The Fashion System

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Christmas was over when we opened the daily newspaper and found an advertisement for the winter sale in the boutique of an Italian fashion brand. Fashion brands do normally advertise in fashion magazines, but in a way, this advertisement was like a death announcement in daily papers. All it said was "Sale", and the address of the fashion boutique in the first district of Vienna, which was printed in bold white on a black background. So, we set out to take a look at the city's storefronts and their decoration, finding them all surprisingly ugly. The sales period was omnipresent, and all the shops in town were decorated in a strikingly ugly manner. Why did this period ask for ugliness and not beauty? The books we found on window decoration only showed the nice, the well-designed and "artistic" show window.5 The large and glossy illustrations in our books showed the artistic side of the decoration business. Beautiful windows, like theatre stages presented the merchandise we were supposed to buy. It can be argued that the fashion business holds an exceptional place in the decoration business. The number of fashion show windows is generally over-emphasized in these lavishly illustrated books, which do not focus on fashion design alone. In reality, the show windows are not all like the ones we find in these expensive publications. But they are usually done up in a nice way, according to the store's budget. However, this changes dramatically during the sales period. All the stores compete in being uglier than the one next door. What is behind this period that recurs twice a year? The sales period lasts several weeks and takes place before the new spring/summer and autumn/winter fashion collections are launched.6 Roland Barthes analysed

5 Some good examples are Soto (2002) and Menchari (1999).

6 The exact duration of the sales period is not easy to define. It also varies a lot depending on the city, the shopping area or even the individual shop. The studied sales period of the winter sale took place roughly within the first three weeks of 2004 Since law does not regulate the duration of this event today it seems to be spreading like an epidemic. While in 1958, the fashion magazines introduced the new collection in April, in 2004 it was presented as early as in the January issue. The shift in the inauguration date will be not discussed in this paper because it does not change the general structure of the fashior year. It should also be noted that advanced methods of production allow the fashion industry to deliver more collections during the year. But the symbolic cycle of two collections parallel to the seasonal ones is still common, despite the existence of permanent sales (outlet centres) and mid-seasonal sales. These will not be discussed here.

the phenomenon of fashion in great depth7 in the context of the "language of fashion" used by fashion editors in the fashion magazines of 1958/59. Exceptionally striking in this 'mathematical' discourse is a passage, which describes the change of fashion in spring. The advent of the new collection is compared with ancient Greek festivals like those of the god Dionysus. This text passage will not be highlighted initially8, but we will later develop it in a new way.

"[...] 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."9

This text fragment will be the starting point of our discussion on the phenomenon of sales. Barthes did not further develop his idea of the Dionysus myth and the intense experiences of such dramatisations in ancient Greece. In order to also remain metaphorical, this passage is the part left unprotected by the armour of his structural analysis. We will, however, take it as an inspiration to further investigate this trail. Friedrich Nietzsche placed the birth of tragedy in relation to the Greek Dionysian cult.10

"In all corners of the ancient world - to leave the modern one to oneside here - from Rome to Babylon, we can prove the existence of Dionysian festivities, whose type is at best related to the Greek type as the bearded satyr to whom the goat lent its name and attributes, is to Dionysus himself."11

The striking parallel to Barthes' text lies in the fact that Nietzsche also addresses the likelihood of a continuing existence of the Dionysus cult. Nietzsche was also the one to place the nature of the cult in relation to Greek aesthetics. The desire for beauty in the form of celebrations, feasts and new cults contrasts with the desire for ugliness, an ugliness in the form of desire

7 Barthes (1990).

8 Miklautz (1996), for example. She points out this passage in relation to the renewal of her female Informant's attire and the strong emotions that surface when new garments are consumed

9 Barthes (1990:251).

10 Nietzsche (2000).

Death of for pain, pessimism, tragic myth, the image of the horrifying, annihilating, ambiguous, and evil aspects of existence.12 The Dionysus cult stands for all these aspects of the ugly. The world of Dionysus also represents the perception of reality in a fuddled state in which the individual is annihilated in a mystic experience.13 The antagonist here is the god Apollo, whose world is one of images, of fantasy and of creative force,14 which indicates that we may well be on the right path. If the ancient Greek gods Dionysus and Apollo represent both ugliness and beauty, the show window would normally belong to the world of Apollo. Although the two worlds are full of fantasy and colour, it seems that Dionysus is the driving force behind the design during the sales.

<• The show window is dressed with six mannequins. The mannequins are packed like corpses in plastic bags tied with a black plastic rope. They are not lying on the ground waiting for burial after the catastrophe but are in an upright position, maybe to be better seen from the street. A shopping bag with the inscription "3 DWAZE DAGEN" is mounted onto each of the six packaged corpses. The number three is figuratively displayed as a packed three-dimensional object, in the same way as the mannequins are. The floor of the show window is 'undressed', its beige stone visible through the transparent base. The backdrop is covered with wallpaper, which displays a graphic element that could be interpreted as a drop of water. This graphic element covers the entire backdrop. Hundreds of drops outlined with yellow form a regular pattern on the blue-green ground, creating the impression of rainfall. A bold black arrow on a yellow ground above the mannequins directs our gaze to the left side.15

This striking window is located in Rotterdam. The department store's "crazy incredible bargains" are on offer for three days.16 A strange coincidence that the Dionysus cult held on the Acropolis in Athens also lasted three days. Graf describes the ancient Greek festival in the following words:

I "Dionysus was a god who came from outside and temporarily

15 Descriptions of the show windows are by the author. The idea is to incorporate them into the text like recordings of informants in ethnological field studies. We will continue with this form of representation throughout the text, but without footnotes. The identity of the stores will be anonymous. In the sections without images, this will be the only form of "visual" representation.

