyear and Roxbury India Rubber (US), and Hutchinson and Rattier & Guibal (France) were the major manufacturers that produced rubber shoes, raincoats, collars, and cuffs, while orthopaedists made corsets to straighten bodies, as well as hernial bandages, pessaries, belts against onanism and other medical appliances. Rubber cloth hugged the intimate bourgeois body: corsets, garters, socks and braces initially, and in the early 1880s, rubber condoms. In this way, rubber became the material of unproductive sexual pleasure. Over time, rubber clothing came to be regarded as shameful and disturbing. Around 1890, after the unprecedented craze for rubber, the bourgeoisie gave up rubber clothes in public life.
Mette Ramsgard Thomsen and Karin Bech offer Suggesting the Unstable: A Textile Architecture. The article discusses the idea of a motile architecture. By taking as its starting point the new developments in the technical textiles field, the paper discusses textiles as a material interface to an architecture of action. The authors seek to discover how a motile architecture using smart materials to embed the potential for sensing and actuation into the surfaces of the built environment itself can be conceived, designed, and realized.
Katherine Townsend presents The Denim Garment as Canvas: Exploring the Notion of Wear as a Fashion and Textile Narrative. Today, the markings associated with the physical wear and tear of denim garments are an integral aspect of material culture, pursued as creative concepts through deconstructed fashion approaches. For some designers, a textile's heritage and the effects of time are as important as reworking silhouettes from history. While fashion is inherently forward-thinking, it is the patina of age that comes from "wearing" a garment that can be integral to the designer's artistic vision. Denim clothes possess unique possibilities for articulating the human form in ways that transcend the vagaries of the latest cut, through evidencing (or simulating) practices of wearing and concepts of longevity. Through analysis of a series of conceptual and commercial approaches drawn from contemporary fashion and textile designers who have reinforced denim's origins or reinterpreted it through creative experimentation, this paper explores denim's capacity to act as a canvas for the body. The study is underpinned by the author's empirical research, which seeks to reveal both the recognizable and more abstract visual qualities embodied within denim as a fashion construct. Denim is evaluated as a surface for conveying complex visual signifiers relating to temporality and demonstrated through the cloth's unique facility to embody narrative and illusion.
In this issue's Body section, we focus on hands.
In The Diamond Engagement Ring and the Relativity of Luxury, Marcia Pointonexamines a very special piece of jewellery — one purchased almost exclusively by men for women. Used in the English-speaking world and Japan, diamond engagement rings can be seen as something of a marketing triumph — a luxury-turned-necessity. In 1926, one American female writer stated that a "solitaire diamond as large and as perfect as [the bridegroom] could afford has for many years been the standard engagement ring". This was not always the case, however. The engagement ring as such did not begin to drain bank accounts, or to appear in popular literature, sales brochures and advertisements until the second half of the nineteenth century, when it became a vital attribute of romantic commitment. Examining the story of this unique and deeply symbolic piece of jewellery, the author concludes that luxury is a relative concept, and that the boundaries between luxury and necessity are not as firm as one might think.
Olga Vainstein presents The Hands of an Android: A Reading of Auguste Villiers de l'Isle Adam's Novel "The Future Eve". Written between 1876 and 1885, The Future Eve by French writer Villiers de l'Isle Adam was published in 1886. The Symbolist science fiction novel revolves around an android named Hadaly. Created by a fictionalized Thomas Edison, this machine-woman appears the ideal lover — a technically flawless beauty, an Eve of the Future. The idea of an android replacing a real woman was not new, yet Villiers was the first to popularise the term "android". Hands as a key feature of the mechanical body are an important focus in the novel, playing a special role due to the many associations we have with them. For Villiers, the very philosophy of fashion and of make-up constitute a cult of artifice. In exposing the primitive cosmetic ploys used by temptresses, the writer comes to the paradoxical conclusion that in every woman there is "artifice, used to supplement her human nature". Thus "to some degree, every woman... physically or mentally resembles an android, so why not bring a real android into the game"? As a totally artificial woman, Hadaly is the ultimate embodiment of synthetic beauty, a concept so popular with the Decadent movement. If make-up is perceived by Villiers as a clumsy feminine ruse employed by Eves of the Past, the creation of a robot is, for him, a proud achievement of science and thought, a triumph of the Future Eve. Thus, in The Future Eve, hands come to be intimately connected with the dichotomy between natural and artificial, organic and mechanical, so crucial in European Decadent culture.
Margarita Albedil's You Hold the World in Outstretched Hand: On the Symbolism of Hands looks at one of the most basic symbols in human culture, and how it reflects fundamental features of our consciousness. From the earliest days of humankind, hands were used as a potent and multifaceted symbol in many different areas. Hands are everywhere — in the art of most peoples, in religion, speech and etiquette. In myths and folklore they perhaps play their most crucial role. In the Bible, images of hands, and the associations they possess are linked to the most fundamental spiritual concepts. As an important mechanism within our cultural memory, hands can be used to transport basic meaning from one cultural stratum to another. The vast depth of meaning associated with this ancient symbol is virtually impossible to render through any fixed list of interpretations.
