INTRODUCTION: DECONSTRUCTION “IN FASHION”
The term deconstruction has entered the vocabulary of international fashion magazines, a label associated specifically with the work of Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons, Karl Lagerfeld, Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten amongst others, and more loosely used to describe garments on a runway that are “unfinished,” “coming apart,” “recycled,” “transparent” or “grunge.” The same characteristics are referred to by the French as the style “Le Destroy” (“La mode Destroy” 1992; O’Shea 1991: 234), confirming for many who read the forms appearing on Paris runways as a literal dismantling of clothes and embodiment of aestheticized non-functionality, that deconstruction “in fashion” amounts to an anti-fashion statement (a willful avant-garde desire to destroy “Fashion”) or an expression of nihilism (i.e., absence of belief). It would be worthwhile to consider the parallels this style has with the influential French style of philosophical thought, deconstruction, associated with the writings of Jacques Derrida, and in doing so to re-visit its announcement in fashion and other design fields where the term deconstruction circulates.(FN1)
The name “Deconstruction” has been quite self-consciously embraced as a form of criticism by philosophers and literature specialists across the world as it represents for them a method of reading and writing to “uncover” the instabilities of meaning in texts (see Norris 1991 on literature). In addition, architects, graphic designers, film-makers, multimedia designers, and media theorists have embraced deconstruction as a mode of theoretical practice (see Brunette and Wills 1989, 1994; Byrne and Witte 1990; Wigley and Johnson 1988; Wigley 1993). For instance, a group of high-profile international architects have received quite extensive coverage in a series of Academy Editions publications, of their various projects initiated in the 1980s as examples of deconstructive thinking in architecture. Also, it was in the late 1980s that deconstruction was discussed in graphic design circles by designers hoping to release their pages from the invisible laws, security, and tradition of the Modernist grid and its accompanying type-fonts (see Byrne and Witte 1990). Yet the name “deconstruction” has come into vogue, and is increasingly invoked by critics and commentators who use it quite loosely to mean analysis and/or critique (i.e., locating and undoing the essence of an argument), using it as a legitimated late twentieth-century emblem for change and risky transformation, sepcifically with reference to the undoing of Modernist cultural forms. It is in this sense that the American fashion commentator Amy Spindler (1993: 1) announced “deconstructionism” as a rebellion against the 1980s, the undoing of fashion as we have known it, or the “coming apart” of fashion’s heritage, as it moved into the last decade of the twentieth century.
Richard Martin and Harold Koda (1993) insightfully trace deconstructionist tendencies in 1980s couture and ready-to-wear fashion, in the catalog essays of Infra-Apparel, tendencies which consolidated in a proclaimed “trend” in the early 1990s.(FN2) Mary McLeod (1994: 92) has suggested that the label “deconstruction fashion” was coined by fashion writers following the Deconstructivist Architecture exhibition in 1988 at MOMA. This might imply that the exhibition at MOMA helped to raise the profile of deconstruction, enabling and legitimating its cultural dissemination, and, more specifically, that fashion itself was enabled, even encouraged, by the experiments in architectural design. As an architect, McLeod is aware that architecture and fashion share a lexicon of concepts like structure, form, fabric, construction, fabrication, and she can see clear points in the history of Modernism where a shared language has made a conversation between these practices possible (see McLeod 1994). In fact, the garments of designer Martin Margiela, a graduate of the Antwerp Royal Academy of Arts, and identified by Spindler (1993) and Cunningham (1990) as a leading proponent of “deconstructionism” appear to share with deconstructivist architecture a point of connection around the analytics of construction. Margiela sells linings extracted from recovered “vintage” dresses, giving these linings a chance of a new-old life “on the outside,” that is, as lining-dresses in their own right (see Infra-Apparel for example). His dresses are made from mis-matched fabrics, lining-silks with jerseys, and one can see the inside mechanics of the dress structure—darts, facings, and zippers. Or old jackets have been re-cut, tacked, sewn and re-detailed, their seams and darts reversed and exposed to the outside. Accepting that a seamstress or tailor performs a certain labor of “outfitting” bodies and giving them an enclothed form, a labor stitched inside as the secrets of a finished garment, a secret that is kept by the garment itself as it performs “seamlessly,” Margiela literally brings these secrets to its surface.(FN3) For Margiela, the garment is an architecture that “fits out” the body, and thus he shares an architectural inquiry into the process and mechanics of construction. Martin and Koda (1993: 94) very simply state the paradox of these clothes when they write “destruction becomes a process of analytical creation.”
A designer like Margiela appears to have something to say about the operations of clothing as a frame for bodies and, potentially, the influences of fashion, as a mechanism, structure or discourse, that is, as (invoking Roland Barthes) a “fashion system” with vast cultural, economic and ontological effects. By fashion system, I mean the industry and its supporting infrastructure (media, education, economics, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, politics, technology, sports sciences) that bring regular changes to men’s and women’s clothes and bodies. Like Anne Hollander, I observe that these changes arrive by way of the name of “Fashion” in the media and designers’ collections, worn first by “star” bodies on runways, in a continuing flow of new commodifiable themes, gestures and styles; fashion “is now the general modern condition of all Western clothing” (Hollander 1994: 11). Yet we must also acknowledge the immaterial domain that has arrived with the material forms of fashion and extends its effects beyond clothing; fashion both designs and is designed by an empire of signs that propel and commutate at an ever-increasing speed, a domain into which we are all interpellated as “fashioned people” whether we like it or not. The empire of signs that fashion plays amidst is a kind of vertical world of unending perceptual expansion. Within this empire, a world that eludes measurement and the language of systems, our bodies come to (trans-)form and are repetitively styled and styling across lived domains both spectacular and mundane.
Deconstruction in fashion is something like an auto-critique of the fashion system: It displays an almost X-ray capability to reveal the enabling conditions of fashion’s bewitching charms (i.e., charms conveyed in the concepts ornament, glamor, spectacle, illusion, fantasy, creativity, innovation, exclusivity, luxury repeatedly associated with fashion) and the principles of its practice (i.e., form, material, construction, fabrication, pattern, stitching, finish).(FN4) At one level, the word “deconstruction” suggests a simple reversal of construction and therefore, at this common-sense level, a reading of clothes that look unfinished, undone, destroyed as “deconstructed” fits. With this view, the many who know the work of the garment-maker—cutting, constructing, altering—that is, a uni-directional making toward a goal of a “finished” garment, will not find deconstruction fashion startlingly original or more than a reversal of this practice of the garment-maker. Yet, what is marked about the practices of these designers and represents a “new thinking” in fashion is an explicit care for the “structur-ing ontology” of the garment. By “structur-ing ontology” I mean that visibility is given to the simultaneous bidirectionality of the labor that the garment-maker and clothes perform—i.e., the garment-maker is simultaneously forming and deforming, constructing and destroying, making and undoing clothes. This bidirectional labor continues in dressing and wearing clothes, as clothes figure and disfigure the body, compose and decompose. In the garments of a handful of designers, some concerns shared with deconstructionist philosophy can be observed. In this article these observations have been gathered around examples loosely compiled from Martin Margiela’s ready-to-wear collections from 1989 onwards, examples that appear in conversation with deconstructive thinking: these garments suspend in paradox the formation/wear/decay of clothing, a paradox imbued in Jacques Derrida’s inserted and privative “de-” of deconstruction.
