Oh, my beloved readers…

15 Feb

… all the twelve of you (which is good since almost half of you are not in my family) grasp firmly your silky pants, for we are in for yet another encephalitis-inducing theoretical post. Here we go.

(I just give you a little pic from Marc Jacobs AW11 because (a) what comes after is long and painful, and (b) polka dots!!)

Dots dots dots!

So, iconicity again.

First let us get out of the way what is consensual. You’ll never catch me saying that random layering (or any equivalent but more suave formulation) is the only way to iconicity. Not even ridiculously drunk at a concert of the Scissor Sisters. A well chosen unheimliche twist in classical elegance also does the trick (but it’s not easy).

Let us turn now to this interesting theory of yours. It relies on a principle I should call OD for outrageous defense:

(OD)       Outrageous sartorial choices are (often) a defense mechanism for the beauty impaired.

I see why that would be a pet theory. It is obviously couterintuitive, hence, it has a good added value. Indeed, would ask the not-so-deep fashion theorist, why someone already at risk of being exposed to derision would worsen her/his situation by drawing attention to shocking clothes? Here’s the explanation the wise Manolo provides us. Instead of enduring a subpar status with respect to accepted standards, the beauty impaired would defend him/herself by rejecting beauty as a criterion and claiming that personality/originality is what matters. A clever move in our ferociously individualistic societies. Barbie will have a hard time openly claiming that conformity is the way to go (but she’ll manage something, usually based on concepts such as weird, or belonging, or taste and morality, or nature, or whatever other half baked normative structure). Then the proponent of staying true to one’s original personality will be freedom’s champion, and Barbie will be the fascist. This is the moral of at least 25% of Hollywood’s total output. I know, darling reader, I’m conservative here.

So far so good. Outrage or outré may be protection systems. But please let us not forget that’s a very thin piece of the cake. What’s protection, most of the time? Let Mama Wharton show you how it’s done.

Serious protection is a four layered job. First layer: fur. I mean, our fur: prairies and bushes of our god-given body hair. Second layer: comfy outwear. A vast tee-shirt, some nice bermudas with all the practical pockets, tennis socks and crocs. A parka when needed. Now you top that with a thick third layer of ill understood Platonism/Feminism, to the effect that (from the former) apparencies are not what counts and that (from the latter) any trade of practicality for aesthetics counts as an active collaboration with the global phallocratic conspiracy. Last layer: friends. Lots of them, sharing the ideas and the strategy. In Paris or Milano, it won’t be easy. In Frankfurt or Lafayette, it shouldn’t be much trouble. And here, within your four-layered bunker, you will really be protected. Assuming you’re not too much into mass media, you may live a life almost free from fashion aggressions. Actually, having inversed all values, you will have opportunities for sneering at shallow self-sacrificial bimbos on heels. And be concerned for their health.

Why would someone throw herself on the battlefields of unconventional fashion when bunkering is so much easier, I really don’t know. I guess it’s something akin to the mysteries of sexual orientation. For being fat or ugly and into fashion is being a queer. Once (and only once) you’re a queer, counter-attack is a very good strategy, and, as Manolo rightly suggests, it will provide shelter.

But if it’s clever, it is first of all a bold strategy, and that combination deserves praise in my book. And going for personality is the fundamental component of iconicity as I understand it.

But now I’ll need to qualify that. There’s at least two ways of understanding how to express your personality. One uninteresting way to do so is to chose a counterculture. So, you’re different because you’re emo, or goth, or whatever. Like all your friends. This is just a variant of the bunker, so let’s dismiss it as irrelevant. So, again: how would you express a personality (through fashion)?

I’ll borrow from Deleuze some notion here. If you are still reading this, you probably won’t mind an extra helping of complications. The usual concept for personality in its common acceptation is subjectivity. Personality defines us as subjects. Deleuze twists the notion: subjectivity should not be understood as a property of a being. It’s a process, which he calls subjectivation. Your are not a subject, but you can sometimes be caught in a subjectivation process. Why is that? Because what makes you a subject, singular by definition, is what makes the structures you function in leak. But the structure is always resorbing the leaks. Every liberation is followed by a (necessary) restoration of order, where the singular is assigned a new place in the structure, and therefore ceases to be singular and unclassifiable. It’s a good and satisfying life when you function well. But while you will have character, you won’t have a personality, i.e. be a subject in the full sense.

