5 June-2014, Leila Yavari: One of the most surprising discoveries during my academic tenure was the lack of critical resources addressing the fashion system as a legitimate object of study. But as a model student, I, of course, did my research and uncovered some seminal, if underexposed, tomes with plenty of wisdom and critical insights. I would like to share them here as my own mini syllabus:
The only 4 books you need to read to be ready to work in fashion
The Fashion System by Roland Barthes
Originally published in French in 1967, this was a theoretical breakthrough for the renowned semiotician who, in a radical mode, used fashion, and in particular the language of fashion magazines, as a case study to analyze a system of signs that was not linguistically based. At the time it was met with mixed reviews—some were turned off by the seeming frivolity of the subject matter, while others recognized his keener engagement with the every day. One of his prime insights continues to resonate today: Fashion is a complex code determined by so many social cues, and it produces not just clothing or an image of women, but an abstract notion of ‘fashion’ itself—that ever elusive ideal.
Fetish: Fashion, Sex & Power by Valerie Steele
Yes, this title is as juicy as it sounds, but it is also rife with important revelations. The S&M trend swept through the fall runways—just check out at all that scintillating lacing and corsetry at Balmain and Pucci—but there is a deeper psychological significance at play here. Looking at various subcultures (including underground S&M) as well as popular figures as diverse as Catwoman and Mrs. Peel from the ’60s hit show The Avengers, Ms. Steele digs deeper beneath the eroticism to explore the power relations inherent in the fetish culture. Through interviews, case studies, and anecdotes, she traces a shift in attitudes towards sexuality that will make you think next time you slip on a pair of patent leather stilettos.
The Literary Companion To Fashion by Colin McDowell
Penned by one of the world’s foremost fashion historians, this is an imaginative journey that explores the role of dress in popular literature. McDowell’s source materials span over 400 years and includes snippets of literary classics from Ovid to Malcolm X, Mary Wollstonecraft and Virginia Woolf, to Jean Genet, as well as contemporary provocateurs like Bret Easton Ellis. In each of these excerpts, we get a compelling glimpse into the multifaceted roles that fashion plays in social hierarchies—from the richly coded function of panniers and décolletage in 18th century France to the meaning of an Armani suit in power-fueled ’80s Manhattan.
Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity by Elizabeth Wilson
The use of fashion as a subversive statement has been part of the popular imagination since the blooming of the flower children in the ’60s and the advent of punk in the ’70s. But Elizabeth Wilson’s insightful analysis explores how dress has always been a source of cultural contention, from the exclusivity of haute couture to the brooding undertones of ’90s grunge. This is much more than trend analysis but rather a nuanced examination of the fine details. Plus, where else are you likely to encounter a thorough assessment of David Beckham’s style evolution in the era of the metrosexual?
(Input source: Elle)