In the disciplines and practices where deconstruction has been embraced and appears to constitute a new “movement” or direction for practice, this direction has been to investigate the underlying principles and conditions of operation of these disciplines, bringing challenging questions about the nature of disciplinarity and modes of practice to these inquiries. Often the introduction of “theory” to a discipline or practice can appear an awkward application, says, a theory latched on or applied to a field in order to award it value or credibility based on a predetermined absence of value. Or worse, a critique whose single goal is to “destroy” the pre-existing field by exposing the non-viability of its thinking or practice. Deconstructionist movements, however, are characterized by a dialogue of mutual effect, a two-way exchange between philosophy and these disciplines; an exchange that has in practice brought a soliciting eye to disciplinary differences and boundaries, and moreover, brought boundary dissolutions and new formations. In “deconstruction fashion,” one can find an interesting type of encounter between philosophy and fashion, less disciplinary in orientation, that works, in a sense, from the inside of a garment and through the practice that has always been fashion’s domain—“dressing the body.” In this article I wish to outline the complexities of using the name “deconstruction” to describe a style of clothing fashion, while at the same time enabling its association with fashion. In doing so, I am using the very terms of a glib or facile nomenclature—“deconstruction fashion”—to seek a serious relation of fashion and its debt to philosophy. The article will remain obedient to the topic under consideration, in that any form that I introduce like “deconstruction fashion” and “deconstruction philosophy” can only end in an unravelling and decomposition peculiar to deconstructive thinking.
The complexities of nomenclature are, on the one hand, symptomatic of a general problem of theoretical dissemination and, on the other, specific to what a deconstructive thinking makes visible, both generally and in regard to fashion in particular. When gesturing to the traces of this term in the cultural and public ethos it is difficult to map, like many enigmatic influences or forces, definitive moments of emergence, intersection, cross-fertilization, and their effects. The appearance of deconstruction is characteristic, speaking now at a general level, of the dissemination and commodification of other intellectual trends that have come before it like structuralism, psychoanalysis, and semiotics, together with the obvious problems of application, importation, translation, derivation, stylization, and diffusion that go hand-in-hand with the reception of theoretical models. Philosophy has been thought to “own” its passing trends, like fashion its passing styles and fancies, the discipline of philosophy being home to a powerful hierarchy that deciphers authentic thought from the artful style that one might find in literature and fashion. In addition, frequently the movement of a new theory into mainstream discourses, into fashion, or its appearance in a discourse other than its “origin,” is considered a second-rate application and marks, for some, the dispossession of its “true” innovation and radicality, if you like, the “taming” or loss of a (fashionable) high ground. However, such an understanding adheres to this hierarchical structure that proffers a reductive rendering of the problems of theoretical diffusion and might itself dispossess “deconstruction fashion” of any innovation or difference at all. Also, “deconstruction fashion” might be doubly dismissed for moving into fashion: firstly, in becoming a disseminated theoretical “motif” and secondly, in moving, more literally, into the domain of “Fashion” frequently thought to be a domain of play, in distinction from the seriousness of philosophy, a domain where things are aestheticized, trivialized, hyperbolized, commodified, and robbed of significance. That is, “deconstruction fashion” has emerged as a symptom of this general problem of theoretical dissemination and a casualty of perpetuating hierarchies, and confirms, for many, the materialization of deconstruction as another superficial trend rather than significant thought.
It is somewhat difficult to judge the response to deconstruction fashion and its profile as a “mainstream” fashion, a term I use with little confidence as a measure anyway. Yet there is, I will suggest later, evidence of an interest in trying to wear transparent and layered clothing that is an effect of this style. Significantly, deconstruction fashion is part of a general climate where the aura of couture is being devolved onto ready-to-wear collections. There are certainly well-documented signs that old hierarchies dividing designer clothes from “everyday” clothes, the runway from the street as mutually exclusive spheres, are being eroded. Today, in the terms of a highly publicized fashion industry, the temporal and spatial measures that mark the difference between “true” innovation and its disseminated popular forms, between new and prior historical forms, between a fashionable high ground and a middle ground of being in fashion, are constantly being eroded by rapid media circulation, the widespread practices of reinventing historical styles, mass production and international distribution (manufacturers of mass-produced clothes constantly watch the runway, reproducing styles with small changes and cheaper fabrics for mass market audiences). Despite this, however, some hierarchies are unsuppressable, for the institutional, economic, and libidinal investments in fashion, like the investments in philosophy’s institutionalization, as I have suggested, locate a certain power or authority in being a point of origin for “innovation” and a source of a kind of systemic momentum of dissemination. We use the word “fashion” in different ways, yet the continuous seasonal rituals of the industry remind us of a “Fashion” domain of aesthetic experimentation and “revolutions,” with its “new heights” of innovation, that constantly rebuilds a hierarchical structure in order to “stay on top” of clothes in the secular levels “below.”(FN5) In this manner of dialectical progression, “Fashion” sustains a sense of itself as a rational modernist system made up of “new looks” as its basic economic, aesthetic, and idealized units. For instance, in a perpetual hunt for the new, subcultural clothing gestures have been remarketed by designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Jean-Paul Gaultier as “styles” from the “Street,” hyperbolically accessorized and montaged for the runway as a new direction called “anti-fashion” designer fashion—“Fashion” reappropriates and sublates its other. While this article will return later to consider anti-fashion, this simple rendition might serve here as an example of the exaggeration, the illusion of difference, that “Fashion” must indulge to distinguish itself from clothes, even while these are of the same world.
