Dialectical images

In the nineteenth century it was through the spectacles and dreamy scenarios staged in the department store that female consumption was nurtured, trained and encouraged, as well as in the great exhibitions which granted a vision of luxury consumption to a mass audience. Many of these visions have striking parallels in the staging of Galliano's shows in the 1990s, which drew on illusion, drama and theatre for their effects. Just as in the nineteenth-century 'reveries were passed off as reality',14 so Galliano's Spring-Summer 1995 presentation, in which a photo studio was made over as a private set and dressed with vintage cars against which the models posed as 'divas' from 1910 to the 1950s, 'was like a dream and not a show'.15 Galliano's spectacular

11. Williams, Rosalind H., Dream Worlds: Mass Consumption in Late Nineteenth-Century France, Berkeley, Los Angeles & Oxford, England: University of California Press, 1982, p. 73.

12. Michel Corday, 'A l'fixposition - Visions lointaines', Revue de Paris, 15 March 1900. Quoted in ibid., p. 74.

15. Joseph Ettegui, owner of Joseph: from Videofashion News, vol. 19, no. 20, 'Paris Reflections', Spring-Summer 1995.

runway shows, simultaneously enticement and advertisement, were highly innovative, but the link between spectacle and commodity culture was first made in the nineteenth century. In his designs, Galliano piled up cultural references like the goods on display in nineteenth-century Parisian department stores and world fares, evoking Paris's reputation as a city of luxury goods in the luxury of his contemporary designs. Emile Zola's novel about a Paris department store in the 1860s, The Ladies' Paradise, describes a window display of female dummies dressed in the most sumptuous and elaborate fashion which suggests the textiles used by Galliano in his designs for Dior -snowfalls of costly lace, velvet rimmed with fox fur, silk with Siberian squirrel, cashmere and cocks' feathers, quilting, swansdown and chenille.16

The rest rooms and roof gardens of nineteenth-century department stores, fitted with pergolas, zoos and ice rinks, strikingly resemble some Galliano show settings. Department stores were fantasy palaces through which the customers moved. The modern fashion show fulfils something of the same role, with the difference that the audience remains seated while the spectacle unfolds before them like a panorama. Perhaps the show itself, in which the stationary spectator is dazzled by lights, effects and rapid-fire presentation, has more in common with the fantasy journeys of the world fairs. In the spectacles of the 1900 exhibition colours, cultures and sounds were fused in a way very similar to the design fusions of a Galliano show; the 'Cairo belly-dancers' and 'Andalusian gypsies' of the world fair are not dissimilar to Galliano's performing models. The piling up of historical and cross-cultural references in a Galliano collection differ only in specific detail, rather than general effect, for his techniques of historical pastiche and cultural collage fuse disparate cultures and places, much as the World Tour did in the 1900 Paris Universal Exhibition by abutting a Hindu pagoda, a Chinese temple and a Muslim mosque, enlivened by live jugglers and geishas.17 And the effect both of a Galliano show and of the displays in the 1900 exhibition is to normalize, contain and manage non-European cultures through the very process of creating them as spectacle.

The 1900 exhibition had been the first to feature contemporary fashion, brightly lit by electricity, in glass cages containing couturier-clad wax dummies. In the 'Pavillon de la Mode' were displayed thirty examples of the history of costume, including the Empress Theodora on her throne, Queen Isabelle of Bavaria waiting in a tournament, the Field of the Cloth of Gold,

16. Emile Zola, The Ladies Paradise, trans. with an introduction by Nelson, Brian, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 6.

17. Jullian, Philippe, The Triumph of Art Nouveau: the Paris Exhibition of 1900, London: Phaidon Press, 1974, p. 169.

and Marie Antoinette at the Trianon. These historical displays of fashion randomly juxtaposed Byzantine empresses, medieval ladies and eighteenth-century queens side by side, creating continuity solely through the splendour of their costume, erasing significant historical difference. Galliano's eclectic historical pastiche has something of this quality. In the 1900 exhibition twenty couture houses were represented, including Worth, Rouff (established in 1884), Paquin (established 1891) and Callot Soeurs (1896). Modern society was represented by scenes of society life, such as 'the departure for the opera', or 'a fitting at Worth'. The style of these displays resurfaced, particularly, in the staging of the Dior Spring-Summer ready-to-wear 1998 show, in a series of classical rooms dressed with period furniture and a harpsichord, around which the models draped themselves like Hollywood starlets from the 1930s. The tableaux vivants they formed recalled the wax tableaux behind glass of the 1900 exhibition, with their simulations of the luxury and extravagance of haute couture.

