INTRO copie

The borrowing of ethnic references in 20th century clothing is intrinsically problematic. If art historians argue that art is always connoted with ideological intensions, fashion makes no exception. Especially in this postcolonial era, cultural and visual strategies are embedded in asymmetrical relationships between the represented ethnicities and the dominant Westerners. And as we reach a climax of cultural and sartorial globalization, fashion is a subtle means by which we integrate, control and assimilate the idea of Otherness (understood as the quality of being different).

The aim of this exhibition will be to feature contemporary fashion and fashion photography in order to unravel the process by which these mediums construct the Western gaze on Otherness. The designs of two cornerstone figures of modern fashion, Yves Saint Laurent and Jean-Paul Gaultier, as well as fashion editorials from renowned photographers will constitute this investigation. In which ethnographic biases are Western viewers and the fashion system engaging when incorporating cultural references of foreign costumes?

This introduction of ethnic references in modern fashion, in both clothing and fashion photography, involves a double process of acculturation and folklorization. On the one hand, it domesticates Otherness by framing it into a Western system of dress and glamorizes traditions. On the other hand, it acknowledges Otherness within a contact zone*, by categorizing its features and pretending to enact its authenticity. This double-sided process is problematic to the extent that cross-cultural dressing and ethnic references in fashion editorials perpetuate a simplistic vision of foreign traditional costumes/cultures and help secure an ethnocentric Western perspective. The aim of this exhibit will be to make the viewers aware of this process occurring both on garments and in fashion photography, as well as to propose avenues for reconciliation.

Questions to be addressed will include: How are these interpretations and adaptations of foreign dress creating a permeable zone where viewer and wearer endorse otherness and make it his/her own? Can ethnic influences be negotiated in an authentic manner within the fashion industry (clothing, runway and photography)?  To what extent have the major players of modern fashion been able to translate this idea of travel to the viewers through their work? What motivates designers to reintroduce and adapt traditional costumes from foreign cultures into modern western trends?

* Contact zones are “social spaces where disparate cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination.” (Pratt 2008, 4).

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