Fashion figures : word and image in contemporary fashion photography
This study explores the tension between text and image in the fashion spreads published in three magazines since 1980: The Face, Arena and Vogue. It takes as its starting part Roland Barthes' axiom that the magazine is 'a machine for making Fashion' and pursues his thesis that it is through 'represented clothing', rather than real garments themselves, that the meaning of Fashion is connoted. But it also contests his idea that the Fashion system is a vacuous or trivial form of signification, and in exploring both the verbal and pictorial elements of fashion spreads aims to uncover how they intersect with wider cultural events. The material under discussion has been arranged into three separate parts. Each one has its own discursive framework and diverse methodological perspective, yet it is also dialectically related to the others in a wider argument concerning the construction of the body in word and image in contemporary fashion photography. Part One serves to provide an overview of the evolution of the three chief titles consulted, considering the social, economic and aesthetic factors that have been instrumental in forging an identity for fashion photography since 1980. At the same time, it examines the preoccupation with a postmodern treatment of time and history in various spreads and assesses whether iconocentrism ipso facto renders fashion photography devoid of any deeper meaning. Part Two builds on this argument by analysing the ideas propounded in Roland Barthes' Systeme de la Mode, chiefly the distinction he makes between written clothing (le vetement ecrit) and image-clothing (le vetement-image), in the context of debates on logocentrism. Here I assess whether Barthes' predilection for written clothing is both viable and relevant when it comes to making sense of the symbolic content of represented clothing with particular reference to a fashion spread called 'Amoureuse' from Elle (June 1958). I also evince the same spread along with more contemporary examples to assess the way that Barthes deals with sex and gender in Systeme de la Mode. Part Three consolidates this exploration of gender and fashion by concentrating on the intense interest in sex and the body that has subtended much fashion imagery between 1980 and 1996. At this point, I deal with the objectification of female and male sexualities by mobilising the central tropes of the 'girl' and the phallic body respectively. In the process, I raise a diverse and complex intersection of related issues concerning identity formation and otherness, power, and visual pleasure. Thus I examine the investment that different producers and spectators might have in the fashion image: male and female; straight and gay; and white and non-white. In particular, I draw heavily on the psychoanalytical theories of Freud and Lacan, as well as more recent writing by Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler and Diana Fuss.