April 17, 2007

"Real" Vs. "Fake"

Authenticity is an issue with which I'm quite concerned and interested, as someone who used to work in design and still currently works in the industry at large. The rise of branding. Logomania. Counterfeits versus knock-offs.

The idea of ‘fashion’ itself, as opposed to dress or costume, has only emerged “within a particular kind of society, one where social mobility is possible” because historically fashion has developed “during the movement towards a capitalist society and the emergence of a bourgeois class” as a tool for social differentiation (Entwistle 44). Ultimately, then, fashion “suggests competitive emulation, a rank-order tournament in which the prize is social distinction” (Caves 182).

Thorstein Veblen’s chapter on the idea of “conspicuous consumption” in his 1899 book Theory of the Leisure Class addresses this theory of fashion beautifully, stating that the “[c]onspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentleman of leisure,” especially in an age when many live in cities and cannot easily express their wealth through more traditional means (56). Now that individuals are exposed “to the observation of many persons who have no other means of judging of [one’s] reputability than the display of goods (and perhaps of breeding) which [one] is able to make while…under their direct observation”, it is more important than ever to use one’s means to acquire and display conspicuously one’s “worth” (Veblen 64). Furthermore, the outward display of material goods is important since within “modern civilized communities the lines of demarcation between social classes have grown vague and transient” and dress is a way for individuals to strive towards “the next higher stratum” socially (Veblen 62).

Ultimately, in the present age, the “sign” as discussed by Baudrillard in For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign plays an important role, and fashion is but a part in the “society of the spectacle where the cult of appearances is all important” (Negrin 114). The use-value of an object is much less relevant than its exchange value.

Logos and branding are an important and yet problematic part of the contemporary
fashion system. The accessories shown here include both “real” and “fake” items representing a wide range of designer brands and displaying very recognizable logos. The objectives are: to show both the emptiness of and meaning imbued within the sign (logo) in contemporary capitalist culture, which so often fetishizes these branded fashion products; to explore the real problem of counterfeits within fashion; and to point out how the medium of fashion photography flattens the difference between the authentic and the other, because differences such as finishing touches and materials simply do not “read” in print.


Photocredit: Me.


Gretchen said...

This parallels something I've been thinking a lot about lately, ever since seeing Paris Is Burning at the Fashion in Film festival at the Museum of the Moving Image. One of the older drag queens expressed something that I'd vaguely been trying to formulate for a while -- she distinguished the look one is able to create (using innate talent) from the look one is able to acquire (using cash), which to me perfectly differentiates style from fashion. Not that that they're totally distinct; fashion equals style plus status. But there's a point where the brand overwhelms the style, which to me is a point where you actually lose authenticity, in a way. Or you lose sight of the innate style that made the designer successful in the first place, and it just becomes a matter of slapping a name on a handbag that may or may not be attractive, but whose monetary value is clear to everyone -- or to everyone that matters. Of course the issue of Canal Street authenticity vs. fake is a different one, but it operates within the same system.

fashion theory said...

Thanks for your comment Gretchen! That's another interesting angle that I haven't considered theoretically.

But you're right that style is timeless whereas fashion is about a moment within a continuum.