So being a subject, or having a personality if you want, is a full time, never finished, job. It’s hard work. Here is a truly wonderful description of what a subjectivation process may be like, by composer Morton Feldman.

What was great about the fifties is that for one brief moment — maybe, say, six weeks, nobody understood art. That’s why it all happened.

What I get from all this is that there is wisdom indeed in Waters advice:

Get on the fashion nerves of your peers, not your parents – that is the key to fashion leadership.

I see true personality in the way someone struggles to break consensus in order to be him/herself. It is exceedingly rare, and when that happens in fashion, we get an icon in the way I understand the term.

Let’s take a random example. In Paris’ early 1880, Madame Gautreau was a fashion star: she was extremely beautiful and she was a trendsetter. On another hand, as one of her friends would have it, she had the “strange, weird, fantastic, curious beauty of” a “peacock-woman”. We are already in iconicity’s sweet spot. But what made her a true icon, in a way such that Manolo chose her as an example of non-layering icon, is that she sat for Sargent, and this is the result:

Deadly Sin: Lust

Of course, there are very few layers involved here. Much too few, actually, at least for the taste of the 80s. The portrait caused a riot in 1884’s Salon, and wrought havoc on Sargent and Gautreau. At a time when pornography wasn’t a billion dollars’ business, the portrait counted as sheer outrage. This is what happens with subjectivation processes. Usually, there’s a price. A high price.

Now that most of you are probably gone, sleeping, or bored to death, I’ll just add few pointer to the remaining battlefields:

1) Is conflicting or complex layering random? Method in madness

2) What rules are we changing? Switching from beauty to personality vs. challenging the definition of beauty?

3) In any case, does it matter? I claim that beauty is not a necessary nor a sufficient component for iconicity.

Ooooh nooooo… Paracetamol, anyone?

Advertisements

11 Responses to “Oh, my beloved readers…”

  1. Madame Suggia February 15, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    What a fabulous post, where oh where to start?

    “For being fat or ugly and into fashion is being a queer.”

    Yes. Say it loud, I’m queer and I’m proud.

    “So being a subject, or having a personality if you want, is a full time, never finished, job.”
    Yes again, but speaking entirely for myself, a hugely pleasurable job-and therefore, being a joy, ceases to become ‘work’ and morphs instead into a vocation.

    “1) Is conflicting or complex layering random? Method in madness”.

    For it to work, never random. Rather, a studied faux-randomness, an artful displacement rather than a full-on wardrobe collision.

    “2) What rules are we changing? Switching from beauty to personality vs. challenging the definition of beauty?”

    I don’t believe we’re ‘changing the rules’, rather, ignoring or dismissing them as being irrelevant or wholly unattainable and therefore, a waste of time, energy and money, but WTF do I know.

    “3) In any case, does it matter? I claim that beauty is not a necessary nor a sufficient component for iconicity.”

    Word. In fact, I’d go so far as to say, that here and now in the early 21st century, when we are all overloaded with so many disparate images images images of what’s ‘hot’ or ‘beautiful’ or ‘desirable’, real ‘classic beauty’ can almost be an impediment to iconicity. Choose your icon, any of the random interchangeable Kardashians or Bjork?

    Speaking entirely for myself, I’d say that there are a few additional spurs to iconicity, or if not that, then the omnipresent desire to tweak, to improve, to change one’s appearance…

    1) Aesthetics-if I like it, if it pleases my sensibilities, I wear it. If anyone seeing my sartorial choices doesn’t like or approve or enjoy, well, so sad too bad, they’ll get over it.