Although an expanded description of Derridean deconstruction will follow below, suffice it to say here that Derrida does not claim to present a critique of Western metaphysics, or an original philosophy. He is the first to say that a critique of metaphysics can only ever rely on the very principles that it puts into question. Yet, critics of deconstructionist philosophy have argued its inherent nihilism, its anarchy, its irrationality or disregard for philosophical tradition, misunderstanding the root of Derrida’s word in Martin Heidegger’s “destruktion.” to argue thus is to ignore the two terms rolled into one—de(con)struction—and Derrida’s implicit respect for philosophical writing and its complex fabric. The garments that appeared on runways in the early 1990s—images of decay, poverty, and disaffection—appeared to mock fashion from its site of privilege.(FN6) Yet, Margiela’s garments indicate an implicit care for the material object and sartorial techniques, and therefore they would suggest the impossibility of a simple destruction or anarchy; for instance, the look of distressed or unfinished tacking around an arm hole is executed by the tailor’s hand with, paradoxically, a quality “finish.” In Margiela’s guiding of the tailor’s hand one can see a desire to leave a “trace” in an, albeit reconceived, fashion tradition of techniques, patterns, and details. His “trace” will always carry with it past eras of fashion that cannot simply be eradicated just as for Derrida Western philosophy cannot be discarded.(FN7) So Margiela’s work could perhaps be seen as both a critique of fashion’s impossibility, against its own rhetoric, to be “innovative,” while at the same time showing its dependence on the history of fashion. That “trace” could perhaps be that which allows fashion to be innovative, at the same time as being that which ensures that it can never be innovative. Thus Margiela deconstructs the aura of the designer garment, and by extension the industry that upholds the myth of innovation, by messing with its integrity and innovation, by stitching a dialogue with the past into its future. When his recycled garments are literally turned inside out, apart from ravaging the finish of the garment, the frame that holds them together is also revealed like a clothing skeleton. The revelation of this skeleton affirms the ties of this garment to a history of fashion, and its own history as everyday garment, but at the same time it enables the making of a new-old and fashionable garment. By extension, Margiela also deconstructs the hierarchical relation that persists between the exclusivity of designer fashion and everyday clothes.
I suggest that the appearance of various guides about how to wear decayed style in the 1990s, that is, “decomposing” and “transparent” clothes (see Johnson 1997: 6-7), how to make these “difficult” clothes inhabitable, reveals a social desire to explore deconstruction dressing as a “new thinking” and “practice.” While much of the advice of these guides—for instance, a guide to layering transparent garments so that one feels comfortable rather than exposed—are reinscriptions of the familiar languages of social etiquette and moralism about nudity, exposure, deportment, and beauty, there is something quite significant about the way they frame the problem of wearing these clothes. The principle of layered transparency dressing gives visible form to the experience of being late twentieth-century embodied subjects, “works-in-progress,” dispersed across layered, multiple and incorporated domains through clothes. Outside the terms of this article a more detailed study of the wearing of transparent clothes would, I suggest, deliver an interesting thinking of body styling and, more, a thinking relevant to clothes in general. However, by the end of this article I hope to have given a preliminary sense of the manner in which clothes and fashion style bodies habitually and repetitively, (trans-)forming and (dis-)figuring the living parameters of embodied existence and activity—that is, material and immaterial existences.
INTERPRETING “LE DESTROY”: ANTI-FASHION, RECESSION ZEITGEIST, ECO-FASHION OR THEORETICAL DRESS?
Olivier Zahm (1995: 74) summarizes the platitudes of fashion commentary in reference to Margiela’s designs: “Recycled style? Antifashion provocation? High fashion’s answer to a grungy zeitgeist? Add to them the promiscuous moniker deconstruction and it is plain that not only have Margiela’s clothing designs disconcerted and shocked, they have also been misunderstood.” Margiela, Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester, three 1981 graduates of the Antwerp Academy, have been described as a united “movement” intent on dismantling fashion (Spindler 1993: 1, 9). With the exception of Martin and Koda (1993) and Zahm (1995), the responses to this movement have presumed that it is another example of a vanguardism and/or anti-fashion. That is, the specificities of this phenomenon have been confounded by platitudes of “revolution” within, destruction or negative critique of, the fashion system, interpretations fueled by the “negativity” of world recession and/or environmental and industrial crisis. Or interpretations have been fueled by a presumption that “deconstruction fashion” is a representation of a philosophical method intent on destructive critique—i.e., it exemplifies a philosophical position which is itself a negative reaction. In this article I would prefer to suggest that there is more to the association of dress and deconstruction than a wish to destroy functionality, and will proceed to outline, briefly, four possible interpretations of this movement—anti-fashion, recession zeitgeist, eco-fashion, or theoretical dress—and, while no less valid or fruitful as interpretations, their shortcomings in addressing the new stakes introduced by this association. In fact it is characteristic of a deconstructive thinking to think again about common-sense associations, platitudes, and tried/tested explanations.
The style could easily take its place in a history of anti-fashion statements brought to bear on “high fashion” by designers who have introduced counter-cultural or alternative influences, implying that couture is disconnected with the “street,” the “night club” or the dynamics of counter-cultural sign bricolage. Vivienne Westwood, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Gianni Versace, John Galliano, and Katharine Hamnett are frequently referred to as innovators attuned to these spaces that have become fully invested with the language of political, sexual, and class resistance. Counter-cultural fashion has been marked by its ability to uncover taboo practices and mess with normative gender or class coding, in a sense bringing taboo practices like sado-masochism and explicit nudity, or the infusion of working-class signs, to the surface of clothing. The “affinity” these designers show for counter-cultural styles has operated as a licence for a postmodern two-way practice of appropriation, parody, and sign entropy, that is in keeping with a broader postmodern strategy of “raiding” fashion history and popular culture as an eclectic resource for reinvention.(FN8) Margiela, as the “son of Gaultier,” his assistant for six years, could be positioned easily in a post-punk lineage (Spindler 1993: 1). About “Le Destroy” it could be said that there are explicit references to a punk sensibility of ripping, slashing and piercing clothing as well as an artificially enhanced “grungy” or “crusty” dress, thus setting up a fantasy dialogue with urban zones of the dispossessed and disaffected. Here sign entropy would refer to the destruction of clothing’s “functionality” and “exclusivity” as the clothes are literally remade as unusable, distasteful, and/or aged. The main point, however, is that anti-fashion statements are painted in the oppositional terms of a negative critique, as the term anti-fashion clearly signifies, with the additional tones of playfulness, provocation, and parody frequently used. To take a negative or oppositional position is to assume a symmetrical posture in relation to the term one seeks to oppose, thus depending on it, in this case fashion, to provide the “ground” and principle of resistance, with little leverage actually to question or reconstitute its ground. Here, a deconstructive thinking can be differentiated, to be explained shortly, as it refuses the path of negative critique.
