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The good, the bad, and the fascist

by Maria Foka, 18 March 2018

  Throughout history, different fashion houses tried to establish recognition and dominance both to the fashion world and to the masses by promoting items, fabrics, certain styles, that were thought to characterize and describe best the aesthetics and history of each house. They draw inspiration from the effect caused by uniformity in the military, school, work and athletic environment and realized that with easily recognizable devices they could – as fashion critic Suzy Menkes said: ‘…be a part of an army, dressed in their own uniform…’. These symbols helped create a universal language of communication, as people connected the symbols with each house.

  Christian Louboutin’s device of choice has been the red sole. In 1993, he was inspired by Andy Warhol’s ‘Flowers’. Talking about one his first designs, he said: ‘The prototype, a pink stacked heel with a cartoonish cloth blossom had arrived from Italy. I was very happy because it was similar to the drawing. But the drawing still was stronger and I could not understand why. There was a big black sole, and then, thank god, there was this girl painting her nails at the time.’ He grabbed the red nail polish and slathered it on the sole of the shoe. Nowadays Louboutin’s red sole has become a status symbol. Along with the presentation of Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ in 1957, the cannage pattern has been the trademark of the house. It was first noticed on the rattan cannage chairs that were in the Dior guests’ salon. Still, these chairs can be found in every Dior showroom and that exact pattern is used in makeup, bags, and clothing. Another testimony to how social circumstances have affected fashion is the Gucci bamboo bags. During WWII, there were few permitted materials that designers could use, and Japan bamboo was one of them. Gucci craftsmen worked with the material and designed the – now renowned – Gucci bags with the bamboo handle. Coco Chanel brought yet again her character into her designs, with her quilted pattern. It was chosen in the 1920’s, due to her love for the the equastrian world. To this day, the quilted pattern is used in bags, suits, jackets, shoes, and is a world-known symbol of the house. The Burberry brand’s tartan plaid pattern is perhaps one of the most recognizable devices of the fashion world. It carved its way into the designs of the house in the 1920’s, sewed as the inner lining of trench coats, and today it can be spotted in various pieces of clothing of the brand. Another symbol that cannot stay unnoticed is Louis Vuitton’s damier canvas. The pattern with the logo of the brand brought the logomania frenzy in the 00’s, but it has been used by the house since 1888. Bottega Veneta’s signature symbol that makes the house stand out and be recognized is their leather weaving technique called intrecciato, developed by BV’S artisans, and forwarded on their entire product range.

Christian Louboutin’s atelier

Chanel atelier, rue Cambon, Paris, 1935

18th Century chair, Christian Dior’s first défilé, 1947

Vintage Louis Vuitton trunks

Gucci bamboo bag, 1947

Bottega Veneta’s intrecciato technique sketch

  Uniformity -social or cultural- is a characteristic of a system, organization or a certain identified group of people in which the same ideas, rules or methods exist. The word itself has a negative essence to it; it projects the unvarying, the regular, the monotone and the lack of diversity. Clothing is a way of reassuring social existence, conformity to social norms and of course expression of oneself. In the case of uniformity, it has been cleverly used in the military, in school and athletic uniforms, and certain professions. Uniforms are used as constant reminders of the social order; they aim to control, convey a sense of strength and power and establish credibility. Despite the fact that uniformity and high fashion contradict to their core because the former conveys control, tradition and functionality and the latter change, creativity, diversity, and subversion, fashion houses and designers often use elements of different kinds of uniforms in their creations. The conflict created between them results in an interesting outcome, as uniforms are supposed to both blend in (the specific context in which they are socially accepted) and stand out (against people outside the group in which they belong), and fashion offers a different context to their use. Sadly, many times designers, in order to present something innovative and linked to social or cultural characteristics of a group do not dig deep into the meaning and history of each uniform or item used for specific purposes and can result in undesirable outcomes, which is either to offend or to culturally appropriate. Garments are a means of expression of specific ideas and concepts, so designers bear the burden to have – or gain – the knowledge of what they present and the history that lies beneath them.

Uniformity can be found in many aspects of our everyday life: there are school uniforms, athletic teams’ uniforms, nurses and doctors uniforms; but the most harmful of them all is the military uniforms. Military uniforms are typically a sign of organized military forces equipped by a central authority, the beginning of which is to be found in national armies such as the English armies of the English Civil War and became a norm with the adoption of regimental systems in the 17th century. The purpose of military uniforms is dichotomized into distinguishing each army from another and from civilians and camouflaging. The styles and decoration of these uniforms vary with the status, image and resources of each military force, are a way of impressing, establishing authority, power, fear, and project a sense of belonging. But each garment carries a meaning within it, and the wearer should be aware of it. Military uniforms have some characteristics that can be found in an abominable ‘philosophy’ – fascism. It is quite a simple association between army and fascism; they both condone the same ‘values’. An army is headed -often aspires – to war; and fascism is purely organized violence. Both military uniforms and fascism must (and I say must and not should, because it underlines their identification with totalitarianism) promote masculinity, discipline, hierarchy, tradition, and self-sacrifice. An army is a product of a nation; fascism teaches radical authoritarian nationalism and hatred towards people that bear a different-colored badge on their uniform’s lapel – yet another meaningless symbol – a flag.

  This whole topic leaves us to this – when we have in our hands such a powerful tool as clothing, we should be very careful as to the origins of each trend we comply with; because there is always underlying history. The omnipresence of uniforms in our everyday lives have numbed us into overlooking them, and the challenge is to question everything that is presented to us as normal or healthy – because it probably isn’t.