Book Review by Sapphire Ng
Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explorations and Analysis
by Stella Bruzzi, Pamela Church Gibson
Copyright January 2001
Paperback, 416 Pages
Fashion Cultures presents a profound, multifaceted, and critical examination of the cultural phenomenon of fashion. This book is an excellent anthology of articles penned by an eclectic range of experts from diverse disciplines. The text’s quality academic writing along with exhaustive research makes it an excellent resource for the fashion scholar, researcher, student, practitioner, and even for academically-inclined fashionistas. The book will also be valuable for the ardent fashion reformist venturing to drive changes within the fashion industry; incredibly meaningful and in-depth investigations into the subject matter are conducted, that upon devouring the book, the reader will emerge with an acutely heightened understanding of the complexities, subtleties, and mechanisms related to the intriguing realm of fashion cultures.
Fashion consumers will also stand to benefit tremendously from consuming the contents of the book. Particularly with the intimate intertwining of fashion with our contemporary society, it is ever more pertinent and prudent for the consumer to be equipped with appropriate knowledge to shrewdly negotiate one’s position and relationship to the phenomenon of fashion, and to be empowered with purposeful understanding pertaining to the way fashion fits into one’s consciousness and everyday life.
Personally, am liberated by contemplating assessments that lucidly explicate and verbalize the significance of the occurrences of fashion in my life. Especially for the female reader subconsciously and emotionally enslaved to specific facets of fashion, indeed it is only by beginning to cultivate an awareness and understanding of critical issues that one could progress upon the path to regain lost power, and to reevaluate the extent to which fashion would be thus allowed to encroach upon one’s autonomy in life.
The exploration of the intricate relationship between fashion and feminism is most compelling and intriguing. Incorporated in the discourse are profound ideas such as the rather indicative notion of the "tyranny of slenderness” along with its subversive promotion of “a form of misogynistic revulsion against the fleshy female body,” which relates to another memorable phrase, the “female grotesque.” Interestingly weaved into the examination include ideas of the patriarchy—in particular relating for example, the “cultural construction of femininity as pure appearance” and the cult of the supermodel as patriarchal fabrications. Other interesting feminist conceptions discussed include the notion of the lofty exclusivity of the iconography of fashion, make-up coupled with fashion as forms of “objectification,” and even the earnest call for the formulation of “a feminist theory of fashion.”
The British fashion industry is explored rather prominently in the book. Unmistakably fascinating would be analyses of fashion as a culture and artistic industry, and in its relation to ideas of national identity and branding, or even cultural strategies.
Iconic fashion designers, both Britain and otherwise, were highlighted for their idiosyncrasies; their designs and collections for example, were explored through diverse and illuminating perspectives. The designer Martin Margiela was spotlighted for boldly appropriating the catwalk to question “predetermined ideas of the runway presentation;” the author zeroed in on Alexander McQueen’s controversial "Highland Rape" Collection fashion show. A sampling of other designers discussed include the likes of Paul Smith—Britain’s “arguably most influential” contemporary menswear designer—, the legendary John Galliano, the preeminent Hussein Chalayan, and the talented Vivienne Westwood.
The book’s superb coverage of a further eclectic range of issues would make fashion and academic fanatics swoon. Critical rendering of the notion of the spectacle as contextualized in fashion is distinctly astounding, as is the related allusion to the postmodern work "Society of the Spectacle” as analytic support. The examination of fashion as a "dialectical image” is yet another example of the profound territories the book journeys into. Abstractions of performativity and masquerade, the antithetical femininity versus masculinity, the interrelation between fashion and popular music, and fashion imagery and the idea of the dandy—in its distinct manifestation of “masculine fashionability, bodily display and metropolitan neurosis”—, are but further evidence of the immense intellectual depth the book ventures into.
The theory of glamour is beautifully articulated, aptly exemplified through the case study of Gianni Versace; the art of make-up is explicated philosophically, through theoretical studies of the idea of the mask and the face; the costume or the notion of physical representation in film is rather substantially surveyed, of which a rather absorbing concept and methodology of phenomenology—“the philosophy of exhaustive detail and description”—emanated, to the benefit of cerebral readers.
Fashion photography of course is a salient component of the fashion discourse and equation; the coverage in the book satisfactorily does the medium justice. A singularly outstanding sentence on the subject matter exquisitely and compactly conveyed the intertwinement between photographic styles and the different movements—“modernism gave to fashion photography a graphic and geometric influence; surrealism inspired dream-like images,” whilst realism depicted models in "action and in movement."
The business terrain trodden by the book is similarly impressive. Commercial and technological strategies employed by fashion designers for example are highlighted—the technique of mass customization in micro-marketing; the collection of biometric marketing data and the utilization of high-tech body measurement booths by Levi’s; or discussions of demand fragmentation, store design aesthetics, marketing messages, and more.
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.