A by now very familiar interpretation of fashion, one that can be repeated at any time or place, is that it serves as a cultural reflection of the times, or more specifically, an expression of the zeitgeist (spirit of the times). It is very easy to find in this style “reflections” of a whole host of ideas and issues of our time, a time of economic, political, environmental, and aesthetic crises. In “Le Destroy” one can see, if one wishes to put it in these terms, a mirror image in these decaying garments of social stress and degradation brought by economic recession in the early 1990s. More particularly, Bill Cunningham (1990) has suggested that Margiela’s choice of site and his ravaged clothes, launched in October 1989 in a vacant block in a Paris “ghetto,” echoed “the collapse of political and social order in Eastern Europe.”(FN9) Cunningham’s interpretation hinges on the power of the image of crumbling walls to prophesize the symbolic end of the Berlin Wall in November and the dismantling of the European “divide,” for he suggests that the image of the models parading along half-demolished walls, worked as a prophetic image of “jubilant Berliner’s dancing on the crumbling wall in November.” On the environment, the aesthetic of “patching,” combining mismatched fabrics or reworking “salvaged” jackets, might reflect what it is to live with an “ensuing” environmental crisis that may well bring dramatic reductions in resources. This aesthetic of reuse and recyclability provides an image that correlates with a popular notion of the environmental imperative, the 4R’s imperative (reduce, reuse, recycle, recover) to resist obsolescence, to recycle materials, and use resources efficiently. Correspondingly, it could be argued that the reassembled and decomposing forms reflect an aesthetic crisis, following in the wake of the formalist project that sought to locate the origins of pure expression in the delights of abstract formations. While there is some truth to all of the above as forces informing this time in fashion, a zeitgeist reading does very little to examine the relations between fashion and its historical moment, rather accepting the role of fashion as a passive reflection and measure of agencies found elsewhere in (deeper) social concerns. A zeitgeist reading entertains a belief in a singular essence or force that has produced a parallelism between cultural form and historical moment; the concepts of resemblance, similarity, or, in fashion terms, “fit” between cause and effect are the foundations of parallelism.
Stephen O’Shea (1991: 238) has called the designs of Margiela “Recycled Style.” He writes of Margiela’s practice:
According to the Belgian bomber, the word of the moment is récuperation, the recovery and re-use of any material that comes to hand. Consider it fashion’s version of object trouvé. (If Picasso used bicycle seats and car parts for sculpture, Margiela can use socks for sweaters.) Maybe it’s more like the contemporary Italian school of arte povera, which also loots industrial sites for art’s sake. Some utopians might consider it a form of eco-fashion.
A novel example of what Margiela calls récuperation is his turtleneck sweater made from a patchwork knit of cotton-and-wool socks (O’Shea 1991). It does seem premature to call this eco-fashion, for which there are better precedents to turn to that meet the demands, based on material life-cycle analyses, for efficiency throughout a product’s manufacture, use, and recovery (for instance, fleeces and ski jackets made out of PET bottles). The image or aesthetic of recyclability provided in Margiela’s garments is based on a fairly limited practice of eco-design; while they may look the part, Margiela only partially reuses secondhand garments. That is, Margiela gives recovered garments a new life, making use of a practice fairly well established by secondhand clothing stores, stores that now call themselves, in the language of ecology, “recycling outlets.” On the other hand, I would not like to diminish the significance of the appearance of this practice on international runways. A question that warrants further consideration and detail than this article can provide is whether such an aesthetic reinforces, or contributes to the deflection of, a desire to bring transformations to consumer society and its practices of obsolescence and disposability. Like a hole in a faithful sweater, Comme des Garcon’s “lace” sweater of fall/winter 1982-3 (where lace refers to the distressed “crafting” of gaping holes), could operate as a potent image of decomposition and material limitations, rather than careless or indulgent technology, and perhaps a reminder to produce either longer-lasting or biodegradable substances.(FN10) Yet, as an aesthetic representation of biodegradable forms, neither materially substantiated nor tied to any sort of practice that delivers sustainable solutions, such an image may simply operate as a “dead-end” for any such concern. As the example of ski jackets suggests, there is a complex issue to contend with in the fact that the term eco-fashion embodies the incompatible agendas of sustainability and consumerism: eco-fashion as oxymoron. Therefore, eco-fashion has to involve a radical rethinking of the “grounds” of fashion and ecology in order to deliver sustainable solutions that can only ever partially arrive with recycling.
The term deconstruction arrived in fashion magazines and style pages with a pre-packaged reputation, as a risky and extremely complex, if not deliberately obfuscating and elitist, style of theoretical critique. Yet, precisely as a consequence of this packaging, it “arrived” as both an agent of transformative critique (i.e., bringing theory to dress) and something of a philosophical “trend.” Amy Spindler (1993) of The New York Times attributes the label “deconstructionism” in fashion to Bill Cunningham in a 1989 [sic] Details magazine. She defines “deconstructionism” in the following manner: “ORIGINS: The term first described a movement in literary analysis in the mid-20th century, founded by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. It was a backlash against staid literary analysis, arguing that no work can have a fixed meaning, based on the complexity of language and usage” (my emphasis, Spindler 1993: 1). Note, here, that deconstructionism is described as a reactive form of analysis. Significantly, she paints the relationship between deconstruction and fashion in terms of an enabling and even liberating application of a theory. Under the question “So what does that have to do with fashion?” she continues her exposition: “The Oxford English Dictionary defines deconstruction as ‘the action of undoing the construction of a thing.’ So not only does that mean that jacket linings, for example, can be on the outside or sleeves detached, but the function of the piece is re-imagined” (Spindler 1993: 1). In that deconstruction has been defined very generally, as a practice of “undoing,” deconstructionist fashion liberates the garment from functionality, by literally undoing it. Importantly here, through this association dress becomes theoretical, only by exemplifying a theoretical position developed in philosophical thought and brought to fashion in order to transform it. Yet, clothes are not liberated or released from functionality because of deconstruction (as causal force coming from somewhere outside fashion), for the liberation of clothes from functionality is something realized as a complex interaction between bodies, clothing, and the various settings in which they are worn. Significantly, clothes do not have, and never have had, a singular origin, meaning, or function. There are two points here: one is that deconstruction is, in a certain sense, “dressed up” (or “dressed down”) for its application to the field of fashion, and secondly, in proposing that fashion is a representation of deconstructive thinking it might be presupposed that fashion has a prescribed function, or worse, as if fashion were not already on a philosophical ground, that it is unphilosophical and unthought. This latter presupposition entertains a thinking that a theory has been inappropriately, awkwardly, or insensitively applied to an (untheoretical) subject; that is, it is thought an inappropriate mixing of “light” with “heavy.” This criticism appears to resent fashion being thought of as philosophical and constitutes a refusal to think a “ground” of fashion where new stakes can be introduced.
In a Letter to a Japanese Friend Jacques Derrida (1983) attempts to convey to his friend and translator his intentions and some of the problems he has encountered in giving the name “deconstruction” to what it is he does:
When I chose this word, or when it imposed itself upon me—I think it was in Of Grammatology—I little thought it would be credited with such a central role in the discourse that interested me at the time. Among other things I wished to translate and adapt to my own ends the Heideggerian word Destruktion or Abbau. Each signified in this context an operation bearing on the structure or traditional architecture of the fundamental concepts of ontology or of Western metaphysics. But in French “destruction” too obviously implied an annihilation or a negative reduction much closer perhaps to Nietzschean “demolition” than to the Heideggerian interpretation or to the type of reading that I proposed. So I ruled that out. I remember having looked to see if the word “deconstruction” (which came to me it seemed quite spontaneously) was good French. I found it in the Littré. The grammatical, linguistic, or rhetorical senses [portées] were found bound up with a “mechanical” sense [portée “machinique”]. This association appeared very fortunate, and fortunately adapted to what I wanted to at least suggest (Derrida 1983: 1-2).