16 Tongeren (2003:78)

suspended the activities of everyday life. His festival created a space outside the day-to-day reality of the polis. The actors put aside their own identities, donning masks, high boots (kot-hornoi), and colourful costumes. Even the walk to the theatre of Dionysus, situated as it was on the slope between the homes of the Athenians and the citadel of their gods, removed them, for three days, from their familiar surroundings. This carnivalesque setting, this 'carnival time' gave them an opportunity to reflect critically on, and to call into question, all that was familiar to them: the polis, the people, the gods. At the same time, it fostered in them a sense of solidarity, which rendered such reflection and questioning tolerable. From this perspective, the festival of Dionysus seems the ideal occasion for the performance of tragedies."17

The creation of space where everyday behaviour can be reconsidered is an interesting point in the description of this ancient festival. Do we call into question the fact that we may have paid the double for a piece of garment had we bought it a day before the sales began? This, and the fact that with the upcoming collection the piece we buy during the sales will become a kind of taboo. The fashion of the past will not be further discussed after the arrival of the new one, after all, fashion does not speak about the not fashionable.18 Rituals articulate conflicts and transform them into a symbolic practice. Barthes makes the verbal structures of the "written-garment" the object of his study. According to him, the study of fashion magazines is the study of the representation of fashion, for Barthes distinguished between the "real garment" and the "represented garment".19 To follow this idea of the represented and the real we would also have to study the "real presentation" of fashion in the show window on the street. Barthes, on his part, discussed only the representational aspect of fashion in the fashion magazine. But purchase holds an equal position beside the fashion magazine, where the garments are displayed as "represented garments"20 The attempt to present the garments in a fetishistic way is easily identifiable in the beautiful window. But what about the ugly window? What lies behind this visual attack?

18 Barthes (1990:79).

19 Carter (2003:146).

20 In this study, we will not take Into account other possible areas (e.g. film) where fashion Is In the state of the "representee garment".

Death of

"The more it should be common sense to an enlightened art scene that the categories "beautiful" and "ugly" have become irrelevant for the attempts at raising aesthetic questions and finding solutions to them, the more they keep sneaking into the discourse through the back door of the commonplace, of fashion, advertising and the ideologies of design - like spectres of themselves."21

The philosopher Konrad Paul Liessmann proposes that the category of the ugly has undergone considerable change, shifting from the arts into design, and so into our everyday life. If we follow this proposition, we could assume that the ugly has found its final abode in our seasonal sale window. It will, however, be worthwhile to look back at the arts and see what initial function the ugly had had. In Umberto Eco's historical analysis of beauty, we find that the aesthetic categories represented by the ancient Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus coexist side by side, although the incursion of chaos disrupts the permanent state of beauty and harmony from time to time.22 In ancient Greek aesthetic economy, the cyclical appearance of the ugly was a stabilising factor. Will this be true of contemporary aesthetic economy of the high street as well?

The Dionysian rite is closely bound to myth; it is the myth of the dying god. James George Frazer draws a comparison between myth and rite in order to prove that ritual practice was the starting point for mythology.23 The death of the god was, in a magical way, brought into relation to the awakening of flora. Here we find our way back to Barthes' argument in which he relates the advent of the new spring collection to the awakening of nature. The corn god is sacrificed and, with his resurrection, nature is reborn in spring.24 Since Nietzsche, an archaic sacrifice is seen as the origins of the performing arts.25 The orgiastic cult becomes the aesthetic opponent of beauty.

Today, the new collection is presented on the catwalk. The runway presentation is, in its aesthetic representation, more related to the beautiful world of Apollo. Nietzsche spoke about

21 Liessmann (2000:159)*

23 Graf (1993:40). Today there are two hypotheses about the origin of tragedy. While the one uses a ritualistic approach, the other is founded on a literature-based approach. See Graf (1993:144-45).

24 René Girard dedicated one chapter in his book on the violent nature of sacrifice to the rite of Dionysus (1988:119-XX)

25 Brandstetter (2001:135)

the necessity of sacrificing to both gods.26 The two sacrificial sites in the process of transformation from one trend to the next are perhaps the fashion show and the show window during the sales. In this way, we can detect the tension between beauty and ugliness in the show window throughout the fashion year, with the two incursions of ugliness during the sales periods. When we focus our attention on the sales period only, we find the ugly sales window on the one hand, and the presence of the catwalk presentations in the fashion magazines on the other.27 We therefore see the balance of beauty and ugliness in different time scales. The dream of new garments on the catwalk stands in contrast to the reality of the tragic myth of the old fashion in the seasonal sale windows. The surprising fact that the ugly show window is not really documented can be explained by the claim that each epoch has its own forbidden zones of knowledge.28 This forbidden zone, especially in the case of literature on show windows and fashion theory in general, will be the subject of our further research.

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