    2) The transformative effect…I cannot be the only chubby middle-aged woman in the world to look in the mirror each morning post-shower and think, “here’s where the fun begins”. Something gorgeous to wear (usually made by my own fair hands), 20 minutes with a well-stocked cosmetics drawer and a few hair styling tools and it’s show-time. From a pale scruff-bag with more jiggle than a plate full of semi-set Jello to Superfly Goddess takes a little time, a little artifice and a lot of planning but is infinitely preferable to the cry of “as long as it’s comfortable!”. Because that way lies madness-and probably Crocs, which is much the same thing.

    3) The (somewhat immature) desire to annoy. I certainly don’t adorn myself with this as the sole aim, but my inner adolescent really gets off on wearing something ‘that I shouldn’t’. Also, my inner adolescent didn’t ask to be born and hates her life, but whatever, she can STFU and go do her homework.

    Brilliant post, much as I love a nice “ooh, pretty frocks!” post as much as the next woman, this kinda thing is what I call fashion writing.

    • Miss Eliza Wharton February 15, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

      oh Miss, you got me at “From a pale scruff-bag with more jiggle than a plate full of semi-set Jello to Superfly Goddess takes a little time, a little artifice and a lot of planning”

      This is the war cry of any woman I know in planet fashion, and I strongly suspect it’s the same for all the rest. maybe some of the bitches may have to plan less. But it’s just a difference in degree, not nature.

      Great comment!

  2. Klee February 15, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    Lovely writing

  3. Aurumgirl February 15, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    Hmmmm.

    1) Is conflicting or complex layering random? Method in madness

    Random shmandom. It’s human. Oh, sure, one would like to think that things we do are all carefully calculated and designed but the fact is that nothing one does is accidental (and everything is autobiographical), whether we are conscious of the process and try to direct it, or not.

    Well, that’s how I think about it, anyway. It’s kind of how I have to think about it, to be who I am and do what I do.

    2) What rules are we changing? Switching from beauty to personality vs. challenging the definition of beauty?

    Trying to define beauty is impossible. Oh, I know it’s done all the time, but does any of us really buy into that definition, or those “examples” of beautiful we’re expected to accept?

    We’re all going to be drawn to anything that gives us pleasure. In my mind, a personality that provokes, engages, caresses, entertains, challenges, dares, and generally commands your response and dedicated interaction is a beauty; physical ideas about perfected beauty have nothing to do with this, we all learn to be physically attracted to those things that make us feel good somehow.

    Let me brag, a little: I have a pretty face, but I also have a suggestion of an aquiline nose (yeah, I like them that way, as you can tell) and a chin that can use some help. I am generously described as chubby, and as of today, I am that much closer to half a century in age. I am opinionated and giddy and sometimes that combination means we’re going to be talking about what I want to talk about, exclusively. I do not now, nor have I ever, looked good in a bikini or bathing suit of any other construction, and where hats are concerned, I have a choice between wide brim or no brim at all; the more the hat relies on a veil, the better. Red lipstick really does alter the terrain convincingly, though, and I use it when I need to.

    I have often been told I can work a room, and leave a few handsome hearts fluttering (and I’m convinced all you really need to do this is a conversational knowledge of wine and food in your head, plus some good perfume and some provocative footwear you don’t even have to be able to walk in. I can wear a sheet if I want (so that the police don’t come), because I know no one will be looking there). Now, does this make me Fat Barbie the Fascist Dowager? Or just Some Kind of Beautiful, the kind neither Kim Kardashian nor Bjork can touch?

    It’s that eye of the beholder idea. And the idea that the beholden eye is the result of some kind of transfixative mojo. One that has very little to do with physical beauty, and a whole lot to do with style and no small amount of generosity.

    3) In any case, does it matter? I claim that beauty is not a necessary nor a sufficient component for iconicity.

    An icon, by definition, commands a kind of spiritual devotion. I can’t see a Tyra Banks or a Kate Moss as being deserving of that, and they are some well known “beauty ideal” icons. It’s definitely not necessary for iconicity. But that mojo thing? Indispensable.

    I bet I’ve misunderstood the whole question, so I’m going to revel in that.

    • Miss Eliza Wharton February 15, 2011 at 11:53 pm #

      “We’re all going to be drawn to anything that gives us pleasure.”
      I would distinguish between what I feel drawn to and what I judge beautiful. But that may be a philosophical bias.

