Viscose Journal #2
Published from Copenhagen and New York, in the space of two issues Viscose Journal has quickly established itself as a vital platform for fashion criticism.
Each issue changes format, reflecting its theme; issue one, ‘Style’, was designed to look like a crocodile skin hand bag; this second issue, ‘Clothes’, has a larger-than-life fabric care label attached to its cover (‘71% Criticism, 19% Research, 10% Images’).
The new issue offers a broad range of considerations and thoughts on Clothes; Dal Chooda assesses ancient dresses held in museums, comparing them to today’s dresses; Bruno Zhu reflects on Miuccia Prada’s final womanswear show; Kristian Vistrup Medsen considers how photography voids garments. The mode shifts constantly, addressing Clothes from multiple angles.
It’s also worth noting the design of the issue; it’s very well put together, the large label attached to the cover and open binding lending the issue just the right level of specialness.
Our sample comes from a piece by artist/researcher Femke de Vries. She describes the increasing separation of the various roles of clothes in realtion to fashion, using language that is easily assimilated—she starts with a nice metaphor from ‘Back to the Future.’
Editor-in-chief and founder of Viscose Jeppe Ugelvig told me, ‘We asked ourselves: what would clothing culture be without fashion culture? We could think of no better than Femke to ask this question, an ambitious and deeply original thinker of garments.’
Over to Femke…
When Marty McFly, the main character in the movie Back To The Future II arrives from 1985 in 2015, Doc Brown, the scientist who invented the time machine, gives him some clothes to help him blend in: an automatically size-adjusting jacket and the legendary Nikes with power laces (that tie automatically).
But Doc also tells him to “pull out his pants pockets, because all kids of the future wear their pants inside out.” To Marty as well as to the viewer, these pockets turned inside-out look weird and silly, but that’s mainly because we don’t know this habit; what it means, and how it came about. But even in real life, as Jeppe Ugelvig points out elsewhere in this issue, “it’s a near-impossible task to decipher fashion’s signifiers, as they exist in a constant state of flux, rapidly morphing and inverting between personal, material, political, historical, and cultural signification.”
These rich and layered signifiers come about through relationships between people, materials, and other beings in various times and places. The garment functions as a material vehicle, portal, source, or tool that makes meaning and value visible. These relationships lie at the heart of fashion as a form of value/symbolic production and are numerous and endless. In When Species Meet, biologist and philosopher Donna Haraway addresses the value of general patterns of relationability, pointing out how we are all interconnected and entangled, “constituted through intra- and interaction, a subject and object-shaping dance of encounters.”
In fashion, subject-object intra-actions and relations take various shapes: from intergenerational stories of hand-me-downs and day-to-day body-fabric interactions through use to industrial garment production and vast supply chains, as well as countless symbolic relations that are artificially constructed to conjure the consumer’s desire. All these relations need attention, if only to respect those involved, or to rearrange them.
The most dominant form of fashion today is the all-encompassing neoliberal capitalist fashion industry. One of the reasons the industry is such a strong value-producer is because it selectively denies, cuts through, and veils existing material and cultural relationships, while at the same time fabricating symbolic connections that produce desirable myths, values, and meanings. For example, an inherent part of promoting fashion’s newness is veiling and cutting off the cultural, productional, and material histories of a garment. Similarly, connecting the concept of craftmanship to a garment often happens by disconnecting the object from the factory worker that made it.
This links to the concept of amputations, as proposed by Roland Barthes in The Fashion System (1967). Famously, Barthes emphasized the role and qualities of text in the production of fashion by drawing apart the real garment, the image garment, and the written (described) garment. He pointed out how the “described garment,” in the shape of captions in fashion media, is “a fragmentary garment” because it is the result of a series of choices, of amputations. He gives the example of the caption “the soft Shetland dress with a belt worn high and with a rose stuck in it,” observing how “we are told certain parts (the material, the belt, the detail) and spared others (the sleeves, the collar, the shape, the color), as if the woman wearing this garment went about dressed only in a rose and softness.”
The fashion industry and its media apparatuses work by amputating the production reality of a garment, its cultural history, its relation to a body, its daily use, and the exploitation and waste that came about in its creation. It’s an alienating process of fragmentation and selection in which some relationships and values are valued while others are not.
Founding Editor-in-chief: Jeppe Ugelvig
Creative director: Filip Samuel Berg