For the Dior couture show that same season Galliano created a giant crowd scene, a fantasy carnival of confetti and human figures in apparently endless celebration. Yet it would be wrong to confuse this fantasy crowd with the actual crowd of a Parisian international exhibition of the late nineteenth century. The crowds at such world fairs consisted essentially of middle, lower-middle and sometimes working-class people; the displays made luxury and excess available as a spectacle to the many who, while they could afford the entrance ticket, could never aspire to owning the exclusive and expensive consumer goods on display. The exclusivity of the couture show has more in common, perhaps, in its studied artifice and minute attention to detail, with Huysmans novel A Rebours of 1888. Its dandyish and fastidious hero Des Esseintes constructs a dream world as a counterpoint to what he sees as the nightmare of mass consumption. Rosalind Williams argues that A Rebours 'makes a powerful case for the seductiveness of a dream world - the fascination of artifice, the beauty of the imagination, the pleasure of self-deception, the flattering sense of initiation into mysteries'.18 All these could equally describe the allure of the couture show, and couture has always been at pains to differentiate itself from the mass market. Yet, Williams goes on to argue, decadence is never free from mass consumption because it shares the same desire to be ahead of the rest, and condemns its followers to the same restless pursuit of novelty. They are doomed to the same disappointment because they have invested too many expectations in the world of goods.

18. Williams, Rosalind H., Dream Worlds: Mass Consumption in Late Nineteenth-Century France, Berkeley, Los Angeles & Oxford, England: University of California Press, 1982, p. 145. Williams argues that dandyism, and Huysman's A Rebours, were an elitist challenge to mass consumption.

For Georg Simmel, the aesthetics of world exhibitions conferred a feeling of presentness so that fashion's intensified pace 'increases our time-consciousness, and our simultaneous pleasure in newness and oldness give us a strong sense of presentness'.19 It is this same sense of 'presentness' in a late twentieth-century fashion show, with its brevity and drama (it lasts no more than thirty minutes) that is created precisely through the mingling and telescoping of historical themes and pastiches. Mike Featherstone argues that the writing of both Simmel and Benjamin can direct us towards the ways in which the urban landscape has become aestheticized and enchanted through the architecture, billboards, shop displays, advertisements, packages, street signs, and through the embodied persons who move through these spaces: the individuals who wear . . . fashionable clothing, hairstyles and makeup, or who move or hold their bodies in particular stylised ways'.20

This enchantment and stylization were replayed in the hyperreal space of the late twentieth-century catwalk.

Walter Benjamin wrote that 'every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably'.21 In contrasting these images of the late twentieth century with others from the mid to late nineteenth, I have tried to construct a set of what Benjamin called 'dialectical images', images which were not based on simple comparisons but which created a more complex historical relay of themes running between past and present. For Benjamin, the relationship between images of the past and the present worked like the montage technique of cinema.22 The principle of montage is that a third meaning is created by the juxtaposition of two images, rather than any immutable meaning inhering in each image. Benjamin conceived of this relationship as a dialectical one: the motifs of the past and the present functioned as thesis and antithesis. The flash of recognition, between past and present images, was the dialectical image that transformed both.23

19. Featherstone, Mike, Consumer Culture and Postmodernism, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage Publications, London, 1991, p. 74.

21. Benjamin, Walter, 'Theses on the Philosophy of History', Illuminations, London: trans, Harry Zohn, Fontana/Collins, 1973, p. 257.

22. Buck-Morss, Susan, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project, Cambridge, Mass. & London , England: MIT Press, 1989. References in this chapter are to the paperback edition, 1991, p. 250.

Jolted out of the context of the past, the dialectical image could be read in the present as a 'truth'. But it was not an absolute truth, rather a truth which was fleeting and temporal, existing only at the moment of perception, characterized by 'shock' or vivid recognition.24 It was not that the past simply illuminated the present, or that the present illuminated the past; rather, the two images came together in a 'critical constellation', tracing a previously concealed connection.25 Benjamin identified some key figures - one might say key tropes - of nineteenth-century Paris as 'dialectical images': the prostitute, fashion itself, commodities, the arcades. It is as just such an image that I now turn to the question of the coincidence of woman as spectacle and modernity in this period.

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