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Mirrors and glass

Maria Foka, 6 January 2020

  In the whirlwind state of writing, I rarely find myself clear-headed. Creatively distressed, I am agitating for transforming my thoughts into words that can be understood, accepting both the pure creativity of manipulating conventions through writing, as well as the finite nature of being stripped of their uniqueness when rendered public, according to Barthesian didactics. I then become two things, to be interpreted; I either present as my thoughts, usually to myself, or I am perceived as the image of me through text form, speech, image. My unease prevails in the thought of the one not reflecting the other, albeit I am aware of the inevitable skew. But the world makes sense through reflections; of light, of ourselves and others, on mirrors and on water, on the sky and on the screen, on a window or a mirror. What is common amongst them all is the necessity for a token to stand in front of them, in order for the reflection to be exerted, creating in a way a duality of display and existence, of reality and show, of expression and content, separating observer and wearer, frame and street, alternating perceptions through mirror and glass.

  There is only one second that deserves to be considered real when looking into a store’s vitrine. The duality of the glass is presented when the screen becomes a reflection; when the intensive stare at the mannequin’s dress momentarily unfocuses, and the glassy eyes of the observer bear the meaning of a new object that stands in front of it, a self already there and as of yet unaware. The light glares, disappearing the presented artefacts in absence of the body and impedes the observer to become the wearer, a stimulus for a chain of interpretations, a merge of overlapping realities. The body is now seen as a reflection, somewhat real but not quite, only partially familiar when looking down; simultaneously dressed in the everyday uniform and in that new outfit of the new collection meant for a slimmer figure. The realization of the multiplicity of these perceptions, created by the opalescence vision through mirror and glass, navigates many identification processes in the sphere of spectator-spectacle segregations that thrive in the realm of fashion.

  Göran Sonesson, professor of cognitive semiotics suggests that a mirror is a sign, contradicting Umberto Eco’s opposing arguments. Studying their works I am appalled but relieved that, reflections, like a colorless, always and never vacant associative device of glass, causally create relations between expression and content in a manner that presents multiple dimensions all at once, up for grabs.

Bevan Davies, Storefront, Manhattan, New York, 1976

Lisette Model, Reflections, New York, 1939

  The proliferation of fashion images in the storefronts of the streets entails a diversification of the interpretation of our fashion body in the everyday life. This generosity of offered potential through the intermediary of dress ambiguously proposes a shift in this double observation. The mirror and the glass create a very clear barrier between the wearer and the potential fashionista, but they still manage to create separation through unity. The mirror image is not present in the absence of its referent, it cannot be interpreted further, but the glass suggests content and intention. The shift from one to another occurs in the eyes of the observer, the person in front of the mirror, who is differentiated from the image in the mirror the same way a dog takes that it is another dog they are looking at. So, when walking by a storefront, it is in the hands of the passerby either to respond to their own self mirroring, to consume what is displayed in the sparkling glass case, or to glance at these two overlapping entities. This is the purpose of these well-lit, properly arranged, and carefully curated mimickings of plastic bodies wearing clothes – to putatively celebrate the human component behind the less-than-real representation of desire, in front of temporarily vulnerable admirers. This sellable fantasy is immensely separated from the real in a split second, although by then, the commodification of real has elapsed.

  The mannequins behind the glass carry an unreal dynamic that stunts the real passers-by; the democratization of fashion as an image consumption is offered to anyone that observes, and the alignment of almost – fashion bodies create a surreal dialectic between wearer and object. The garment, an object that exercises its meaning only if worn, now tactfully hanging on an arranged pose is imbued with the hasty motions of its potential wearer wistfully approaching the glass. The site of this temporary meeting of two worlds apart evokes Foucault’s Panopticon structure – that normally those in a field of visibility assume the responsibility of being observed, but the Panopticon dissociates the see/being seen dyad; one is totally seen, without ever seeing, and one sees everything, without ever being seen. The innocence of cruising down the street is destroyed – or maybe enhanced? – by shiny reflections of moving images of oneself. Theorist Martin Hand outlines in his essay ‘Images and Information in Cultures of Consumption’: ‘’The image has simultaneously become the vehicle, context, content, and commodity in consumer culture’’. We now have the ability to be everything we can ever be, anytime, with one downfall; it can happen only when we are standing in front of our potential self – like a magic mirror that presents everyone with their heartfelt desires, but invisible to everyone else.

  In ‘’Sister Carrie’’ (1990), Theodore Dreiser writes: ‘’Each separate counter was a showplace of dazzling interest and attraction. She could not help feeling the claim of each trinket and valuable upon her personally and yet she did not stop. There was nothing which she did not long to own. The dainty slippers and stockings, the delicately-frilled skirts and petticoats, the laces, the ribbons, hair-combs, purses, all touched her with individual desire’’. Window dressing messes with the notion of showing and hiding, creating an ideal anchored to the ground. Its ephemerality is concealed through overnight shenanigans of the underpaid workers or with the help of privacy screens, but during the day the mannequins stand tall, displayed gracefully with their impossible physics, practical, intellectual, unassuming, voluptuous, real, unreal. New York designer Bill Blass narrated to Dana Thomas a tail of desire tethering future misery: ‘’The experience of walking up and down 5th avenue on Thursday nights when the department stores unveiled their new windows… You started at Altman’s, at Thirty-Fourth Street, and walked to Bergdorf’s, at Fifty-Seventh, with a side trip over to Hattie Carnegie, on East Forty-Ninth Street. The window designers vied with one another in originality and outrageousness. Bonwit Teller even hired famous artists like Dali to decorate the windows.’’

  All that in the name of art, of fashion, of consumerism and sales. A garment is a multifaceted object, that can be worn, admired, and examined in intimate detail, and as soon as our face reaches the glass it is there, in all its glory, ready to be fantasied about. A deep breath and the glass is fogged, only to reveal the mirrored image of a mesmerizing face, with dark eye circles, a worn-out overcoat, and empty pockets.