Arabic version

Haramoun Hamieh
Arabic translatio
n: William Mahfoud
: Zaki Mahfoud


H: The exclusive and elite fashion 'look' developed by fashion houses and promoted on ‎mass and social media draws its inspiration from subcultures - curiously the not-so-classy ones. As every avant-guarde is turned by the culture industry into a ‎commodity, the punk and DIY non-conformist subculture was reduced to a mere ‎‎‘look’. The subculture that shattered the ideals of beauty and decency became a ‎set of mass-produced items ready to be picked up from the mall. Instead of a ‎political manifesto, we are confronted with terms such as ‘fashion statements’. ‎Devoting one’s time, regardless of gender, to self-styling and aesthetics is in itself ‎a rejection of being identified with work and career. Indulgence in fashion is a ‎refusal of work slavery. In what ways did punk pose a threat to the ‎establishment and to the normalcy of everyday life? What is the missing ‎thread that keeps a revolutionary subculture from being absorbed by ‎market logic?‎

W: The spectacle recuperates everything. Punk was an interesting moment in attempting to ‎divert the products of mass consumption into a different range of meaning, or beyond ‎meaning, turning the signs of the spectacle back on itself as noise. The spectacle ‎eventually recuperates such antagonistic moments to itself. It's extractive. Punk ‎introduced a certain kind of noise into the spectacle, but noise is always a relative term. ‎Punk noise became style. I think today’s subcultures, bohemias and avant-gardes deploy ‎a different kind of tactic in relation to the spectacle, mostly attempting to evade or avoid ‎it, being invisible or unreadable. ‎‎

H: In “A Hacker Manifesto” you describe how creators (hackers) of all sorts create ‎information from their social conditions and cultural taste. To apply this to fashion, ‎we can argue that punk DIY makers transfer information via clothes (ripped ‎jeans, metal objects). As controller of the means of production, the fashion ‎industry takes the information, monetizes the hacker’s creation, and uses it to ‎increase uniformity instead of authenticity (Just like big tech platforms). In that ‎sense, are makers fashion victims too? When we become victims, what ‎should the primary duty of critique be?‎

W: I define "hackers" as a class. It's the class of those who make new information. It's a bit ‎different to workers as a class, who make things, where those things under conditions of ‎mass production are mechanical reproductions of the same thing. So it’s two classes, one ‎makes difference, the other makes sameness, But both are subordinate classes, and Neither ‎owns the means of production. It's a question of what tactics are available in and against ‎this era of the society of the spectacle, which I think of as the era of the spectacle of ‎disintegration. The ruling class has itself succumbed to the timeless, commodified world ‎of the spectacle and lost all contact with historical time. So how do we signal, through the ‎gauze of the spectacle, what's left of the everyday life we might want?‎


H: In “Fashioning the future:  Fashion, clothing, and the manufacturing of post-Fordist ‎culture” You quote one fashion editor of the ‎‏1950‏s, ‘In those days we were ‎reporting one look, the look. That was what fashion was about- and it was news. ‎Women all over the world waited to be told whether they should crop two inches ‎off their hemlines and that story on the front page actually sold newspapers’. This ‎cycle probably gave consumers a sense of safety. But now a fast-paced fashion ‎rhythm is promoted by the industry. From the consumer’s side, this means ‎anxiety - not being able to cope with faster and faster changes in life. To quote ‎Adorno and Horkheimer: “The culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers ‎of what it perpetually promises.” Do fashion cycles work because of our ‎anxiety and its promises? And does it make us all fashion victims?‎

W: I don't know how helpful "fashion victim" is. It's a term that denies any agency in and ‎against the spectacle, whether that of fashion or something else. The fashion cycle ‎changed with the emergence of the spectacle of disintegration. It no longer has a ‎production and consumption cycle which matched the rhythm of mass consumption to ‎the rhythm of mass production. The cycle sped up to the point of exhaustion. It's not ‎enough for a designer to release four collections a year. It's a continual cycle of ‎attempting to create some kind of semiotic value in excess of the practical uses of a ‎mere garment. ‎


‎H: Oscar Wilde used aesthetics as a critique of modernity and fake bourgeois morality. ‎Courage for him meant that he should be far ahead. We also need courage ‎sometimes to wear a certain dress that is a bit different from what our peers ‎usually wear. Is this courage a kind of cry for authenticity – opposition to the ‎spectacle? A fashion-conscious hero instead of a fashion victim?‎

W: In “The Critic as Artist” Wilde said: “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give ‎him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” Naturalistic styles, for Wilde, deny their artifice. ‎Artificial styles are true to their nature as artifice. Its not about authenticity at all.

