Style Is A Universal Language

In the presentation, editor and publisher Jeremy Lewis described fashion as a business (not art). That stuck me as particularly intriguing this week. It resonates with Elizabeth Hawes’ statement in Fashion Is Spinach that “fashion is a parasite on style” and “now we have the advertising agency and the manufacturer, the department store and the fashion writer all here to tell us that the past, present, and future of clothing depends on fashion, ceaselessly changing.”[1] To me, fashion is temporary and opposite to style, which is relatively permanent and gives us the fundamental feeling of a certain period in life. If, as Lewis says, fashion is a language, which we learn when we grow up, I believe style is a universal language that human beings all share the same letters, vocabulary, and pronunciation. We do not need to study a language (or fashion) to understand different cultures. Art sometimes also becomes a business in modern era.

The presentation and recitation afterward leads us to the discussion of Orientalism and cultural appropriation (what Hawes called “influences”).[2] This reminded me of an article from Minh-Ha T. Pham, highlighting that fashion’s appropriation depends on a one-way power flow from the top down and “white Western domination over and exploitation of culture at the expense of everyone else.”[3] It means power relations are in play, which tend to be based, at least in part, on the majority’s ability to persuade. A much deeper problem is “the almost-exclusive control of white perspectives to define what is beautiful.”[4] To a great extent, I agree with her statement, but Lewis told us he did not think appropriation offended other cultures as they reintroduce interesting elements to a group of people not familiar with that culture. I tend to be positive here and think we are actually moving towards cultural appreciation and cultural sharing instead of cultural plundering or cultural borrowing. Many Asian designers are re-Orientalizing and re-appropriating the Western symbols and styles in their work. Junya Watanabe is famous for producing Western-inspired workwear and Xander Zhou created a collection called “Wild West” for Autumn/Winter 2015. They, along with other fashion designers and scholars, challenge the idea of the absolute power and authority of the West to control how the world sees, knows, and talks about the East.

Xander Zhou %22Wild West%22 Autumn:Winter 2015

Xander Zhou “Wild West” Autumn/Winter 2015[5]

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 12.28.31 AM

Junya Watanabe Autumn/Winter 2012[6]

[1] Elizabeth Hawes, Fashion Is Spinach, (1938): 6.

[2] Ibid, 8.

[3] Minh-Ha T. Pham, “Fashion’s Cultural-Appropriation Debate: Pointless.” The Atlantic, (accessed 03/12, 2015)

[4] Minh-Ha T. Pham. “Diversity” in Fashion Will Never be enough.” SALON, (accessed 03/12, 2015)




3 responses to “Style Is A Universal Language

  1. Your weaving in of an article from Minh-Ha T. Pham to discuss Lewis’ lecture was very smart. Citing Pham to describe Lewis’ lecture and the topic at hand gave substance to his main points. I really enjoyed how you brought 21st century fashion into the mix as an example of how designers are challenging the power dynamic of Western culture as superior to all “Others.”

  2. I do not see what is it about that people keep criticizing “cultural appropriation” by the designers. I don’t get it, so if you are born from particular nation, you only must use your own culture as a design inspiration and in that case people will say you are not using the culture, but you are keeping it alive in a way, right? Or you only must design from a western style because it is the “mainstream” and then it is “neutral” people used to see it, and then you don’t misuse anybody. That is nonsense to me, Its like saying if you go to yoga you misuse peoples culture and knowledge.
    Moreover if the designer “use” some other culture for inspiration, it is normally means that he appreciates it and really studied it to the fullness, how can you be inspired by something that you are not totally fascinated about and in love with.
    World is changing we all live by each other side, it is normal that we take on things we see out there. It has always been like that and we just keep on mixing and taking on board the best from each other to grow, as you said we are “moving towards cultural appreciation and cultural sharing instead of cultural plundering or cultural borrowing.” And I believe it is good and important to show to the world that there are much more than just Western beauty, I believe it will make the youth appreciate their own culture more as well as have a respect and honor to others.

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