The Elbow as Lever of Socialism: Visual Strategies of Soviet Industrialization by Vlad Strukov was inspired by the "Planned Exploit" exhibition held in Yekaterinburg's Museum of Fine Arts in the autumn of 2012. This article explores the elbow as a semiotic field in relation to Soviet ideology of modernisation and industrialisation. The elbow is analysed in the representational mode by considering artworks of socialist realism, focusing on paintings produced by local artists (Yekaterinburg, the Urals) in the wider context of Soviet art and body politics. It is also analysed as an ideologeme which epitomizes Soviet ideals of production and artistic expression. The elbow is viewed as an external part of a human body that symbolizes collaborative labour and a link between various branches of ideology, industry and everyday practice. The article puts forward a new framework for the analysis of socialist realist paintings and the relationship between the human body and industrial production. The analysis reveals the complex network of meaning attributed to the elbow as the lever of socialism and of the Soviet struggle for industrial supremacy.
Stepan Rodin's The Language of Cultural Gestures: An Attempt at a History of the Japanese Hand stresses the frequency with which Japanese writers have in the past dwelt on this part of the body. Rodin examines the circumstances in which hands are described, and the cultural meaning with which they are endowed. Besides looking at written sources, Rodin also analyses other traditional Japanese works of art. He does, however, limit his study to ancient and early medieval sources, however tempting the idea of a complete history of the hand in Japan might be. With its emphasis on precedent and tradition, Japanese culture displays remarkably durable forms and mechanisms of self-reproduction, lending studies of the body in a Japanese context a particular fascination.
In this issue's Culture section, we take a look at subcultures.
Holly Alford offers The Zoot Suit: Its History and Influence. Throughout the twentieth century, African American men were discriminated against and stereotyped, but relied on one thing that set them apart from others, and that was the clothing they chose to wear. Living in a society where it was difficult to have a voice, African American men found self- expression through their own personal style. For them, clothing signified where they were and, more importantly, where they wanted to be. This was quite evident in the swing era of the 1930s and 1940s, when young African American males were trying to make a cultural identification statement through a suit known as the zoot suit. Besides cultural identification, young men wore the suit as part of a dance cult, to make a political statement, or sometimes, unfortunately, to disguise themselves from criminal activity. The zoot suit's influence was so great that it had an effect on men's fashion in later years, also becoming one of the first articles of clothing to cause a spontaneous youth movement among African American, Hispanic American, and eventually European and Canadian whites. It had a social and political impact on fashion in the 1940s, and became the first item of clothing to cause race rioting throughout the United States and Canada.
Irina Sezina's Skinheads in Russia: Features of Their Subcultural Code and Identifiers turns to Russian skinheads and their dress code from the early 1990s to the present day. The author looks in some detail at the differences between "right" and "left" skinheads in Russia — a division, of which the public remains largely unaware due to incorrect interpretation by the media and to a lack of information. Examining both groups, Sezina compares their values and traditions to those of the original British subculture. The author also looks at the various internal and external factors behind the "mutation" of Russian skinheads, and assesses what the future might hold for them.
Osmud Rahman, Liu Wing-sun and Brittany Hei-man Cheung's Cosplay: Imaginative Self and Performing Identity examines the emerging Cosplay subculture in Hong Kong. A quasi-ethnographic approach including participation, observation, photography and in-depth interviews was employed to understand the underlying motives and experiences of those engaged in Cosplay activities. Authenticity, affective attachment, the extended self and the negotiation of boundaries are also discussed. The study shows that Cosplay can give participants pleasurable experiences, meaningful memories, self-gratification and personal fulfillment. Through this participatory activity, cosplayers can momentarily escape reality and enter their imaginary world. It is a form of role/identity transformation from "ordinary person" to "superhero", from "game-player" to "performer", and even from "adulthood" to "childhood".
In the Online Fashion column, Nathalie Khan presents Cutting the Fashion Body: Why the Fashion Image Is No Longer Still. Her article considers the arrival of digital fashion film on the Internet by exploring the manner in which time, fragmentation, and a sense of play relate to our understanding of fashion. As a new form of high gloss representation, fashion film has challenged more traditional forms of fashion media. Some have argued that we are witnessing a period of change in which the digital image will render the static image obsolete. The article focuses on an analysis of stillness and movement, as they relate to the iconic and symbolic meaning of the fashion image. Drawing upon the example of SHOWstudio's "The Fashion Body" and three of the forty- two films, which make up the project, the paper seeks to demonstrate the profound nature of the change from photograph to moving image. In so doing, the author introduces digital fashion film as a genre that is not simply a tool to stimulate consumption, but something set to change our notion of fashion as a moment in time.
In this issue's Books section, Mary Maclachlin reviews Kaori O'Connor's Lycra: How a Fiber Shaped America.
Stephanie Ward offers Thread of the Future: a look at Marie O'Mahony's Advanced Textiles: Health and Wellbeing.
Caryn Simonson reviews Bradley Quinn's Textile Futures: Fashion, Design and Technology.
In the Events section, Ksenia Shcherbino offers Naked Dress: a look at the "Hollywood Costume" exhibition at London's Victoria and Albert Museum (20 October 2012 — 27 January 2013).
Tatiana Karateeva presents Melting Beauty, her review of "Alberta Ferretti. A Timeless Romance" in Moscow's Petrovsky Passage (13 November 2012 — 15 January 2013).
Liuba Popova's The Erotic Body in Design looks at the "KAMA: Sex and Design" exhibition at Milan's Triennale Design Museum (5 December 2012 — 10 March 2013).