There is a culture of recycling inherent within the fashion industry, but a struggle with a lack of originality is not exactly recent news. Postmodern society is structured around the re-use of images, and to situate it within a fashion’s discourse we must consider the appeal of vintage clothing. The statement “It’s vintage” is used, ironically, to set outfits as being apart from the schlock of H&M and Topshop (which also draw heavily upon historical styles), whilst brands such as Tommy Hilfiger have often been criticised for being recycled, degraded forms of the older-established images created by a number of bespoke tailors at Savile Row. What is apparent in both of these circumstances is the transformation of what was once a societal reality, and what was once exciting and new, into a replication of these realities for the purpose of mass consumption. Consequently, we are faced with an abundance of images that fail to render the original meanings of what they represent: images of stereotypes; images of hyper-reality; and images of the self in a fetishised form.
However, it does not stop here. Fashion designers are constantly transforming reality into an image - consider the zoological presence in the SS12 collections of designers such as Victoria by Victoria Beckham, Mulberry and House of Holland. Images of animals, prints of animals and prints made by animals transform zoological reality into an image, where our understanding of what “makes” an animal is crafted into prints and patterns available for wear. Therefore, these firm fashion names exhibit the transformation at its most basic level. This transformation has been furthered because, whereas we would once expect pieces of artwork to immortalise its creator or muse, we now see the aesthetic of fashion being transformed into an image and immortalised itself. The most primary examples are perhaps images of clothing caused by recent developments in “digital fashion”, a process which allows consumer consumption of clothing to occur digitally before they do in reality. Consider, as well, the result of social networking sites like lookbook.nu, where the process of photographing street style fashion has resulted in a mass of images where reality is shared, but the lookbook image itself is a recycling of clothing styles and photographic technique. The reality of style and fashion has thus rapidly morphed into the reality of photographic representation, and today as a society we are perhaps too quick to recycle the style of eras gone by.
The postmodern tendency towards eclecticism runs abound in the fashion industry. SS12 collections at Matthew Williamson and Saloni see the influence of re-contextualising “Japan” into Westernised, ready-to-wear form, directly contrasting the more modern, Ford-style car prints seen at Prada. These hybridise the form of fashion, compiling influences and enhancing different genres of style. Consequently, design has literally become an ode to eclecticism and the freedom of globalisation where we can “eat McDonalds for lunch [but] local cuisine for dinner”. The amalgamation of historical elements into the present have thus resulted in a tendency towards pastiche and performance, two definitive aspects of what we recognise as modern society.
But is there not the sense that this eclecticism, this kitsch-like layering, is stifling the possibility of the future?
Inspiration must, of course, come from somewhere and undoubtedly it is found in visual forms, which makes complete sense as our consumption of clothing is primarily a visual process. But with eclecticism characterised by many models from many different angles, how are we to consider the clothes we wear? Clothing is no longer simply just a product of its own society, it is a product of a globally expanding industry that designates its own inspiration and its own results. Arguably, the fashion industry is increasingly reliant on other sources to create a sense of newness. However, there is a sense that the fashion industry has become its own societal entity. Despite its reliance on external sources, it also has the ability to stand free from the constraints of other cultural functions, be it East or West; high or low.
As such, the industry is a reflection of a society that is created from reflections and, in essence becomes a reflection of whatever the designer chooses to emulate. As a result, what happens to our understanding of “Japan” or “Tribal” when we start using it out of context for the means of enhancing our own ideas of Western design and culture? Is this creativity?
So from Western society we start reflecting back; 1920s, 1960s and 1980s have all trended recently. SS12 saw the 1920s in Ralph Lauren, Emilia Wickstead and Roberto Cavalli, amongst others, taking significant precedence over many of the other trends. Ultimately, this reflexivity combines with a stylish eclecticism and leaves us with no “original”, where development becomes merely the fusion of pre-existing ideas masked as something new. It would seem, as the same ideas are recycled and reused, that there is no “future” so to speak, but rather a continually repeating present.
Eclecticism and reflexivity are at the core of this perpetual present and the cyclical process of the two perhaps prevent significant developments in twenty-first century identities, leaving contemporary society with a pressing need to escape. Maybe it’s a possibility to escape the present, maybe it’s not. But there arguably needs to be some development; an organic development of its own construct which defies the manufactured nature of current design.
Yet, maybe there’s some hope. The Celine, Hermès and Miu Miu SS12 collections saw clean cuts and “pure” forms, rejecting the clashing eclectic prints seen on other runways. Are we moving forward then? Whilst, on the one hand, these collections can be seen as a development of the soft cuts, neutrals and ethereal trends that have been cropping up over the last few seasons, on the other they could be seen as a rejection of fashion’s fetishism last season. Can we consider this as a movement away from the continual present? Or is dichotomy merely the same song in a different key?