October 29, 2006


"Travel" Photographer: Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott Model: Jessica Stam (From foto_decadent)

Beginnings: Fashion Photography and Art

(Another essay of mine...)

Fashion Photography: Between Art and Commerce

Visual culture, which Nicholas Mirzoeff calls “the interface between all the disciplines dealing with the visuality of contemporary culture,”[1] is inherently about the way that human beings look at the world, and make sense of what we see. According to W.T.J. Mitchell, there is a great difference between ‘looking’ and ‘seeing’ or ‘reading’, because the latter is contingent on “what our eyes have been socialised to see, and our minds to interpret.”[2] In short, our understanding of the visual is a socially constructed process.

Fashion photographs are images, painstakingly constructed or captured on the spur of the moment, that are intended to showcase fashion products, abstract notions of style, and “the relationships between clothes, wearers and contexts.”[3] These images can be simple and pragmatic, as is the case with catalog or stock photography, or highly symbolic and deliberately “fabricated to produce and evoke synesthetic sensations.”[4]

A number of gallery exhibitions and theorists in the last decade have attempted to consider and debate the relationship between contemporary fashion photography and art. From the Museum of Modern Art’s “Fashioning Fiction in Photography since 1990” to the New York Institute of Contemporary Art’s “Chic Clicks: Commerce and Creativity in Comtemporary Fashion Photography,” it seems de rigour to contemplate the relevance of cultural and institutional barriers between these two undeniably related fields.

As bold-named commercial photographers gain greater artistic liberties with their editorial work and exhibit regularly in museums and galleries, and art photographers turn their eye to fashion, and create commissioned works for magazines such as Dutch and Nylon, this is a barrier which has become increasingly blurred.

In ‘reading’ and understanding fashion photography, one may refer to traditional art history terminology and criteria, such as ‘lighting’ and ‘composition.’ But, more often, fashion photographs are popularly discussed in commercial terms, referencing the mannequins and frocks in photos rather than angles or horizons. Within visual culture studies and art history, much has been written and theorized about photography as an art form.

Yet, perhaps as part of the larger divide between art and commerce, there is a cultural distinction between the art photograph which features fashion and even editorial fashion photography. There are distinctive differences between a ‘reading’ of the fashionable image from an artistic perspective and from a trade standpoint.

How does one examine and understand Juergen Teller’s fashion photographs of high society ladies for W magazine? Is the process any different than it would be for his art photos of the old Nazi parade grounds at Nuremberg? As Olivier Zahm remarks in his essay on changes in contemporary fashion photography, how should “a fashion photographer be evaluated? On the basis of what criteria?”[5]

[1] Margarita Dikovitskaya, Visual Culture: The Study of the Visual After the Cultural Turn (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005) 58.
[2] Tony Schirato, Understanding the Visual, ed. Jen Webb (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE, 2004) 58.
[3] Jennifer Craik, “Soft Focus: Techniques of Fashion Photography,” The Face of Fashion: Cultural Studies in Fashion (New York: Routledge, 1994) 93.
[4] Katya Mandoki, “Point and Line Over the Body: Social Imaginaries Underlying the Logic of Fashion,” Journal of Popular Culture 36.3 (2003): 601.
[5] Olivier Zahm, “On the Marked Change in Fashion Photography,” Chic Clicks: Commerce and Creativity in Contemporary Fashion Photography, ed. Gilles Lipovetsky, Ulrich Lehmann, and Fotomuseum Winterthur (New York: Institute of Contemporary Art, 2002) T30.

October 25, 2006

Conference Alert! Popular Culture/American Culture Association

I'll be presenting a paper here :)


Popular Culture Association
April 4-7, 2007
Boston, Massachusetts

Fashion, Appearance and Consumer Identity is concerned with the areas of clothing, historical costume, fashion aesthetics, fashion and appearance, fashion marketing, merchandising, retailing, the psychological/sociological aspects of dress, cultural appearances as well as any areas relating to consumption and consumer identity. Papers from all disciplines are welcome. Innovative and new research in the areas of fashion and consumerism are encouraged!

