Fashion Spreads: Word and Image in Fashion Photography since 1980

By Paul Jobling | Go to book overview

Conclusion to Part 2

As I have tried to demonstrate here Barthes'The Fashion System is both a complex and a flawed, or at any rate a wanting, analysis of the verbal and visual codes of representation we encounter in fashion periodicals. However, although we may express serious reservations concerning the methodology elaborated in the work, most notably his cathexis on written clothing and his one-sided attitude towards the objectification of gender, many of the tendencies he discusses are still very much in evidence in contemporary fashion publishing. I am referring here to his ideas on the poetics of clothing (poétiquedu vêtement), the worldly signified (rhétorique du signifié mondain), and the reason of fashion (la‘raison’ de Mode). In this regard, Barthes’ comments concerning the nature of time and the relationship of past to present in fashion texts are especially illuminating when it comes to analysing the simulacral effects in many recent magazine spreads. 1

Figure 18, for example, ‘Who's Shooting Who – In Beirut It Pays To Know Your Terrorist?’, photographed by Oliver Maxwell and styled by Elaine Jones for The Face (July 1986), is an extreme and polemical case of the cannabilisation of history and work that he sees taking place in both the poetics of clothing and the worldly signified. Across five pages, we are presented with a range of typical uniforms worn by the different factions involved in the Civil War between Muslims and Christians in the Lebanon. Each of the five photographs is explicated with two short pieces of rhetoric: the first giving a potted history of the role of the particular faction involved in the conflict; the second, in smaller print and affecting the style of written clothing, representing the details of the garments they wear as if they were modish objects of fetishistic desire. 2 The strategy of textual grafting that we witness in this spread appears, therefore, to transcend the implicit semantic contradiction between the ‘serious business’ of war and the ‘frivolous business’ of Fashion, and serves instead to conflate them in a chiasmic form of rhetoric. 3

At the same time it is interesting to note the tension that ensued between producers and consumers with regard to the pastiche represented in the spread. For, judging from the response to it expressed in the letters printed in the following issue of The Face, the feature obviously met with some antipathy from certain readers: ‘Your “fashion” feature, Who's Shooting

-101-

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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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