The Death of Fashion

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In the beginning of this book, we asked how fashion dies. And we decided to choose the fashion show window in the moment of the "death of fashion" (the seasonal sale of the past collection) as our object of research in order to find it. This choice represents an emphasis on the aesthetic aspects of dramatisation, rather than on social or economic reasons for the death of a fashion collection. When we say death, we use the term in a metaphorical way in order to emphasise that the garments are no longer in fashion.

The first answer to our research question is that fashion symbolically dies through the dramatisation of the ugly (the Dionysian). The seasonal sale window stands in striking contrast to the beautiful dramatisation of garments during the year. For a couple of weeks, the economy of beauty is disrupted by the dramatisation of the ugly in the shopping streets of consumer culture. According to our observations, there is no difference in the way the seasonal sale is staged in the four cities we have chosen as examples. Another surprising result of our research

636 Bell (1997:223-252) discusses the change of rituals and gives examples of Invented rituals

637 Hubert/Mauss (1981:81).

Death of was that there are no merchandising guidelines for this staging. It seems that it belongs to the forbidden knowledge of merchandising. This taboo is also respected in literature on the show window. We only found images of beautiful show windows. The reason for this taboo could lie in the fact that more or less all the good counsel about dressing a window is reversed during the sales. While turning the window into a stockroom during the year is not appropriate, it becomes the favourite strategy in the sales period. The show window as the sacral space of the fetish object is desacralised during the sales. There are two major strategies for dramatising the sale. We can call the first one "the dead mannequin" and the second one "the dead shop" The "dead mannequin" summarises all the ways of decoration which, according to Victor Turner, represent a state of "betwixed and between'^638 Examples are the exposure of naked mannequins, mannequins dressed in packing paper, or the total removal of the mannequin during the sales.639 The second strategy is the "dead shop" The "dead shop" echoes the way show windows are dressed in the phase of abandonment or in the phase of redressing and transformation 640 Packing paper covers the window in such a way that it is impossible to get a view of the shop's empty interior. This is also a violation of merchandising rules. The consumer's view is obstructed and the information behind the transparent show window remains concealed. Several other phenomena can be subsumed under Turner's "communitas" Differences in everyday life are made equal during the transition phase of the passage rite. We observed that the individuality of the brands was not visible during the sales; Dionysian dramatisation makes it impossible to distinguish between the brands. Besides, there was often no distinction between couture shops and cheap mass-market shops. Although a few couture shops dramatised the sale in an artistic way, it was always a staging of the Dionysian. While shops invest a lot of money during the year, the show windows are mostly decorated with extremely cheap materials during the sales, bringing out the cheapness of the ware very distinctly. The seasonal sale window is the window "without" decoration. Naked are not only the mannequins, but also the interior of the show window.

638 Turner (1997:95).

639 We have chosen the artist Colette and her performance in a show window in New York as a prototype for this form of representation.

640 Christo's "store fronts" are a prototype for this category. In a conversation with him, Christo made it explicitly clear to me that he does not desire associations with an abandoned show window, for there is something going on behind the coverec window.

Communitas also shows the garments inside the store. No longer are they separated by brand or colour but simply thrown together onto a pile in baskets. The order of the merchandise is turned into anti-structure. The price of the merchandise can also be a sign of communitas. It is common practice to present garments on a clothes rack, where all pieces have the same price. At the end of the sales period, there can be a time when the dead collection and the new one are presented in separate windows of the same shop. This is a kind of incorporation phase before the regular life of the new collection starts. These observations can be summed up as the dramatisation of a passage rite where we find striking similarities to what Turner described as the result of his research in "primitive" cultures. According to Turner, nakedness and darkness, as major signs of the transitional phase, echo in what we have called the "dead mannequin" and the "dead shop" in the show window.

Proceeding from this reasoning strictly based on the visual, we opened the discussion toward the production and consumption of fashion in a second step. The inclusion of the ritual of presenting the new fashion on the catwalk and the activities of the bargain hunters in the period of thrift should contribute towards a better understanding of the seasonal sale as a social practise. The suggestion to do so comes from Roland Barthes.641 He pointed out that the inauguration of the spring collection is comparable to the ancient Greek rituals of the Anthesteria and the Dionysia, and that the advent of the spring collection today is a rite which has returned from the darkness of ancient times. We have followed this clue insofar as we have found two major rites performed during elaborated ancient Greek festivals, which can as well be associated with the life of a fashion collection: the procession and the blood sacrifice. The catwalk show is a procession of ancient pattern. What the fashion designer presents has to be believed unequivocally, there is no question about right or wrong. Performance theory calls this phenomenon performative utterance. When the fashion system says "red" then it is red. The fashion shows are glamorous events, which represent the Apollonian beauty. The sacrifice as the second part of the festival has been fixed to the seasonal sale. We assumed that the sacrifier (the subject who benefits