Please email a cover letter with contact information and 150-word abstract of your proposal paper to Joseph Hancock:
at Drexel University's College of Media Arts and Design.

Submissions due Nov. 3

October 19, 2006

Round 2

More pictures from Muzik
Info at lorealfashionweek.ca

October 16, 2006

Toronto Fashion Week - Day 1

I went to the "Fragmented Time L'Oreal Spring Beauty Trends 2007" fashion and beauty catwalk show today and was pretty underwhelmed. The clothes were nice enough, but obviously they were a secondary issue to the make-up, which wasn't amazing..so...nice, but not really worth going downtown for.

I ran into some old friends and industry acquaintances though, so the evening wasn't wasted.

For more pictures, check out theeyeopener.com tomorrow.

October 15, 2006

Essay Summary: Teen Fashion Magazines and Postmodernity

This is the beginnings of my first ever cultural studies paper :)

Dressed to sell: Postmodern aesthetics, consumer culture, and fashion in teen magazines

Since Angela McRobbie conducted a “qualitative content analysis and semiological study” of the British girls’ magazine Jackie in 1978 (Duke and Kreshel 52), many scholars worldwide have examined these texts and their place within the lives of adolescent girls. This academic interest is not surprising when one considers that, for example, although the circulation numbers are down significantly from a decade ago, there are nevertheless six magazines targeted at adolescent girls in Advertising Age’s list of the 300 top U.S. magazines (as measured by gross revenue from advertising and circulation) in 2004 (Endicott S1-S8).

In North America specifically, most of the research appears focused on the areas of self-esteem, health, gender and consumption. Some studies have concluded that the authority of the fashion press is limited (Crane, “Gender and Hegemony” 541), while others give greater weight to the ability of the media to influence consumption and lifestyle choices. Regardless, while a great number of content and discourse analyses and ethnographic studies have been conducted, there has been scant attention paid to how the aesthetics of these texts contribute to the various ideological discourses.

This essay will investigate the way that contemporary fashion products and commodity culture are presented in the editorial spreads of three mainstream North American magazines aimed at female adolescents: Teen Vogue, Seventeen and ELLEgirl. Although these publications continue to use traditional narrative and layout techniques primarily, they have also increasingly embraced postmodern concepts such as the death of metanarratives, a penchant for spectacle, and persistent ironic self-reflexivity in their content and aesthetic. As a result, they are somehow both formulaic and unabashedly discombobulated in both appearance and substance.

Contemporary images and layouts in teen magazines utilize postmodern aesthetics in order to promote commodity fetishism and hyperconsumption. This is ironic because postmodernity is traditionally associated with a greater emphasis on fashion individualism and originality for women (Crane 208), and postmodern fashion signifiers with subversive youth subcultures (Moore 325), such as the British punk movement and stylish Japanese Kogaru girls.

These once-rebellious and political youth subcultures, and the concept of youthful individualism itself, have now been commodified and resold to millions of young girls in an ahistorical and superficial package. Furthermore, visual approaches associated with postmodern aethethics such as pastiche, fragmentation and deconstruction were originally used only by avant-garde and anti-establishment fashion publications such as i-D and (the now defunct) The Face (Jobling 41).

How, then, have they been appropriated to promote such trivialities as movie stars and muk-luk boots?

[My conclusion?]

Teen magazines, much like other mass media today, display a host of postmodern characteristics in both their content and layout: fragmentation of subject matter, a lack of metanarratives, and the use of pastiche and bricolage to promote a host of diverse and occasionally incongruent trends, eras and styles. These stylistic elements and techniques are used for a variety of reasons: to distract, entertain, offer up signs in place of real meaning, and, most importantly, to provide the illusion of change and novelty in an age where fashion originality is “dead” (Mandoki 614) but the hyperconsumption of its (empty) signs must go on.

