PART ONE – Fashion Design : Garment as a site of social transformation and travel


The first part of the exhibition will walk the viewer through the works of designers Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Paul Gaultier, while contrasting these designs with original traditional costumes. The parallel depiction of these Western designers with traditional costumes will serve to make the viewer aware of the evolution of the appropriation of foreign costumes. Both designers contributed to the rise of modern fashion by their appreciation and integration of mixed cultural influences. By deconstructing the various tactics Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Paul Gaultier utilized to evoke this sense of voyage and Otherness, garments will be understood as canvases on which one deploys his/her understanding of the world, as sites of gender, social class and race construction/manifestation.

Still, a certain dichotomy opposes the function of “world fashion” and “ethnic dress”. “The former is worn by members of one group to distinguish themselves from members of another by focusing on differentiation” (Eicher 1995, 300). And this function of distinctiveness implies a certain stability across time. Fashion, on the other hand, is dictated by this notion of constant transformation. Thus, “the terms “traditional” and “ethnic” imply non-fashionable dress, dress that reflect the past, with slow change and few modernizing influences” (Eicher 1995, 301). In modern fashion, constancy is turned into transiency, as fashion trends change every season. This appropriation of ethnic traditional dress in fashion design is thus a contradiction in itself, denaturalizing its fixed character and function of cultural identity. In so doing, modern fashion adopted Western position contrasting the Us and Them.

I will argue that Saint Laurent failed to accurately integrate this notion of Otherness in a non biased manner while Gaultier’s innovative work helped develop a global aesthetic and awareness of cultural differences.


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