H: In the 19th century,‎ the dandy announced the emergence of a new man (Wilde’s Dorian Gray?) in ‎opposition to Nietzsche’s Superman. The dandy refuses to be another masculine ‎figure. The new fashion-conscious man is an “aesthetic rebel and an intellectual ‎hero”. He opposes bourgeois society’s conformism and devotes himself to the ‎fine detail, to a new art form, even if it means spending all his time and money on ‎the look. This style was assimilated by fashion houses, eventually reaching a ‎wider spectrum of consumers. It is even said that Coco Chanel explained how ‎she created the New Woman after the New Man, changing men’s clothing into ‎women’s, and tearing down even more barriers. What made the dandies of ‎London and the demi-mondaines of Paris, as street fashion, attractive for ‎the early fashion houses and for the age of modernity in general? ‎

W: Channel was a Nazi collaborator. Elsa Schiaparelli was always a more interesting figure ‎from that era to me. Not least in her attempts to incorporate surrealism into fashion, ‎which pointed to its relation to desire, sexuality, but also delirium. Street fashion was ‎always more interesting to me than the sort of aristocratic hold-over that was the dandies, ‎and Wilde for that matter. Paris in the fifties and London in the sixties are interesting ‎examples of that. Styles that weren't just clothing styles but were about a whole way of ‎life, about forms of freedom, particularly for women. Practical everyday glamor at odds ‎with the burden of high fashion. ‎

H: During fashion cycles, new barriers are continuously raised to be torn down in no ‎time. These barriers fuel class and gender antagonisms. Pierre Bourdieu argues ‎that ‘fashion represents class and gender – a given that has only to be expressed’. ‎Fashion also subverts and erases the division of the sexes by manipulating and ‎reversing visible signs of sex and gender roles. To quote Barbara Vinken: “From ‎the beginning of haute couture, fashion has been, in the end, nothing less than a ‎form of cross-dressing.” Throughout its modern history, did fashion break ‎more gender barriers and roles, or did it reinforce traditional concepts? ‎

W: More often than not the transgression of gender norms in fashion simply reinforces or ‎updates them. There's always that ambiguity about what fashion is doing with gender. ‎Exceptions whose role is to reinforce the norm. Particularly when it's all just for play, for ‎show. Fashion can be one of the safe places to alleviate the desire to transgress gender ‎norms on a temporary basis while leaving them in place. ‎


H: In your latest book “Raving”, you dive into New York’s thriving underground queer ‎and trans rave scene, searching for new possibilities as we head toward a no-too-promising future. What is the ultimate underground raver look? What/who ‎influences the “rave” look? (Atmosphere, music, drugs, …)? And most ‎importantly, in a rave, ‘faut se faire remarquer’ or  ‘ne pas se faire ‎remarquer?’ (Should I stand out in a crowd or melt in it?) ‎

W: There are a lot of different uses to which ravers put the space of the rave. For some its ‎about turning looks. For others, it's about cruising for sex. But for hardcore ravers for ‎whom it's about dancing, the look is practical. It's all black—these spaces are filthy! Some ‎athletic wear. Tank tops. Black sneakers with a good thick sole. It's usually a fitted look, ‎different from the baggy rave look popular late last century. I don't think it's about "new" ‎possibilities, however. It's a different conception of time, for a time that might not have a ‎future. It's a kind of "sideways" time. ‎


H: ‎In “Fashion Zeitgeist” Barbara Vinken defines fashion as “the art of the perfect ‎moment, of the sudden, surprising and yet obscurely expected harmonious ‎apparition – the Now at the threshold of an immediate future.” But its realization is, ‎at the same time, its destruction. Can we predict the future(s) of fashion when ‎it is constantly alternating between creation and self-destruction, causing ‎anxiety like a ticking bomb? ‎

W: What happens to fashion when there isn't much future? Fashion exists within the uniform, ‎ahistorical time of the spectacle. It mutated from the industrial to the information era, into ‎the temporality of the disintegrating spectacle, which tries to solve the problem of the ‎exhaustion of the spectacle through accelerating the time of fashion (whether for clothing ‎or theory, lol). There isn't much future left, however. That's the meaning of the ‎Anthropocene. Geological time is overtaking the time of the spectacle. How can that be ‎expressed within the fashion system? That's the challenge, really. ‎

H: In “Fashioning the future” you close with the following: “Fashion culture and capital ‎accumulation are one-way streets, a momentum without narrative ends. This is ‎precisely why fashion is interesting. It is a succession of narrative fragments ‎played out as a game of becoming. As such it links particular subjects to ‎particular modes of being in the present, and makes of the present an endless ‎succession and proliferation of modes.” Is there still room for dissent in the ‎‏21‏st century’s one-way street? Can new movements bring new prototypes ‎of dandies and demi-mondaines defecting the high end of the social ‎stratum, or new waves of punk rebellion rising from the low end of every ‎city of our connected world?‎

W: I wrote that a while ago, and that temporality might no longer be working very well. It's not ‎really possible to refuse the fashion system, as even anti-fashion is one of its moves. But ‎maybe one can refuse to be visible to it. That's why I like raves with a no-photo policy. ‎Let's not even show them what we wear or what we do.‎

Image credits: Lisa Fotios via Pexels

كن جزءًا من مشروع "رحلة"
وادعَم صُدور النّسخة الورقيّة الشهريّة

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