On Fashion and Pleasure

Dramatic sky at sunset / sunrise

While I appreciated Siki Im’s lecture and readings, instead of focusing directly on his work this week, and with Stephanie’s encouragement, I’m going to begin to flesh out the statement I made in the last paragraph of my post on Alison Matthews David’s work, which is basically that fashion victimization, and the strategy of using publicity to address this victimization in the hopes of effecting change, is no new news. It got me wondering, why is it that in many ways fashion practices and systems have not really changed much for the better in the last century despite media attention? And what does this mean for us, as contemporary thinkers/makers, in how we address the problems we see and experience in the system and practice of fashion?

I think these are complex questions that necessitate evolving, pluralistic responses, but one connection I’ve been contemplating while listening to our guest speakers over the course of the semester is the importance of the link between fashion and pleasure. I think that the desire for experiencing pleasure is a strong motivator of human action and that people often do things that are in some way related to seeking pleasure. But seeking/attaining pleasure is a complex experience, and one that can be attached, sometimes concurrently, to both constructive and destructive actions that involve our selves, our communities (local and global) and our planet.

Perhaps one way of effecting greater change regarding the destructive aspects of fashion is for fashion thinkers/makers to focus more on how the experience of pleasure is an important ongoing component of the human experience, and how constructive pleasure can be encouraged and cultivated mentally and materially. Timo Rissanen touched on this idea some in his lecture regarding fashion utopias. If the ubiquitous human desire for experiencing pleasure is acknowledged as legitimate, given weight and space in the exploration of issues of injustice and accountability, maybe it can help to further evolve positive fashion practices by way of soothing the fear that change equals the revocation of pleasure.

Many of our speakers this semester, both the designers and the theorists (and the designer/theorists) are situated at this intersection of associating pleasure and fashion in new ways, but I wonder how much they, or other advocates of alternative fashion systems and practices are directly acknowledging and considering pleasure, the idea that pleasure can motivate choices and how that can be used as a tool for shifting aspects of fashion. Fast fashion and fast food harness ideas associated with pleasure and the effect is largely destructive. But the slow food movement also offers direct associations with pleasure to extend its influence and perhaps this growing success can further inform the strategies of those of us who advocate change in fashion.

6 responses to “On Fashion and Pleasure

  1. Well said, Kira. Reading your post was refreshing. You had already constructed your argument last week, raising very important points which you elegantly “fleshed out” this week. You asked a very complex question: “Why is it that in many ways fashion practices and systems have not really changed much for the better in the last century despite media attention?” I must admit I do not have an answer. However, I think some of the designers/makers who came and spoke during the semester are being reactive and proposing solutions, in the academia as well as the industry, even the luxury business. This is very simplistic but it’s a step toward change. Two weeks ago, I attended a discussion led by Simon Collins with (among others) Francois Henri Pinault, Kering Group CEO. Surprisingly enough their model is a sustainable one, taking into consideration human beings, textile and the environment.
    The link: http://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/bof-500/placing-sustainability-heart-kering

  2. Kira, the questions you ask are similar to those that I posed in my post last week. A lot of the ways in which we participate in fashion, good or bad, is based on the pleasure we receive from our practices. Whether that be the pleasure of getting complimented, a monetary return or popular media coverage, the ways in which we involve ourselves warrant some form of pleasure that we unknowingly seek. But, in doing so, sometimes our pleasure means we cause the pain of others. And, I think that is something that we are all grappling with in this program, but causing is causing us a bit of discomfort because our enrollment in this program means that some way, somehow we have a fascination with the fashion industry.

    I am glad that you took the time to think critically about this somewhat contradiction in the fashion system. If it doesn’t provoke an immediate change, then it at least warrants an acknowledgment of our actions within the fashion industry and pushes us to be more accountable of those actions.

  3. “Why is it that in many ways fashion practices and systems have not really changed much for the better in the last century despite media attention? And what does this mean for us, as contemporary thinkers/makers, in how we address the problems we see and experience in the system and practice of fashion?”

    Such a profound question and one that should be thought through considering several in our program, including myself, plan to and already have participated in the fashion media. As “contemporary thinkers/makers” is it simply enough to allow media coverage to be the end all be all of the contradictions within the fashion industry? The industry can quickly come together to raise funds for international issues such as the devastating earthquake in Nepal (i.e. the recent Prabal Gurung partnership). However, when it comes to issues that affect the monetary value of fashion products, such as child labor, hazardous sweatshop conditions, etc., Fashion PR comes in, makes an apology, claims ignorance, “vows” to look into the conditions and nothing more comes of it. Is it that the Fashion industry only gains pleasure by being attached to humanitarian efforts that will in effect promote brands and names and not their own abominable practices? At times, it seems to be an opportunistic capitalization of tragedies curated to bring about pleasure and not true reform. I second your question, what does this mean for us — who live in the most technologically advanced and globalized world thus far — that we only choose to address particular issues and turn a blind eye to the ones that are closest to our own industry, the very issues that we may have the most power and jurisdiction to change?

  4. Kira, you’re hitting on something powerful and highly personal here — asking us to rethink what is pleasurable, and to consider what actually warrants our very human desires? There is a sense that fast fashion shopping, much like eating a Big Mac and drinking a diet Coke, leaves the consumer a bit, well, hungry. Empty, yet their Forever21 bag is full. The garments fall flat upon returning home from the store, the fit slightly off and the fabric an anonymous layer of meaningless design. Don’t we deserve more?

    Brands like Everlane seem to be filling a rather large void in the marketplace for meaningful, timeless fashion items that are worthy of attachment, capable of engaging a sense of tactile pleasure for the wearer, and most importantly, affordable. What are the conditions of the industry that seem to prevent other brands from rising up and remaining successful? Is it a production issue? Everlane calls their production and pricing practices “radical transparency” – sharing their factories, and the real cost structure of garments. By infusing the production process into the retail (e-commerce) experience, the consumer is informed, educated, and engaged to find even more meaning in the experience.

    Are we watching as this tide begins to shift? I hope so.


  5. Thank you for starting this introspective discussion on a subject within fashion we do not often speak of. Within our puritanical American culture, pleasure in general is often a forbidden topic. Indeed, bringing the idea of pleasure into the realm of fashion, which is already deemed a hedonistic venture by other scholarly fields, can seem disadvantageous to the realm of fashion studies. Your statement that the “human desire for experiencing pleasure”, showcases the importance to legitimate and comprehend our habits, practices, and choices within the fashion sphere. This is profoundly significant in your recognition of how both methods and mindsets are equally important in order to re-structure the fashion system in addition to its reputation. By your crucial statement pertaining to the human need for pleasure, especially when manifested into the physical form of clothing; truly aids in opening up the discussion for a more unbiased view of clothing production and ethical responses without sacrificing visual stimulation. In addition, I appreciate your interpretation of both slow and fast fashion having roots of destructive forces, yet that culturally it is imperative we cultivate more nuanced perceptions and practices in order to witness positive change.

  6. Your pleasure angle is refreshing, Kira. Given the onslaught of choices fashion consumers are provided with everyday, making an ethical/sustainable/better(?) choice also an appealing choice is incredibly crucial in a corporate environment. I wonder how this would be manifested. What could this look like? You mentioned slow food, and I think of Catherine’s post on Eckahus Latta and their slow approach. Something to check out. Great work!

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