The fashion features found in these magazines, such as “Update your look” and “Where Did You Get That,” are brightly-coloured, visually appealing, and busy with graphics and images. However, they also have very little substantive content, and the sheer amount of visual activity and lack of narrative coherence makes meaning-making a challenge. Ultimately, the only constancy throughout these pages is the pervasive promotion of consumer culture and fetishization of images and fashion products.

October 10, 2006

Karl Lagerfeld

I want this cd!!


Karl Lagerfeld's aural obsession is almost as well-known as his aesthetic one—he owns upwards of 70 iPods and needs every gigabyte to hold his collection of over 60,000 CDs. Now the designer is sharing a portion of the wealth with Karl Lagerfeld: Les Musiques Que J'aime [My favorite songs], a two disc set that is divided into an “at home” mix (anything from Black Mountain to LCD Soundsystem) and an equally eclectic selection of “fashion show” tracks (from Stravinsky to Stereolab). Its US release is scheduled for November, but Karl obsessives can snag a copy right now through amazon.fr.

October 5, 2006

Fashion in Fiction Conference!

For all you academics out there...an amazing chance to visit one of the most beautiful countries in the world. See you at Bondi beach!

Fashion in Fiction 26-27 May 2007

An International Transdisciplinary Conference, University of Technology, Sydney Australia
It was Roland Barthes who proposed that fashion was not an "industry" but rather a set of fictions. By this Barthes did not wish to ignore the economic function of fashion, but rather underline fashion's mythic dimension, and suggest that fashion is a literature in itself. Fashion and fiction have long existed in close proximity; writers have been driven by their experience of fashion; fashion has been developed through and by literary tropes. What makes dress and fashion such a fascinating subject for writers? And how are fashion's mythologies constructed and disseminated through fictional texts?

This transdisciplinary conference, a creative collaboration between the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, seeks to investigate and explore the role that fashion has played in fictional narratives from the 19th century to the present. In particular, it will examine specific fashion discourses or conversations within fiction, assessing the role, function, and purposes of clothes, fashion movements, style and image to create narratives within narratives.

Papers are sought from those engaged in the fields of literature, creative writing, media, cultural studies, fashion and design, philosophy and theory.

Selected papers will be published in a peer referred publication.

Abstract Deadline: October 15, 2006
Please send abstracts to:


LOVE the latest Hussein Chalayan collection for SS2007.

Love love love it. Wearable art.

October 3, 2006

The end of fashion? Food for thought...

From Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune [via Fashionologie]

We may be looking now at a situation where fashion is no longer the defining badge of social acceptability. Or more probably, that clothes will retain their importance but in a fragmented way, as, in response to homogenous branding, society divides into myriad fashion tribes.

If, at this start of the 21st century, a design crusader emerges who can trounce all that stands in the way and win a worldwide name and empire, it will be a triumph indeed.

Is fashion over? It will just be different. And who knows if the next new brand will be built in cyberspace?

October 2, 2006

Precesion of Simulacra

One more reason I like to read the blog Counterfeit Chic. Because issues of authenticity and creative patents are everywhere these days! I don't understand why Target would get into this sort of business, since they're a large company that is much more vulnerable to lawsuits than the little stores on Canal St. but hey, I guess we'll find out soon what this is all about.

Also, does anyone else find it funny that such a brand like Coach is concerned about knock-offs and fakes?

Coach Files Trademark Suit Against Target Over Fake Handbag

NEW YORK (AP) -- Luxury handbag and accessory maker Coach Inc. has sued Target Corp., alleging the Minneapolis, Minn., retailer is selling a counterfeit handbag that claims to be an authentic Coach product.

The New York-based luxury goods company claims a counterfeit handbag that is an "exact replica of a genuine Coach handbag" and that bears a counterfeit of at least one Coach trademark was purchased from a Target store in Largo, Fla.
The lawsuit, filed late Friday in federal court in Manhattan, is seeking more than $1 million in damages. Target's media relations department didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment Monday.

Source [via JJB]