Of Machines and Men

Opposition often makes for good drama – and exciting design – and Siki Im’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection is no exception. Strung between two poles: human and machine, a fine line of artistic tension runs through the collection. Im’s fascinating lecture provided a unique insight into his trail of thought, allowing us to see how as a multifaceted fashion designer he reflects his elaborate intellectual inspirations and passion for academic research into a collection’s concept, which he in turn translates into functional and beautifully constructed garments.

During his lecture, Im highlighted the importance of emotion, stressing that meaning must be imbued into clothes, because “fashion is not a product”. Indeed, as Baudrillard’s points out in The System of Objects – a critique of the commodity in consumer society, there is an emotional component involved in owning objects, and once possessed we gain a value from them that goes far beyond mere use and exchange; objects “become things of which I am the meaning, they become my property and my passion.”[1] While technological progress with its instantaneous communication and scientific gimmicks is in many ways an asset to society, before its rise people had different traditions that were reflected in the way they wore, treated and owned clothes. In this day and age, more often than not we more likely admit to “possessing” piles of clothes rather than meaningful collections of garments.

Paradoxically, the inspiration behind Im’s latest show came from his personal collection of transformer robots – androids we often view as being devoid of any emotional capacity. Nonetheless, the collection was far from a mere manifestation of bionic shapes or robotic precision. Instead, it was ingrained with the human condition, a sense of vulnerability that is uniquely tied to humanity clearly surfaced. Simultaneously complete and incomplete, the idiosyncratic looks were marked with imperfection— from mismatching sneakers to zips styled to be only half attached and tops featuring jagged triangular cutouts. The intentionality behind the collection’s offbeat styling serves to celebrate the quirks of humanity, advocating us to embrace our faults rather than covering them up, as ultimately it is these “errors” that mean that we were not mass produced.

1-siki-im-spring-2015-nyfw

[1] Jean Baudrillard, “The Non-Functional System, or Subjective Discourse,” The System of Objects (Verso, London, 1996): 1.

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3 responses to “Of Machines and Men

  1. “Fashion is not a product” – this was quite the statement, as to a large extend, fashion is very much a product.
    I understand of course that Im was likely referring to his own designs and process. Despite being in fashion, he does not want to design meaningless garments to be mass consumed. Throughout his presentation it was clear that Im used design to work through his creative and intellectual interests.
    I completely agree with you, and your use of Baudrillard, about the value and meaning we impart on objects. This can be extended to fashion as a broader concept, for without meaning, and especially without value, fashion cannot exist. Veblen theorized that fashion is driven by the lower classes trying to emulate the upper classes, and the upper classes needing to change themselves in order to differentiate. Sub-cultural studies tell us that marginalized groups rebel against the dominant culture. The desires to conform and to rebel, to belong and to exclude, all exist within this system of fashion, and are driven by the meaning within clothes.
    Fashion is a product, but that product is heavily embedded with meaning of consumerist culture, class, and belonging.

  2. “While technological progress with its instantaneous communication and scientific gimmicks is in many ways an asset to society, before its rise people had different traditions that were reflected in the way they wore, treated and owned clothes.” – you’re so right, Sofia! During his lecture, Im emphasized the importance of sentiment, and how the consumer in some way has replaced meaning/sentiment with the need for conspicuous consumption. Im’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection was inspired by the juxtaposition of robotic shapes and design, yet it predominantly illustrated humanism, bringing forward the notion of imperfection – the unconventional. As you say, “the collection’s offbeat styling serves to celebrate the quirks of humanity, advocating us to embrace our faults rather than covering them up.” In this manner, imperfection makes natural and genuine and, as to Im, the key to fashion is emotion. In a world filled with mass production and consumption, meaning to objects, I believe, is what the future should be.

  3. I really appreciate the Baudrillard text you incorporate, Sofia. Tying this back to transgression, I wonder where the border/if there is a border between fashion products and emotions. When is a garment just stuff, when does it become something we are attached to? How does this affect the way we wear our garments? Affect theory could be something interesting to apply. Great work!

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