He continues to explain the multiple meanings this term has in French, giving support to his frequently cited claim that deconstruction can never be said to be only one thing. Later in the latter Derrida is clear on why this is, as he outlines the stakes of any attempt to name what is essentially a multiplicity:
To be very schematic I would say that the difficulty of defining and therefore also of translating the word “deconstruction” stems from the fact that all the predicates, all the defining concepts, all the lexical significations, and even the syntactic articulations, which seem at one moment to lend themselves to this definition or to that translation, are also deconstructed or deconstructible, directly or otherwise, etc. And that goes for the word, the very unity of the word deconstruction, as for every word. Of Grammatology questioned the unity of “word” and all the privileges with which it was credited, especially in its nominal form. It is therefore only a discourse or rather a writing that can make up for the incapacity of the word to be equal to a “thought.” All sentences of the type “deconstruction is X” or “deconstruction is not X” a priori miss the point, which is to say that they are at least false (Derrida 1983: 4).
Fairly obviously, Derrida’s refusal to say what deconstruction is, has consequently led to certain blocks or resistances to understanding his writings. However, his refusal is an indication of Derrida’s reading of the history of philosophy, its language, its defining concepts and approach to naming (Benjamin 1988: 34): to define deconstruction in the terms of “it is X” would be to repeat the tradition that has dominated the history of philosophy, a history of presence, a tradition beginning with the Platonic dialogues and mode of questioning where a name seeks to represent the essence (ousia) of the subject under discussion. In short and schematic terms, for Derrida Western metaphysics repeats a logocentric practice of essence fabrication where a word (logos) names the essential being of thing, consequently equated with full-presence, meaning, and universal truth. Such a practice has given rise to the distinction between an outer surface level of polysemy and an inner, unified original meaning, and the work of the philosopher has been to identify through the name that inner content, its identity, by which the proper passage to knowledge has been formularized (Benjamin 1988: 34). The distinction between singular essence and polysemics thus becomes oppositional, the latter devalued for inhibiting the naming of the first. A logocentric tradition of thought tries to ensure the impossibility of thinking at once terms positioned oppositionally, instead valuing one term above another; philosophy has repeatedly privileged being over becoming, presence over presencing, unity over difference, origin over dissemination. Thus, for Derrida, who refuses this tradition, no answer that attempts to say in essence what deconstruction is, or, for that matter, any other word that claims to represent thought, can ever be exhaustive.
Many have interpreted Derrida’s position as “against” reason, truth and presence, that is, anti-essentialist, an invitation to delight in the resonances, the traces and the violence of the word, to revel in an unrestricted free play of surface polysemics and/or irrationality. To argue such is to suggest that Derrida has only inverted the hierarchy imbued in the Platonic heritage, in order to revalue indeterminacy and instability, against certainty and truth. However, Derrida does more than this for his writing uncovers the dangers of a thinking centered around hierarchical oppositions, a thinking which would leave their underlying presuppositions “unthought.” In retracing philosophical texts he seeks to destroy neither the power of the word nor the history of philosophy but rather he examines the enabling conditions by which defining terms and concepts operate but also delimit philosophy at the same time: relations emerge in argument that make it necessary to exclude alternative paths of thought, relations that come to constitute hierarchical oppositions that enable the argument to operate effectively, delineating at the same time a carefully regulated boundary between an inside and outside of its “structure.” In retracing the hierarchical relations between such terms as speech/writing, being/becoming, physis (nature) /techne (culture), Derrida’s writing analyzes and hopes to displace the traditional operations that have constituted an inside and outside of philosophy, by exposing its inside to unseen aspects of its outside. In the process this boundary is illuminated as less than stable. The force of Derrida’s writings it to highlight the manner in which the operations of logocentrism are founded on instabilities and slippages; indeterminancies and slippages of meaning are an enabling condition of the arrival of philosophical thought.
In his statements about the term deconstruction in the first quote above, Derrida conveys a sense of the tradition, an extensive “architecture” of Western metaphysics, in relation to which his philosophical readings must negotiate and position themselves, as his comments on the Heideggerian heritage Destruktion and Abbau also reveal. Philosophical speculation has strived to locate an origin of Being, a preontological moment, where Being could be identified in an ideal form, uninscribed in the palimpsest of subsequent philosophy. The pursuit of this originary moment necessitates the forgetting of metaphysics, the history of thought, the history of Being, the very history that creates a desire for this ideal. For Derrida a thinking of this pre-ontological moment will always elude philosophy, for a thinking outside of the Greek philosophical position since Plato is ultimately impossible. Thus, for Derrida, there is no safe meta-position outside philosophy from which objectively to examine this tradition; for “outside” is always a product of that which excluded it and named itself “inside,” thus opening on to an understanding that has become the “by now well-worn postmodern catchphrase ‘there is no outside’ (of discourse, patriarchy, history, power)” (Grosz 1995: 131). In addition, any writing about deconstruction as a “current thinking” necessitates a reflection on “its” place in the history of philosophy (Benjamin 1988: 34), a reflection that puts current thinking in dialogue with a tradition of thought and with its limits. Significantly, this would include a reflection on the relations that philosophy has established with discourses like art and literature which are frequently positioned as philosophy’s “others.”(FN11) Derrida’s writing has been characterized by the dialogues it establishes with other discourses—interdisciplinary dialogues of mutual effect.(FN12) It is the effects of these dialogues that are being explored by various disciplines—literary criticism, art history, cultural and media studies, architecture, philosophy—which have received Derrida’s writings as an opportunity to reconsider the nature of dialogue in the past, and the disciplinary boundaries and hierarchical relations that have underpinned these dialogues. The discipline of fashion studies, too, might force a reflection of fashion’s “ground,” its relation to philosophy, and the characteristics that remain invisible and unthought in the fabric of scholarship.
In a sense, Derrida observes philosophy and its others in a mobilizing exchange, and embarks on a twisting path of thinking that is always a rethinking of their relationality.(FN13) Or more precisely, a process of negotiating the exchanges that both elide and separate a boundary of philosophy, a line that makes a discourse from its heritage and the chance of a new beginning, and marks an inside from an outside. Above all, his thinking arrives in the form of an imperative to (re-)write; to repeat Derrida’s paradoxical positioning of the philosopher: “It is therefore only a discourse or rather a writing that can make up for the incapacity of the word to be equal to a ‘thought’” (Derrida 1983: 4).