      “Fat Barbie the Fascist Dowager”
      OMG. I want to meet her. A character is born, ans she’s bound to become a star. Expect to hear from her from time to time here.

  4. winnsome February 16, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    yes I agree you have lovely writing.
    It’s nice discussing things, theories etc – I really get excited about it haha conversation junkie!
    Beauty is more understandable to me when I think about eastern and western concepts at the same time (from what I understand). The wabi-sabi philosophy says something is beautiful if an object or expression can bring about within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing. The more western notion seems to be a kind of pleasure you get when you see or hear something you identify as beautiful.
    So I’ve been thinking beauty is a kind of experience of pleasure and pain together and i think it is really tied up with this sense of randomness that you are talking about.
    I’m not so good at writing myself so hopefully I’m being clear. I really like the notion in wabi-sabi that for something to appear relaxed, natural and “at ease” alot of time/experience and spirituality goes into it. Being a design student I don’t have as much time to think about how I express myself through the clothes I wear but more through the clothes i design. I am always searching for that “perfect” amount of randomness especially because I take most of my inspiration from nature and nature always gets it so right. I sometimes honestly laugh out loud to myself (I think my husband thinks I am a little mad) about the irony of how much time and effort I spend in trying to produce a thrown together, relaxed vibe. Like the Japanese tea cups where they purposely chip the bottom when they make it so it seems used – Now that’s classy! (expensive too)
    xx
    winnsome
    p.s. so cool that u posted up stan’s poem x xx x

    • Miss Eliza Wharton February 17, 2011 at 12:34 am #

      “So I’ve been thinking beauty is a kind of experience of pleasure and pain together and i think it is really tied up with this sense of randomness that you are talking about.”

      I love that so much I’ll have to do a post on that. That was a great idea.
      (And you’re crystal clear, don’t worry)

  5. Manolo the Shoeblogger February 16, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

    Chère Madame, your wit is forcing the Manolo to make his own lengthy reply at his humble shoe blog. However, in the meantime, allow the Manolo to make the few brief answers to the question you have posed.

    1) Is conflicting or complex layering random? Method in madness

    This question can only be answered by reference to the individual in consideration. In the case of Suzy Bubble it would never be random. In the matter of Helena Bonham Carter, the Manolo suspects the opposite is true.

    However, just because something is carefully considered and not random, does not make it pleasing to the eye, nor especially interesting.

    2) What rules are we changing? Switching from beauty to personality vs. challenging the definition of beauty?

    The rules of feminine beauty cannot be changed, no matter how much we may wish that they could be. They are as immutable and as fixed as the stars in the heavens: youth, fecundity, symmetry, and the pleasing hip-to-waist ratio.

    But, as youthful beauty fades, or was perhaps never fully present, that is where the art and magic of contriving the desirable is found.

    Again, if the game does not favor you, change its rules. If you are not objectively beautiful, or imperfectly beautiful, make the conversation about the beauty of your clothing, or your striking personality, or your intellectual vision.

    Making yourself desirable from the less than ideal position, this is much more interesting and intellectually satisfying than raw beauty itself. Although, sadly, perhaps never as innately appealing.

    3) In any case, does it matter? I claim that beauty is not a necessary nor a sufficient component for iconicity.

    You are exactly correct. And yet, sometimes, beauty is so overwhelming that the person is iconic despite her fashion instincts… for the example, Elizabeth Taylor…

    http://shoeblogs.com/2007/10/12/elizabeth-taylor-fashion-icon/

    Here is the exceedingly beautiful woman who has the deplorable taste in clothing, and yet, she is indisputably iconic, no?

    • Miss Eliza Wharton February 16, 2011 at 10:30 pm #

      Well, I guess there always has been something slightly tainted about Liz (maybe not always, but as long as I can remember, being born after the sixties), and that touch has in my opinion something to do with her status.

      I can’t wait to read the rest of your thoughts on the subject!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Grace of the Anemometer… | Which_is_Good - February 15, 2011

    […] Which_is_Good Philosophy on (High) Heels Skip to content HomeAbout ← Oh, my beloved readers… […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: