‘The Authentic Surface: Making Garments, Selves, and Others’
At the very core of fashion, as a system based on the dialectic relationship between the high-end consumer and the mass market, is the notion of the ‘authentic’ as the marker of distinction, the desire for which continuously generates change. Authenticity is a notion inseparable from luxury in fashion. But today it is often associated with an abstract commercial value fabricated by designer idolatry and media-driven marketing using the ‘glamour’ of celebrity culture. As contemporary consumers increasingly inquire into the provenance of their luxury purchases, luxury companies place ever greater emphasis on the craftsmanship and heritage, while often sourcing labour in lower income countries. Moreover, the frequent association between ‘hands’ and authenticity is often exploited by both ends of the industry, and therefore the handmade becomes a complex issue in contemporary western fashion. Authenticity and luxury, however, need to be recognized in the mode of production, which subsequently inspires the mode of consumption. The appreciation of the way things are made affects the way things are used, linking the maker and user through the product. This link renders the product an object for keeping, rather than throwing away or replacing, so that the traces of use can be continuously added to the traces of making. Writing in the 1930s, in ‘the age of mechanical reproduction’, Walter Benjamin suggested that the unique value of the ‘authentic’ work of art has its basis in ritual, the location of its original use value. With ever-improving methods and speed of making copies today, the notion of authenticity and ‘original use value’ continue to be compelling issues. Denis Hollier suggests that Benjamin’s use value appertains to that which resists displacement and reproduction, and depends on particular, ‘jealous’, irreplaceable objects. In this paper, I reflect on how a garment maker, by way of putting together garments by hand, might contribute to this peculiar use value. With reference to my own experience of making, I inquire into the ritual aspects of making and using in contemporary fashion. What are the conditions of ‘ritual making’ that generate usefulness beyond utilitarian function? Rather than mythologizing the handmade – as is often the case in luxury marketing campaigns – this paper explores the process of making by hand for the sake of the experience (Erfahrung, Benjamin), against the backdrop of contemporary fashion. The process leads me, in re-thinking the notion of luxury, to focus on the individual mode of perception in making and using, foregoing the preciousness of material, or measurable time or labour invested in the product. Incorporating Benjamin’s notion of aura and mimesis, and Viktor Shklovsky’s notion of estrangement (ostranenie), the handmade is here suggested as a ‘poetic device’ that triggers the ‘overlapping edges’ between maker and user, that is, potential social links generated through the product.
Citation : LEE, Y. (2016) ‘The Authentic Surface: Making Garments, Selves, and Others’, conference paper presented to: In Pursuit of Luxury (University of Hertfordshire, Brooklyn College of the CUNY) at LIM College, New York, 6 May 2016. <http://www.herts.ac.uk/in-pursuit-of-luxury/conferences/ipol-conference-2016/submitted-abstract>.
Research Group : Design and New Product Development
Research Institute : Institute of Art and Design
Peer Reviewed : Yes
- School of Design