From here, it will only be a short step to understand Derrida’s resistance to painting deconstruction in the terms of a method or system of critique or analysis, where analysis strives to isolate the pure and singular underlying essence of something. For if deconstruction is to be called a method, it is to promote it—i.e., Deconstruction—as a repeatable formula, as a united project and entity in itself, something that it at odds with a practice of reading and writing which only comes to presence in and through a process of interaction with the operational terms of the texts at hand. Nor is deconstruction a single act that involves an intentional subject who performs the application. In Derrida’s (1983: 4) words again,
Deconstruction takes place, it is an event, that does not await the deliberation, consciousness, or organization of a subject, or even of modernity. It deconstructs it-self. It can be deconstructed. [Ca se deconstruit.] The “it” [ca] is not here an impersonal thing that is opposed to some egological subjectivity. It is in deconstruction (the Littré says “to deconstruct it-self [se déconstruire] … to lose its construction”).
In Derrida’s terms, deconstruction is not a unified method applied across his diverse inquiries into the history of philosophy—Saussure, Rousseau, Heidegger, Nietzsche, Hegel, Husserl, etc. In a sense, deconstruction comes from nowhere in particular; it goes on, takes place between philosophy and its other, between the author and a specific text.
Yet we cannot ignore the fact that “deconstruction” has become a word, a motif and sign of transformation with certain privileged terms/themes and advocating a “mobile” strategy. For one, deconstruction cannot itself avoid the problems of naming, translation (naming and translation are always linked for Derrida), and methodological “styling” through dissemination and application; it exists within and as discourse, has come to wear the label of—ism, and is subject to being reinscribed into logocentric forms and discussions themselves deconstructible. On the other hand, the word itself, as it resounds with mechanical and technical significations, Derrida indicates (1983: 2-3), encourages a thinking of deconstruction as a neat formula for dismantling and disassembling, in the style of a method and critique. The mechanical significations of the name have served to explain the appeal deconstruction might have for disciplines and cultural practices already imbued with a sense of technical and skill-based methods of construction like architecture, graphic design, film and fashion. It is important to observe that the forms subjected to deconstruction and the conditions under which a deconstructive thinking of these forms has become possible are also responsible for the “designing” of deconstruction as a technique of disassembly and a method to be applied. The reception of Derrida’s writings, especially in US universities, has been surrounded by fierce debate about its status as a method for reading and interpretation, its validity as a philosophical practice, and its translation and “domestication” from the French situation into an American one.(FN14) Brunette and Wills (1989: 5) have outlined Derrida’s response to this debate, a response that will always place him in a double bind:
he has refused to arbitrate between authorized and unauthorized versions or uses of his work, in spite of the reproach to which his refusal has laid him open, preferring instead to make the questions of “ownership,” “inheritance,” “seal,” and “signature” major topics of address in his writing. Obviously, the problem with insisting upon a distinction between Derrida and deconstruction, in spite of the loose and often ill-informed use of the latter term, is that an appeal is inevitably, if unconsciously, being made to a “correct” or “true” Derrida or deconstruction, as opposed to a cheap or not-so-cheap imitation of it. Such a gesture remains firmly within the logocentric will to truth that Derrida has been at pains to identify and critique.
However, Derrida’s position is neither prone to silence nor that of the apologist, for he has unrelentingly defended his writing in debates, like the one with John Searle published in Limited Inc. Derrida would be the first to say that the full force of deconstructive thinking, its potential, can only be realized through the conditions of its dissemination, conditions that will both enrich and confound his words on the subject. For all my insistence on Derrida’s position and words on this matter of the name “deconstruction,” I do not wish to present them here as the word of the master, but as a part of a close reading of the features and reception of deconstruction that will, all the same, resound unfortunately with the tone of correction and take its place amongst the many (derived) readings on this matter. In the process, it will become exemplary of many of the problems outlined, especially the problem of presenting deconstruction as a unified project.
Partly due to the various cultural sites where deconstructive thinking is being explored, there is a tendency to think of this time as an “era” or “epoch of Deconstruction” (Derrida 1983: 4). It is seductive to give way to this relativist mode of thinking, of an era of being-in-deconstruction, in the way that some writers mistakenly celebrated postmodernism as a “new era” bringing an absolute end to modernity. To assert an epoch of deconstruction is to proclaim a unified time and mode of being, a “we” of “deconstruction,” and suggests that there are clear temporal markers that are going to deliver the fate of obsolescence to a deconstruction considered appropriate for the contemporary moment, yet a style that will at one point reach an expiry date (and from which “we” will move away).
A DIALOGUE OF MUTUAL EFFECT
Now we can begin to draw out the implications of the fashion media’s announcement of deconstruction fashion. Both Spindler (1993) and Cunningham (1990) imply that an ontology exists prior to the manifestation of deconstruction fashion, suggesting that the style plays no role in the construction of such an ontology. To repeat, firstly, Cunningham suggests that European social and political conditions exist and deconstruction fashion is a cultural response to, and expression of, these conditions. Cunningham, against his own position as a fashion writer, would seem to deny the importance of fashion as constitutive of a Western ontology, an evolving social fabric of interrelating cultural, political and economic forces. Secondly, Spindler proposes that deconstruction is a phenomenon particular to the discipline of philosophy which is then merely applied to fashion, whereby deconstruction fashion is presented as an expression of ideas originating in philosophy. As in Cunningham, Spindler would seem to suggest that fashion is always a secondary effect of an originary position. In Spindler’s case, this originary position is the position of the philosophical, reflective subject, in this instance Derrida as the “founder” of deconstruction, who produces a deconstructive mode of thinking. For Spindler, then, a split is introduced and sustained between fashion as a domain of expression and the field of philosophy, simply implying that fashion is unphilosophical. Here deconstruction suggests itself as a form in fashion with little agency or effect in an ontological realm where deconstruction circulates and is being explored. In both cases the identification of this style prescribes a separation between fashion and this ontology, where fashion can only even be figured as a product hopefully attempting to realize itself as an expression, a measure of a prior constitutive subject.
Can the meeting of these two terms—deconstruction and fashion—constitute a different relation between fashion and philosophy? Is it possible that deconstruction fashion might enable an alternative relation to emerge, one that doesn’t position fashion as dependent on a prior ontology or philosophy in order to constitute itself as a legitimate cultural form? I would propose that deconstruction fashion indicates an engagement of fashion and philosophy in a dialogue of mutual effect.(FN15) Deconstruction fashion is an encounter neither purely about philosophy nor purely about fashion, neither simply owned by a philosophy posited as prior to its fashioned expression, nor owned by fashion as its latest innovation. It is not my intention to judge this fashion as a good or bad application of deconstruction, but rather to illuminate it as a different thinking of fashion.(FN16) I would also suggest that a dialogue has always existed within clothing and that the lived relations of making and wearing clothes—involving technical skills, habits, movement, thinking, desire, memory, imagination, sensation, etc.—have always had to account for a dialogue between the different modes of Being contained by these positions. Finally, then, it might be interesting to consider deconstruction fashion’s capacity to reflect on the nexus of making, wearing, thinking, and dwelling that happens in fashion and people’s relations with all clothing; making and wearing clothes are processes by which presence, thought, meaning, and form are transported through garments and into the spaces in which we dwell.
