Fashion Spreads: Word and Image in Fashion Photography since 1980

By Paul Jobling | Go to book overview

5
Going Beyond ‘The Fashion
System’: A Critique

Words and language are not wrappings in which things are packed for the commerce of those who write and speak. It is in words and language that things first come into being and are.

Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics, 1959.


Introduction: An Indeterminate Project?

At the outset, Barthes embarked on writing The Fashion System because he claimed to have been inspired by a ‘euphoric dream of scientificity’. Yet in the final analysis he felt compelled to conclude that the same system is governed by its own arbitrary internal logic, that its chief goal is to be selfreflexive, and that itsraison d'être is to perform nothing more than a masquerade of trivial transformations by, for example, suggesting that the length of a skirt or the width of a tie are a matter of life or death. What, then, are we to make of his project as a totality? And to what extent could we claim that Barthes has engineered a useful and apposite paradigm for analysing the discourse of fashion publishing in general terms?

Reviewing The Fashion System for Paris-Normandie on 19 May 1967, Pierre Lapape commented favourably on the work, even going so far as to make the claim that: ‘semiology under Barthes was just as important as Marxism or psychoanalysis in changing man's view of the world’. And Baudrillard, not for the first time, also seemed to endorse one of Barthes’ theoretical standpoints, putting a spin on his idea concerning the selfreferentiality of The Fashion System thus: ‘Fashion is one of the more inexplicable phenomena … its compulsion to innovate signs, its apparently arbitrary and perpetual production of meaning – a kind of meaning drive – and the logical mystery of its cycle are all in fact of the essence.’ 1

Other critics, however, have tended not to be so accommodating. Thody and Jonathan Culler, for instance, both concede that Barthes' exploration of

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Fashion Spreads: Word and Image in Fashion Photography since 1980
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • List of Figures xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes *
  • Part 1 - Back to the Future: Fashion Publishing since 1980 15
  • Introductionto Part 1 17
  • Notes *
  • 1 - Vogue 19
  • Notes *
  • 2 - The Face 35
  • Notes *
  • 3 - Arena 49
  • Notes *
  • Conclusion - To Part 1 59
  • Notes *
  • Part 2 - Written Clothing and Image- Clothing: Roland Barthes' ‘the Fashion System' in Perspective 63
  • Introductionto Part 2 65
  • Notes *
  • 4 - ‘the Fashion System’: a Synopsis 69
  • Notes *
  • 5 - Going beyond ‘the Fashion System’: a Critique 83
  • Notes *
  • Conclusion - To Part 2 101
  • Notes *
  • Part 3 - Bodylines: Identity and Othernessin Fashion Photography since 1980 105
  • Introductionto Part 3 107
  • Notes *
  • 6 - Who's That Girl? Alex and Kate: a Tale of Two Bodies in Contemporary Fashion Photography 111
  • Notes 136
  • 7 - ‘statue Men’: the Phallic Body, Identity and Ambiguity in Fashion Photography 143
  • Notes 180
  • Appendix 1 - Directoryof Fashion Photographers, Stylistsand Magazine Features 1980–1996 189
  • Appendix 2 - Photographersfor British ‘vogue’1980–1995 211
  • Bibliography 215
  • Index 235
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