As someone who has always been interested in the context of what we wear and why, I enjoyed reading Fashion in Popular Culture; a book comprising of fourteen essays investigating clothing through the lens of television, literature, film and media.
The book starts strong with Joseph H. Hancock’s chapter on branding. Here, Lady Gaga is under the microscope and Hancock deconstructs her persona and the way in which her costume is used to disseminate messages about social issues around gender, identity and bullying; becoming a powerful vessel for brands and cosmetics companies to tap into those markets that they otherwise struggle to penetrate.
Alfonso D. McClendon’s, ‘The Path to Heroin Chic‘ provides a fascinating insight into jazz icons Billie Holliday and Miles Davis whose clothing became a necessary means to expertly ‘disguise evidence of drug use,’—something that I was largely unaware of.
I was pleased to see an essay on a film that continues to leave a lasting impression on me:‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ which dissects troubled character, Lisbeth Salander, whose traumatic life experiences outwardly manifest as an armor of black leather jacket, punk hairstyle and body piercings. She hides her beauty through self-scarification and uses her clothing to project a ‘don’t f*^k with me attitude’—one that belies her vulnerability.
Clothing retailer, H&M launched a Girl with the Dragon Tattoo clothing line by costume designer, Trish Summerville sparking debate around ‘the marketing of a rape victim.’
Each essay is finely honed and some are more gripping than others, if not, challenging.
In particular, a feminist critique of fashion photography by Louise Wallenberg, examines the work of U.S photographer, Terry Richardson, a man whose work was in her words, ‘an interesting example of how sexism and misogyny, when carried out in an almost undetectable way, becomes accepted and even desirable.’
She alludes to his body of work: sexualized images featuring frontal nudity and representations of ‘sexual acts’ carried out under the guise of ‘fashion,’ deemed acceptable in a context that helps to perpetuate the photographer’s own perversion and secret agenda.
I couldn’t help but feel incredibly disturbed after reading this essay and the question still floating around in my mind is, who makes the decisions about what is considered art? One of the images is made ever more explicit by way of Richardson’s statement about his work on the campaign:
“It was all about sex pictures. I’ve always been able to walk that fine line…to do fashion and also do naughty pictures. Why do I get away with it?”
The breadth of essays make for easy reading and I’m ecstatic to see work like this being published—clothing and fashion will always be important historical and cultural signifiers that reveal stories about people and perspectives from any given moment in time.