Margiela explicates this concern by realizing a deconstructive thinking in the process of making clothing. By producing tailored garments through the tailor’s patterns Margiela converts the disintegrating material forms and structures of fashion, the instabilities in fashion’s modus operandi—fashion fighting to be both historical and innovative—into garments.(FN17) Analogous to Derrida’s capacity to summon the defining terms of philosophical debate, Margiela’s deconstruction fashion brings forth the question “What are the conditions under which Fashion continues to make forms as seamless presence?” Like Derrida’s “critique” of philosophy that brings an imperative to rethink what philosophy performs rather than bringing its closure, Margiela returns our attention from the question of fashion’s future to the garment and what it does.(FN18) Ultimately, Margiela reproduces the seamlessness of fashion, the idealized form, by the literal production of seams: seamlessness through seams. In doing so he admits that to be formed through garments involves a process of being formed or an analytics of construction. As such, these seams, by being the “traces” of both history and innovation, are the condition of the impossibility of semalessness as a fixed objectified ideal. This making of semalessness as always seamed must be considered as an embodied phenomenon, because clothes are “figured,” literally animated, as a presencing of body. One need only think of the shop-window mannequin whose often abstract presentation of bodies does little to hinder the clothes animating themselves; the clothes in this instance bring the mannequin to life.(FN19) Implicit in Margiela’s making and its logistics of patterns, darts, facings and seams, is a making always presenced as wearing.
Fashion is an ontological domain; in and through an interaction with fashion subjectivities are literally made and worldly relations established between clothes and bodies. In everyday speech, informed as it is by a pervasive metaphysical opposition between subject and object, we speak of the “body” that is subject to the clothes that literally enclothe it with a significance. It would also follow that the “fashionable body” is a body-product, an object, of the modern system of fashion. These static bodies seem far removed from the living body as a configuring subjectivity. Instead, the enclothed body is a body in process, a configuring subjectivity; it is at once styling clothes and styled by them, both styling the world and styled by it. In a similar sense, wearing clothing is a gradual process by which the body is at once fitted into a sartorial structure whilst itself accommodating this structure. A notion of the living body as a configuring subjectivity informs the use of the word “wearing” in this article; wearing as a process of accommodation, interaction, and exchange through which bodies come into form as beings.
Wearing clothing can also involve repetition that constructs an experience of the familiar and the habitual, an experience captured in the frequently cited but apt metaphor for clothing, “like a second skin.” An experience of the familiar in clothing can be thought of as a “habitus,” as clothing becomes a space of everyday inhabitance, dwelling and self-configuration.(FN20) Margiela articulates this notion of clothing as habitus in his practice of repeating favorite designs over the period of several collections with slight variations in color or detail (Zahm 1995: 119). In doing so he refuses simply to adhere to the demand for the “new” and the “now.” Margiela’s “new look” is a return to the ground of clothing, literally the knowing foregrounded through repetitiously wearing the familiarity of a garment’s structure-ing. In Margiela’s garments, motifs like darts, facings, and tacking that are repeated throughout a history of making clothing are isolated and exposed as features. He then repeats these features as explicit design motifs across his lines of clothing, the clothes changing and becoming new with each reappearance of a motif across jackets, dresses and shirts. The garments continue to repeat themselves in one another, each time with a significant difference. That is, the repetition of the motif changes both the former garment and its newest manifestation. In doing so, he is articulating a process of revisiting a garment and its motifs, of revisiting the experience of inhabiting clothing as a differential, a reconfiguring of self and transfiguration of body over time and place.(FN21)
It should be apparent that with each new line of clothing, with each repetition, Margiela is reconfiguring fashion and its drive to be innovative. He illuminates that the innovative form is always produced through fashion’s history, that its innovations always rely on the sartorial tradition that it seems to want to leave behind. Thus he reveals that the push toward an ideal form is at the expense of the very history that creates a desire for that ideal. Instead, for Margiela each innovation is a reflection on its place in the history of fashion. In this way, his practice parallels a thinking in deconstruction that is able to reflect on the fundamental ambivalence toward philosophical heritage and innovation—the reproduction of idealized truths in spite of the truths maintained by this heritage—that is incorporated into the ground of philosophy. Similarly, deconstruction fashion is an “un-doing” of fashion, where this “un-” tarries with the impetus merely to make anew by inflecting this making through a history of its pursuit.
Alison Gill teaches in the Dept. of Design Studies, University of Western Sydney, Nepean. She is also finishing a PhD in the Department of Fine Arts. University of Sydney, titled “Styling the Body.”
I would like to thank Anthea Fawcett, Freida Riggs, and Abby Mellick for reading this article and providing both insightful comments and encouragement.
1. A later section of the article will address Derridean deconstruction in more expansive terms, for in this introduction I hope to describe the object “deconstruction fashion,” its popular characterization, as well as the features of the dissemination of a deconstructive thinking in fashion.
2. The essays of Martin and Koda (1993) and Zahm (1995), while short, have been formative in the thinking presented in this article. I would recommend the final essay “Analytical Apparel: Deconstruction and Discovery in Contemporary Constume” in Infra-Apparel as a clear history of the proto-deconstructionist tendencies of the 1980s, a history I cannot revisit here, as we turn, instead, to consider the nature and consequences of fashion’s association with deconstruction.
3. I use the word garment with a rhetorical force to suggest the mechanical significations and verb function implicit in its etymology. OED refers to its French origins in garnir “to furnish, to fit, out, equip.” Or in English “to dress, to clothe.”
4. It will become clear that economy might be a more useful word to substitute for “system,” as a consequence of points made later in the article. Economy can connote the continuous, repetitive, and regulated exchanges of a structure or system, implicit in the systemic momentum or systematicity necessary to sustain itself. These exchanges will always undermine any attempt to define fashion as a coherent system.
5. Fashion has always produced its momentum literally through the “ideal,” which means its disposition is always toward the “new,” the “of the moment,” in a manner that dissolves its past. Quite simply, fashion announces what it is to be “in fashion,” in a manner that is always dialectically opposed to what came before it, now “out of fashion.” Later in this article it will be observed that the discourse of philosophy equally follows this structure of production.
