All the world’s a stage (including runways)


Costume designer Stella Blum is quoted as stating, “Fashion is so close in revealing a person’s inner feelings and everybody seems to hate to lay claim to vanity so people tend to push it away. It’s really too close to the quick of the soul,” and I feel that Siki Im was projecting the same sentiment during his lecture this week. As part of his garment philosophy, Im mentioned how he wants to evoke the senses and be able to hear, smell, and/or touch through his creations. The way in which Im described his design process reminded me of the considerations taken into costume designing for theatrical productions.

British performance artist and cultural theorist Jessica Bugg has written in her essay, “The Shifting Focus: Culture, Fashion & Identity,” that the term ‘theatre’ has often been replaced by ‘performance’, which encompasses a broader definition. This platform gives wider scope for understanding the emerging area of contemporary practice that seems to point towards a hybrid practice between fashion and costume design in recent years.

Through her research, Bugg contends that in conceptually led design – similar to that which Siki Im employs – the body itself is used as a site or a stage. In this manner, the body provides an avenue through which to communicate meaning, in addition to visual and physical narratives as a type of scenographic practice. It is the viewers understanding of the clothed and communicating body and their own memories and experiences that enable them to engage with the ideas and narratives presented to them, whether on stage or down the runway. In conclusion, Bugg argues that costume design, by virtue of its process, deals with the body as a site for communication of narratives, characters and concept. She supports her initial claim of a hybrid fashion/costume design practice by emphasizing how conceptual approaches to fashion design over the past decade have been influenced by a similar design process; becoming increasingly focused on concepts over commerciality, intentionally addressing issues of identity, character and narrative.

During my recitation section, we came up with two categories of themes surrounding Im’s lecture: in one column ‘Humanity’ which fittingly enough included emotion, embodiment, and dance. Perhaps my comparison between Im’s design process and than of a costume designer seems farfetched, but witnessing his admittance of the limitations the materiality of clothing presents – when used as a communicative mode of the trials and tribulations of everyday life – reminded me of the theatrical task of representing authentic lived experiences for all to see.

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