discourse of fashion
the elusive term of anti-fashion
Fashion discourse still often suffers from a prejudice of frivolity. I admit having fallen into the trap of fashion trivialisation myself before: as it is something glamorous and exclusive.
However, we all participate in fashion and its discourse every day we put on clothes. Further, we interact with and evaluate others through its prism – holding clothes as ‘social hieroglyphs’ (Barnard, 1996). And the fashion industry is guiding us regardless whether we are conscious of it or not, as it was so brilliantly illustrated in that Devil Wears Prada scene.
thus, fashion is much more inclusive and significant concept than can sometimes seem. However, as I was learning more about the fashion history, and specifically, finding designers I related to most and felt inspired by I have begun to encounter a fascinatingly paradoxical term – anti-fashion.
The earliest mentions of anti-fashion can be found as early as 1904 but it gained definition that is used until today in the 1970s and, arguably reached its peak popularity in the 1980s, early 1990s. At first, it was the Vivienne Westwood’s punk rebellious fashion referred as such, later Japanese designers, like Rei Kawakubo (founder of Comme des Garcons), Yohji Yamamoto, or Issey Miyake’s collections were regarded as part of anti-fashion. The designers dubbed the Antwerp 6 and other Belgians like Raf Simons were put under the umbrella of this term.
While fashion is inherently quite full of vague terms and adaptive definitions with meanings evolving with the years, this term still stands out. After all, how can you be anti-fashion if you are creating fashion? How can garments that are a part of and contribute to the fashion discourse be anti-fashion? There seems to be no simple answer.
Within a first look it might appear that anyone that does not fit a current dominant narrative of fashion would be relegated to the margins so if a designer or a brand were to be successful and critical acclaimed, while not creating with strict adherence to the mainstream framework and rules that the industry’s gatekeepers decided to set, they will be labelled anti-fashion.
Yet, it is more complicated. Anti-fashion when fully embraced with its oxymoron nature can provide so much more creative freedom and opportunities creativity – as the designers – delegated with an anti-fashion classification are not burdened with restrictions of mainstream fashion framework. After all, there is a degree of rejection of rebelliousness intrinsic in the term. There also seems to be more ability to analyse, improve and reinvent clothes and silhouettes that are commonly overlooked or relegated to pure utility by fashion industry (e.g.: work shirt and uniforms, or “techwear”. Pieces that can be defined to belong to nobody and everyone.
but at its worst, anti-fashion can feel like a ‘scape goat’ of a term to encompass whatever industry’s gatekeepers – buyers, critics, reviewers got it wrong. Then retro actively make themselves correct by labelling some designs as anti-fashion.
It is worth noting that as fashion industry does not remain stagnant, neither does anti-fashion. The term has naturally strayed away from the time it had the most notoriety a few decades ago. What even is anti-fashion now? It is definitely harder to come up with immediate contemporary examples of such designers. However, that is likely not because there are less rebels or creativity in the industry. Perhaps, it is more of an indication that the monopoly over fashion discourse is diminishing, and the discourse itself is more versatile and plural. After all, how can you be anti-fashion, when the many narratives of fashion include you and your creations.
so are we loosing anything with the waning popularity of anti-fashion term? After all, there are advantages in being “anti” or against something. Or has inherent value of anti-fashion existence has diminished enough to become redundant? Is the fashion industry democratised enough?
I think we are currently finding out the answer to it as the fashion industry continues to evolve and maybe embracing the anti-fashion as a term that can be adopted by designers rather than put upon them is part of it.
radically refined collection. small, annual, vital