Chit-chat Fashion Matters

pieter van bogaert

Blank Is Beautiful

(Trump elected: the day after. A discussion in the classroom of Fashion Matters.)

for Fort Beau, 2017

– But really, how did we ever get from Donald Trump to beauty?

– Because of the Korean-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han making this link between beauty and smoothness: the Brazilian wax, Jeff Koons and the iPhone are his most contemporary examples of beauty. This brought us to the idea of erasure in Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: the idea never to waste a good crisis to start something new. From there it’s not such a big step to Trump. We are entering a new era, just like we did with Ronald Reagan in the early eighties. One man’s disaster is another man’s beauty.

– But are we still talking fashion? Is fashion about erasure? About smoothing out?

– Sure. The idea of erasure is part of the concept of time: yesterday’s fashion is always already obsolete.

– But why does fashion then constantly refer to history? Just like Trump, by the way, with his nostalgia for times when America was still great. Fashion reproduces history all the time.

– You are probably right. It makes me think of this phrase that came up when we first discussed beauty: das Auge liebt Wiederholung–the eye loves repetition. Fashion is a copy, a model that always comes back. Yet always in another form, as something new. That is what it says all the time: this is new.

– You seem to have a special interest in history. Or rather–when I look at your wall of images–in the end of history. Talking about beauty, what could be the end of fashion? Is that where we will find the absolute beauty of fashion?

– Maybe there’s something of the end of fashion in Hussein Chalayan saying that there are no more specific styles, that everything becomes the same. He sees a possible answer for the end of fashion in plastic surgery. You go to the doctor or the tattoo shop or another place where you can modify your body.

– The fashion designer as plastic surgeon? Interesting.

– Going to the gym is also part of fashion. After the metrosexual in the nineties we now have the spornosexual, who combines sports and porn. You don’t need a garment anymore to express yourself. You do it by shaping your body. The undressed bodies you see on dating sites like Tinder or Instagram: could that be an alternative for clothes?

– A very radical alternative that is. Posting pictures wearing no clothes seems very close to the end of fashion indeed.

– We talked about the wellness culture before when we talked about how fashion becomes more and more individual and the six-pack became what the white T-shirt was for Marlon Brando in the fifties. This individualizing of fashion: could that maybe be the end of fashion? Or think about models. I was reading about all the women in the sixties with the same haircut as Brigitte Bardot. They saw themselves as unique. They didn’t see all the other women wearing the same haircut. All they saw was BB and themselves.

– That is the end of fashion. Not seeing all the others doing the same, means you don’t see the fashion anymore. You don’t see all the other six-packs, you only see your own. If you have one.

– And if you don’t have one, you see all the other six-packs, because that is what you want.

– If you want one.

– There’s also the factor of speed. Young people try to reach their goals very fast, using anabolic steroids and dying at the age of 21. Fast fashion, fast bodies.

– Fast lives.

– I guess we’ll have to admit that the end of fashion is an illusion, just like the end of history. There will always be another end after the end. The end of fashion is actually what makes fashion. We mistake the end with the perpetually new beginning. What we are longing for, this longing for the end, is again this idea of erasure: a smooth space on which we can start again. It’s never about the end, it’s always about the possibility to start again. That is about beauty.

– Will the end of fashion always lead to something more? Does the end of fashion then mean that you will end up with nothing but fashion? Everything will be fashion?

– A fashion critic recently claimed that the success of Vetements is the answer to high-end brands like Louis Vuitton. Vetements actually looks like cheap clothing but is still very expensive. Only the connoisseurs know that it’s Vetements. It’s a very clever answer to what’s going on in fashion today. Vetements is like invisible fashion. It’s like the white T-shirt. A new uniform.

– Vetements is easy luxury. People who have the money and want to look good, buy it to show that they can afford it. They don’t have to think about personalizing their items and searching for unique pieces.

– You put on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt and it’s Vetements.

– Oversized.

– Yeah, oversized.

– It’s about storytelling.

– Yeah, about blending in. It’s fashion for insiders. For the ones in the know.