6. Garments and features of Martin Margiela’s October 1989 Paris collection included a recovered jacket showing darts and facings on its “outside”; a dismembered jacket with sleeves that tie onto the arm with bias ribbon (including tacking around the arm holes and industrial snaps instead of buttons); a clear plastic “suit” worn over layered pants and top. The seams of other plastic suits in the collection were outlined in white tailor’s tape to accentuate the “architecture” of the garment.
7. Derrida refers to the “trace” in various writings, notably Of Grammatology (1976). The trace may be thought of as the mark left by writing, where writing figures as the former presence of a writer suggesting the writer’s presence through the mark of a literal absence. The trace names that which designates the possibility of systematicity, the movement by which any system of reference—language, culture—in general is constituted. This movement marks an irreconcilable difference. Hence, within the system of fashion, we must already presuppose the trace in order to account for the use of the terms innovation and history.
8. Sign entropy refers to the forced destruction of signs.
9. The site of Martin Margiela’s October 1989 show held in a vacant block in Paris included signs of urban “crisis” and both cultural intermixing and schisms: graffitied and half-demolished walls, rap and dub music, and local residents who sat on surrounding walls to have a peek at this unlikely event in their neighborhood (a lot of these were kids who later took to the runway themselves, erasing any idea of foreignness, by imitating the walk of models).
10. The “lace” effect is created by randomly loosening the tension on the knitting machine (Kawakubo cited in Koda 1985: 8). See Martin and Koda 1993 for a photograph of this sweater.
11. Frequently philosophy has called on art and literature as an example or representation of a philosophical claim, in a way that re-expresses both art and literature in, and overshadows them with, the language of philosophy. The harm here is less in making an example of art, and more in the authority awarded to philosophy to explain these practices, an authority embodied, for instance, in the philosophical discourse of aesthetics. Andrew Benjamin (1988: 35) outlines some of the consequences of this hierarchical relation:
Art, from within this perspective, is taken to be outside of philosophy and therefore its relationship to philosophy includes, if not ensnares it within, philosophical discourse … It is not difficult to see that this way of construing the relationship between philosophy and that which is other than philosophy (here art and literature) is articulated in terms of the opposition between the inside and outside; an opposition to be deconstructed.
12. For examples of Derrida’s writing on art and literature see Derrida 1987 and 1986. For an exposition of Derrida’s involvement and reception in the “spatial arts” see Brunette and Wills 1994. What becomes evident from the analogy of a dialogue or economy of exchange is that these writings cease to be simply either about philosophy or about visual arts but about both: that is, there would be no pure theory, pure art or pure literature as a priori terms constituting an origin or end point of the exchange. Yet, neither would this exchange have to drain each discipline of its differences of language, concepts, and practices. See Norris 1991 for an exposition on the reception of Derrida into literary criticism circles. He argues that it is only on the basis of a longstanding hierarchy and prejudice that Derrida can be criticized for trying to reverse this hierarchy and elevate literature, rhetoric, and artful style above philosophical reasoning and serious argument (thought to be incompatible with rhetoric). This criticism, still prevalent among Derrida’s detractors who argue he is not a philosopher but a literary critic, largely chooses to miss the point of re-examining this hierarchy.
13. The operations of metaphysics have been described by Derrida as an economy, from the Greek (oikos), for house. Giving further resonance to the notion of a structure or architecture of Western metaphysics, its operations are those of a domestic economy that ensures and regulates continuous exchange. In sum, Derrida wants to open up this economy to a thinking of the uncanny and alterity, that is, the bizarre homeless guest never allowed to settle in the house of metaphysics.
14. See Weber 1987: 42-5. Weber has proposed that the arrival of Derrida’s philosophy in America has been mediated by the liberal “universalist ethos,” a tradition ingrained in the American university and institutional intellectualism, making it profoundly different to the French positioning of the university and intellectualism. Weber argues, deconstructing the features of deconstruction’s reception, that the tradition of the American university institution has strongly regulated its inside as a safe place of pluralist debate. The disciplines and their theoretical modes of operation “inside” the university have excluded and delegitimized conflict (meaning radical disruption), marking the “inside” as a pluralist environment that can tolerate multiple styles of interpretation. Further, the price of admission to the American academy, Weber argues, is the “universalization” of the work of a philosopher as it is removed from its political and social specificity, and presented conflict-free and reproducible. In this process the work is “individualized” as the work of one man and labelled as a self-standing methodology that counteracts the disruption to master narratives and authorial power that the texts speak of.
15. The relation of mutual effect that I describe is not a classical dialogue, but more accurately a hermeneutic, as it means a process of interpretation and understanding. For Martin Heidegger (1988: 195) a hermeneutic is circular where no point of beginning emerges from another. One should not think that the circle as a contained entity represents the totality of understanding, rather the circular structure delineates a pathway of interpretation, encounter, and a relation of mutual understanding and effect.
16. Here, the reader might like to think about the manner in which deconstruction in fashion could generate, supplement, and enrich other deconstructive inquiries.
17. We are left to puzzle over two potential interpretations of the phenomenon of Margiela’s clothing; as a designer is Margiela performing a deconstruction of clothing, or are the clothes effecting their own deconstruction? Neither position can be in itself true, for it could be said that both are possible.
18. Zahm rightly observes that Margiela’s use of a blank white label stitched inside the garment has the effect of bringing one’s attention back to the clothes, after its blankness has refused the excesses of the designer label and demystified its aura (Zahm 1995: 119). Of course, this label still is a designer signature> Margiela is frequently characterized by his silence, invisibility, and his refusal of fashion hype (Spindler 1993; Blanchard 1997). In his rare interviews with the press he has distanced his garments from the label deconstruction and resists explaining what the clothes mean, leaving the clothes to “do the talking” through their use and wear (O’Shea 1991).
19. Margiela’s practice, in his spring 1996 show, of masking his models with a black stocking, reducing their subjectivity in favor of a blank object-like status, similarly allows the clothes to reanimate their wearers.
20. Habitus, defined by Bourdieu (1977), refers to those ingrained dispositions of taste, experience, perceptions, preferences and appreciations that inscribe themselves into the body and organize an individual’s capacity to act socially. Habitus can represent a set of “clothing” habits and a space inhabited.
21. In Margiela’s spring collection of 1996/7, he extends his earlier idea of the tie-on sleeve (i.e., clothes as prosthetic limb) to explore a full-torso strap-on body piece in different contours (Blanchard 1997: 24). Clothes and lingerie have always contoured and shaped bodies to varying degrees, yet, here, the clothes mimic temporary and permanent body-alteration technologies like toning-programmes, breast enhancement/reductions, liposuction, and tummy lifts, and they indulge a popular fantasy of choosing a “new body” (a fantasy that finds frequent expression in advertising for anything from gym classes to plastic surgery to bottled water). Margiela deconstructs the binary relation of clothing and bodies, a dissolution that occurs in wearing clothing, as clothes become bodies and bodies become clothes.
-Fashion Theory, vol. 2 issue 1.