I am (not), I do Maria Foka, 14 April 2020
Dress provides the gift of presenting our body and/or self at will. Within fashion history, designers use techniques and fabrics to enhance body morphologies, manipulate shapes, or create new ones. The body, after all, can be placed in the center of the definition of art, as well as at its edge. It is a parergon, according to Derrida, between art and obscenity, thus it’s a dipole by nature. In that sense, it’s easy for it to be considered a medium of defining limits, a metaphor for all the horrible separation and exclusion processes. Dress, by virtue of its omnipresence, has become a natural and critical addition to pre-constructed gendered-driven ways of presenting oneself. But the body is not a whole, it’s a fragment – it can be something, everything, nothing.
The following are some designers and artists whose garments propose an imaginary body subjectivity through structure movement and various uses of fabric. They eliminate the outdated and tone-deaf notions of regular, analogical, and normal, through reinventions of potential morphologies, creating at the same time a safe space for the emergence of new bodily representations. The performativity of clothing demands a performative existence. A performative existence does not treat it as a means to an end, but merely as a communication and expression tool – as finite as that sounds. In that way, clothing practices that relate to gender discrimination should not be extinguished, but bent reversed, and vastly adopted, to the point where they are not anymore confined to binary definitions, pronoun characterizations, or any kind of assumptions.
Jean Paul Gaultier, 1988
Junya Watanabe, A/W 1998-99
Issey Miyake by Irving Penn, 1975-1988
Rebecca Horn, Weisser Körperfächer, 1972
Hussein Chalayan, After Words, Fall 2000
Issey Miyake, Seashell, 1985
Maison Margiela, Fall 1994
While disavowing binary oppositions, the derivatives of the dipole feminine–masculine should still be allowed to be a panacea instead of an obstacle to inclusion practices. Considering them as an evergreen illness of modern society – especially when they correspond to the assigned at birth genders – that we still have to deal with, they can be used as a way to locate omissions and hiatus that lead to a specific presentation of the body depending on the gender.
The silhouette in particular, and of course the silhouette that garments create, are the foreground character in the game of gender perceptions, due to the cultural decision to render gender so dependent on sex. The physical body, sex-linked divisions, and gender designations such as masculine and feminine are clearly constructed artefacts but sadly still occurring. However, placing them into the context of the fashion system could be a promising move and a crucial factor in shifting the social obsession of manipulating bodies so as to approach an ideal silhouette of masculinity or femininity that corresponds to an idiotic set of laws determined under the biology-is-destiny formulation. Butler said that in such cases, not biology, but culture, becomes destiny. Emphasizing the performative nature of presenting oneself, she let it be known that gender is something we do, not something we have.
And there follows fashion, society, politics and the everyday life. The act of clothing is prolifically proactive – it responds to yet unarticulated needs of the wearer. The reason for each act may be different from one person to another, dependent on the decade, the social surroundings, the class, and the character of each person. The importance lies in the subversion of perceived ideas and identity expression. Typically feminine or masculine ideals exist in shapes – broad shoulders, long neck, big biceps, small waist, lean figure, six-pack, etc., in body manipulation – shaving or not, make-up, and in general conduction of life – sensitivity, consumerism, assertiveness, etc. The shift in the predetermined and expected ways is meaningful and truthful, not the actual suggestion. The minute someone feels the need and decides to question any established norm is a moment of wonder and awe. The outcome is somewhat irrelevant – it is however a medium to disdain the sameness in the world. Not in the sense that we each of us is unique – which we are, but that’s not the point being made – but in our right and duty to express ourselves uniquely. For example, long skirts and short skirts are not meaningful in themselves and they are not some kind of groundbreaking symbol of morality, gender politics, or notions of sexuality, just a minor indication of fashion reference, maybe. Maybe not. But the choice from wearing long skirts to wearing short skirts or vice versa is an indication of purpose and reason. The difference here is a misdemeanor – but can make a whole lot of difference. The same goes for shoulder pads – an augmentation of a few centimeters in the shoulder area may seem mundane, but the cause and purpose behind it as well as the intended outcome was sublime.
Daughter of Art History, Yasumasa Morimura, 1989
Paraphrasing Susan Sontag in ‘Notes on Camp’ talking about art, at last, the purpose of fashion is always, ultimately to give pleasure (disclaimer: to the wearer!) – though society’s sensibilities may take time to catch up with what is offered in a given time. Balancing the ostensible, highly curated and selectively accepted way of being in general and of being in or out of fashion, modern day sensibility is more involved in pleasure in the familiar sense than ever. And perhaps we want familiarity, but we certainly do not need it, because a possible temporary nuisance may be bad, but familiarity for the many and discomfort for few is worse. Who knows? Maybe there won’t be any discomfort at all, or maybe there will be and we’ll all enjoy it.