– The idea of a smooth space is something that comes back quite often in our projects. You’ve put this sandstorm up on your wall. Or you think about the space of the tabernacle. What can this smooth space mean for fashion? What does it mean to start from a space to talk about fashion as opposed to a body?

– Smooth space is a space without a history or context. I try not to destroy space but only be there temporarily and then leave it as it was before, keeping the smoothness of it. Not appropriating something. I try to incorporate the nomadic philosophy in my work, developing temporary acts, which erase themselves afterwards.

– These smooth spaces are often destroyed spaces. Before the desert there could have been a forest.

– Sure, a forest is also a smooth space. The rough, striated space is the city. Starting with a smooth space has to do with respect for the environment. That’s what attracts me to nomadic cultures. The problems with global warming started when somebody decided that we should stay in one place. Nomadic cultures show more respect. They take what they need and then leave the space to regenerate. They do not accumulate things, like sedentary people do. I think it could become a trend again. There are a lot of people moving constantly, trying not to accumulate things. The worst examples today are the refugee camps: they tend to become the cities of the future.

– The strange thing is that while promoting a nomadic lifestyle, you don’t design a garment to move in, but rather a space to stay in. You choose to be sedentary, be it temporary. You cannot move, literally speaking, being in a tent.

– When you talk about respect for the environment, in a way you talk about the anticipation of the end. You see the end and you want to avoid it and push it forward all the time by taking care. And as always you tend to fall back on history. When you talk about something new, you always fall back on old things, old forms.

– The same as when you talk about fashion education. You refer in your project to education in the sixties, you talk about references for your own thoughts on new ways for fashion education. There you find this idea of starting from a blank slate where everything is possible, nothing is forbidden, there are no rules. Thinking about education, you want to clean up history, but also go back to history.

– I’m looking for an alternative for the tradition of education. But the problem is that everybody seems to be educated in fashion. They say it’s interesting, and then they start: but you have to learn about this and that, and so on, and so on. You have to learn traditional pattern making for instance. And then you get stuck in the tradition of fashion. I actually want to create a playground where people can play with fashion. You can also do fashion without making patterns. Education today trains students to work for the industry. They learn to sit down behind a computer. Where is the space for creativity then? That is why we have to do fashion without industry.

– Or try to think about an industry without fashion. What could that be? An industry that doesn’t repeat itself? An industry that only makes the bare necessities? It will not be an industry for a long time anymore. Because it will not be able to renew itself and grow. That is the end of fashion: the end of industry.

– Hmm, maybe. But anyway, something is happening. Look at the outcome of the elections in the United States. Suddenly these angry white men pop up as voters for Trump. But imagine that the fashion industry would collapse as the steel industry and the car industry did in the United States. What kind of angry people will show up then? A lot of people already lost their jobs in the fashion industry.

– What is so interesting about this symbolism of the white? We already had the white T-shirt, and now we have the angry white people.

– What is white? White is all the colors together. What Zoe Leonard does there, putting all these different people on the chair of the president–a dyke, a person with aids, with no health insurance, unemployed, ill, people of color, and so on–when you put all these differences together you will also get a white image, an image of erasure. Leonard wrote her manifesto in 1992 when Bill Clinton was running for president. It’s no coincidence that it comes up again now while Hillary Clinton has been fighting and was defeated by Donald Trump. This idea of the white is always coming back in different forms. And in different gradations also. The white T-shirt–which is not as clean as it actually looks–becomes very ironic in the hands of Viviane Westwood who uses it as her canvas for the climate revolution. Here the meaning of this quite dirty piece of garment becomes very ambiguous.

– It’s nice to have a blank wall to make a book and fill it with new images. It’s always easy to start from white. White makes you forget. And it’s also easy to long for white. To keep it as it is. To keep it clean. Not to change anything. There is all this symbolism around the white. The color of mourning, the color of surrender. That is what you do when something ends. You mourn for what is gone, you surrender to a new beginning.

– Beauty is eternal erasure, an eternal desire for the new. Isn’t that what fashion is all about?

Fort Beau – November 2016