At first glance, the worlds of fashion and comics could not seem more incommensurate. The former is an extroverted art that fuels a trend chasing industry obsessed with posing and that panders to a market dominated by female desire; the latter is a highly introverted art that generally shuns the limelight outside of the superhero genre, that nurses odd and nerdy obsessions and in North America, panders to a market dominated by male desire.
But underlying those differences, I find similarities in both art forms: discreditation and disloyalty.
Although fashion is hardly a marginalized industry, it is one that is very much discredited. Like comics, it is not a “serious” art. Fashion is criticized for being trivial and decadant. And like other art forms that serve a practical function or that are commercial in nature, fashion is deemed to have lesser artistic merit by default.
But really, I am more interested in fashion’s disloyalty. Although in many ways, fashion remains very much a patriarchal, colonial and commercialized industry, it is in others ways, a more disloyal and anarchic world than comics. Don’t get me wrong, there is no doubt in my mind that independent comics by far, present greater criticisms of the mainstream. But by its very nature, fashion’s superficiality bestows upon it a restlessness that allows it to evade power relations, at least on the surface, even as it replicates those power relations without a trace of irony or camp. (Of course, underlying that surface is a multi billion dollar business complex that reinforces dominant power structures.)
The ruthless pace of fashion reduces every image, every artifact, every designer into a passing trend; you’re only as good as your last show. Everything becomes divorced from context, everything is evacuated of meaning to the point where fashion operates according to its own hermeneutical logic of fantasy, annoyed whenever reality intrudes with its protests against cultural appropriation, unrealistic representations of the body, the treatment of young models, etc. You’re missing the point, Fashion says. You are – oh would you look at that pretty?! I’m sorry darling, was your mouth opening with sounds coming out of it? Next show in a few! Kiss kiss!
Fashion is an empty mirror that only seeks to reflect beauty. And it’s a fickle, restless, novelty seeking mirror at that. It’s a vacuous pane that could turn in any angle, stopping to rest or to change directions at any fancy or whim. It is true that for the most part, it reflects dominant images because of hegemonic influence and that those with more privilege have more power to influence the roving pane of the mirror. And ultimately, what we see in the mirror influences us, so that the fashion industry has become an echo chamber of slavish replications, its followers an impulsive army of fast fashion shoppers.
But at the end of the day, this too shall pass. Because fashion is always looking for the Next Big Thing, and that never comes out of the mainstream. Fashion always has to have at least a part of its mind in the gutter because it knows that that is where its power lies, and not in endlessly clicking refresh on trends from decades past. Every art industry knows it needs fresh blood to survive, but with its breakneck pace, fashion is, above other art forms, dependent on its anarchists and saboteurs. This is why the hiring of Anglo bad boys like Galliano and McQueen by prominent French houses comes as no surprize to me.
There will always be those who would stake fashion in its fat and fickle heart and who have the skill to give it the send up it deserves. And as long as fashion always has one foot in the grave, I’ll be keeping my eye on it.