Kleider machen Leute...

Kleider machen Leute

by Liam Tasker

It is said that clothes make the man, but what is to be said of man making the clothes?

There exists a symbiosis between us and what we wear. Rarely is a dress so adored as when draped and cascading along the female form, rarely is a woman so adored as when she is draped in it. We observe, in the act of dressing, a metamorphosis. We witness the exchange between what you were and what you wear, creating what you become. This is the phenomenon of fashion; we experience it, we know it to be true. 'True', however, is a word of complex significance in fashion, as fashion - like all art - is built upon a foundation of deception. This is the case with all art; Parrhasius’s curtains were a deception so real(istic) that the lie augmented its artistry. Fashion’s deception, too, manifests itself in a trompe-l’œil to various degrees, from the much-photographed Stella McCartney illusion dresses to the underlying philosophy of artistic deception, a suspension of disbelief that underpins all artistic convention. It is a deception not without authenticity, perhaps of an existentialist nature. A garment represents something of a mix between être-en-soi and être-pour-soi: bereft of cognitive self-awareness but with a palpable propensity to become more than what is, offering a system of mutual aesthetic consummation to the wearer. It is this artifice afforded by fashion that integrates the soi and the look of the autrui. The act of wearing a garment enables one to reconcile one’s subjectivity and objectivity into a comfortable medium, to align what one is and how one appears to be, through adopting the persona offered by the garment, should it be in line with the inherent narcissistic self-awareness of the wearer. In order to truly empower oneself through fashion, one must choose a garment that does not mislead but rather seduces the gaze and expresses the essence of the wearer. L’homme se choisit (ou il choisit ce qu’il porte.) Tastes in fashion are dictated therefore by individual impetus and self-recognition, a narcissistic object choice that recognizes something reflective of or compatible with the self in the beauty of a garment; ‘it’s just not me’ is better rendered as ‘it’s just not who I want to be’ in fashion.

Indeed, it is arguable that no garment really is intended to express its wearer in any particular a priori way. The essence of a garment is defined by a gaze and yet this renders it in no way passive; a garment lies at the heart of a complex system of reflection and causation. A garment must first attract its wearer with some narcissistic appeal. On being worn, it must encourage the development of a being greater than its constituent parts; it must empower its wearer, lest it be nothing more than a rag. It must then express this new hybrid being in an elegant and effortless manner. In keeping with this idea, the Stella McCartney dress, perhaps, is so lauded not simply for its flattering silhouette but rather because it is so candid a visual representation of this process. It disproves the so-called ‘falseness’ of fashion. The dress proves that fashion’s deception is productive, it creates an effect, an illusion, whereas falseness is stasis and inauthenticity. It must be asked: from where comes this productive energy? It comes from he who is complicit in the deception; from he who wears it. Oscar Wilde said that ‘one should either be a piece of art or wear a piece of art’ and his words convey a grand truth. ‘One’ is a being, a single entity, ‘one’ is an amalgamation. ‘One’ is flesh and silk; one is art, should one wear art. ‘One’ steps into the lie hidden in the garment and makes it true. ‘One’ wears, ‘one’ is worn, and that which is created between the self and garment is truth, and beauty, and fashion. 

Photograph: Helmut Newton, 'rue aubriot', for French Vogue, 1975. Depicting the differentiation between body and personage; a juxtaposition of the candid and the veiled self. 

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