This work is about the ugly. To be more precise, it is about the ugly show window that appears twice a year - during the seasonal sales of fashion when, strikingly enough, the visual economy of beauty is disrupted by the impact of the unsightly. We will call this Dionysian period the "death of fashion" Once the fashion collection of the past season is no longer in fashion, the period of the seasonal sales becomes the transitional phase between the old and the new collection. It seems to us as if documenting the ugly is a taboo today as merchandising literature is replete with images of the beautiful show windows. But what about the ugly window? The one scene never found on ancient Greek vases is the solemn moment in which the victim is sacrificed ceremonially. Is the "death of fashion" only a rational act of selling out leftovers, or is it something more meaningful? The fashion industry has perfected the ways of introducing new commodities, presenting a new generation of aesthetically different products twice a year. Catwalk shows in major fashion capitals stage these new collections in a ritualised way and the fashion industry organises and attends to the Apollonian festival during which the new collection is born. In contrast, the seasonal sale window is naked and instead of being clad in an expensive evening dress, the naked mannequin is merely clothed in packing paper. Rather than using a distinctive graphic design, window dressers write by hand.
How does fashion die in the show window? Is it a silent death, is it a murder, or is it a sacrifice? Whatever the case may be it is a high publicity event. The question lies somewhere between the production of fashion and its consumption. The "death of fashion" however, refers to the displayed garment and not to the garment worn, the seasonal sale being its last chapter and the end of a seasonal collection. We wanted to find out how this end is dramatised in the retail theatre. Do window dressers use any intuitive images? To what extent is the consumer involved in a ritualised "death of fashion"?
We decided to do a 'visual' research in four major European cities during the sales period in order to acquire basic material, which could subsequently be used to analyse the dramatisation and to discover its underlying patterns. We also wanted to know whether we could find instructions for dressing the seasonal sale window. Are there any illustrations in professional magazines? Do books on "the art of window dressing" deal with the seasonal sale window, or is this not an art form? We not only wanted to involve literature on the aesthetics of the show window, but also literature that helps understand the ritual and performative dimension of dramatisation. Alongside literature dealing with the ritual dimension of consumer behaviour, we also involved literature on ritualisation in design and marketing in order to understand whether marketing or merchandising deal consciously with the designing of rituals.
This book aims to base its discourse on the research of intuitive images and meaningful actions; it is a search for hidden mythologies and the reinterpretation of such ancient social practices as rituals. It is also a kind of "poetic analysis"1 of our contemporary condition. Jean Baudrillard wrote that the presentation of commodities is not in itself convincing, but it is a necessary precondition for rationalising the act of buying.2 Mary Douglas, on the other hand, pointed out that the general assumption that "shopping is a fully rational activity" has been rejected by consumer theory which discovered "utterly implausible limitations on that rationality"3 The "death of fashion" is a balance between the rationalisation of the act of buying and irrational basic emotions related to the system of fashion. Our interest in the following chapters lies in a careful excavation of stimulating dramatisations.
This book is written in English and has been copyedited. The footnotes of all translations from German into English are marked with an asterisk*.
1 This term was coined by EOOS to describe its approach to design research
2 Baudrillard (1996:166).
3 Douglas (1992:115).
"In this visual flood of images, there is still hope for reviving the wild primal settings of the image. In a certain way, each image has preserved something wild and incredible, but intuition is capable of retrieving this "punctum" this secret of the image, provided we take the image in its literal sense. And it is up to us to want this literalness, this secret; it is up to us to let it flow and put an end to this widespread aestheticisation, to this intellectual technology of culture."4
4 Baudrillard (1999:36)'
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