641 Barthes (1990:251)

Death of from the sacrifice) is the fashion system and the victim is the past seasonal collection. In a metaphorical setting, we have killed the victim by cutting the price (the aorta) after which the consumers (the ritual audience) are invited to the common meal where the victim is dismembered by the bare hands of the bargain hunters (feeding the community). The customers confirm death consciously by way of enactment. This dramatisation of violence has been discussed as being contrary to the theory of shopping as a sacrifice by Daniel Miller.642 Both approaches are based on the concept of thrift. A difference emerges from this premise. While Miller analyses everyday shopping as a sacrificial act, we face an elaborated festival of thrift by the fashion industry in the seasonal sale. The sacrifice of the seasonal collection during the sales can be compared with the ancient rites of the sacrifice of the god because the victim (fashion collection) represents the god (fashion). The last step of the sacrifice is the resurrection of the god and is dramatised through the magical treatment of signs. The "naked mannequin" is only re-dressed after the sales period. This magical action also has its ancestors in antiquity. New life was symbolically transferred to the new resurrected god by dressing the statue with a shirt.

The results of this research can also be applied to a more general discussion about the commodity fetish. We would like to transcend the "death of fashion" to the "death of the commodity fetish" The notion of producing ever-newer generations of commodities, which are only based on the change of aesthetic properties, can be enhanced by a new point of view. It is not just the introduction of the novelty that keeps the system running but also the sacrifice of the aesthetically obsolete commodity. The death of the commodity fetish has to be added to the critique of commodity fetish. We see this clearly in the example of the shoe shop in Paris. Since there is a pedestal in the window, the shoes are on a throne during the season. When the seasonal sale arrives, the shoes are thrown onto the floor. The throne is now empty. This symbolic inversion has been successfully deployed since ancient times to moderate tensions caused by an asymmetrical power relation. It is the dramatisation of the death of the king, or, in terms of the commodity culture, the death of the commodity fetish on a regularly basis. Consumer

642 Miller (1998a)

culture does not merely use the strategies for glorifying the commodity.

Tensions caused by empowering the commodity fetish are eased by enacting the symbolic sacrifice of the commodity twice a year. In being incorporated into the ritual, the consumers also accept the system by consuming the common meal offered during the ritual time of thrift. It is the public theatre of death; it is the "danse macabre" of the brands and their branded goods, the dance behind the skeleton, regardless if they are haute couture brands or mass-market brands. They are all equal in the face of death. All fashion goods will be dead in half a year. Without merchandising, there can be no resurrection.

We would in the end like to point out the aesthetic dimension of the seasonal sale. Consumer culture is characterised by a visual economy of beauty. The seasonal sale radically interrupts this aesthetic concept. The Apollonian beauty of the commodity fetish has its opponent in the dramatisation of the Dionysian aesthetic during the sales. Commodity culture has to worship both Apollo as well as Dionysus:

"Where Dionysian powers rise up so impetuously, as we are now experiencing them, there Apollo must already have descended to us veiled in a cloud; Apollo, whose most sumptuous effects of beauty will probably be seen by the next generation."643

643 Nietzsche (2000:131)

Death of

Double Images

" [...] as a season, spring is both pure and mythical at once; mythical, by virtue of the awakening of nature; Fashion takes this awakening for its own, thus giving the readers, if not its buyers, the opportunity to participate annually in a myth that has come from the beginning of time; spring Fashion, for the modern woman, is like what the Great Dyonysia or the Anthesteria were for the ancient Greeks."

Barthes (1990:251;


The procession was an important part of ancient Greek rituals. Donna Karan catwalk show, fall 1997 A.D. (photo: Lucian Perkins)


The ancient Greek ritual sacrifice in which the victim was killed with bare hands was called sparagmos

Memento Mori

"Remember your death" has been a favoured motif in art since mediaeval times. Seasonal sale window of a department store in Uetrecht (2004 A.D.)

Artistic Prototypes

The dead mannequin and the dead shop are the two prototypes in seasonal sale dramatisation strategies. Installation by the artist Christo: windows covered with textile showing the state of a shop's transformation (1964-65 A.D.)


The wheel is an old symbol for the mutability of life, the cycles of nature, or the changeability of earthly fortune.


Holy images have always been attacked by iconoclasts. Acid attack on the painting of Thomas Apostle by Nicolaes Maes (1656 A.D.)


Throwing stones is an old technique of attack and punishment. Seasonal sales poster with sublimated smashed window in Vienna (2005 A.D.)

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