Recent book reviews — February 2015


Title: When Clothes Become Fashion — Design and Innovation Systems
Author: Ingrid Loschek
Source: LAPL
Interest: 4 stars

This is the best book I didn’t understand. Though the language is a bit opaque at times, with academic jargon and deep art-theory, almost every page was thought provoking and led to a better understanding of my thoughts on fashion. This is the best thing I’ve read on the subject!

The absolutist political system influenced a hierarchic fashion structure, the democratic systema heterogeneous structure.

… fashion is not necessarily concerned with the beautiful or the trueor — in any way or form — with authenticity.

The common view that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ should be contradicted, for it applies only to the means to escape the situation of direct necessity. Beyond this, necessity has a paralysing effect, like all pressure and threats: it narrows the imaginable horizon.

Metaphorical thinking and creative associations — McQueen
Deviation, subversion and play — Victor & Rolf
Lateral thinking in alalogies and images — Chalayan
Discovery of cognitive order in chaos — Demeulemeester
Autonomous cognitive decisions — Margiela
Competence in the strategy of realisation — Beirendonck

In Body Meets Dress Kawakubo called for a new perception of the human body. Her intention was to obscure the ‘contact zone between the body form and clothing’. Using fictive body forms, she responded to an equally unrealistic ideal figure.

The name Moschino stands for the perversion of fashion and the whole fashion system, including fashion shows and particularly the cult of brands, in which he ingeniously plays his part.

Chalayan’s aesthetic vision was to completely integrate clothing into space. … Step by step, a living room with four upholstered chairs and a low, round table constructed from a series of wooden hoops inserted into each other was transformed into clothing by five models.

Ultimately, clothing itself consists of a transformation, from a one-dimensional thread via a two-dimensional piece of cloth to a three-dimensional covering…

Wrapped in thick fog, the creations for Viktor & ROlf’s haute couture collection Bells in 2000/2001 could be only heard and not seen as they glided over the catwalk: a collection for the ear.

In order to turn the new into reality, there is a need for social enthusiasm. This applies to certain examples like the ‘invention’ of the miniskirt by Mary Quant. As early as 1958/1959, Quant created the first thigh-length short sack dress, which was only a limited success in sales terms. The social and cultural circumstances alone — youth revolts, the Beatles, the contraceptive pill, and so on — made the mini into a fashion from 1964.

The purchase of the new (seldom the innovative in the sense of different) is not dependent — in the industrial countries — on the existential need of ‘having nothing to wear’, but rather on superfluity as a resource of attention, in order to continue being talked about as an addressor (competitor or co-applicant).

…innovations like frayed seams and open edges were first seen on creations by Japanese designers like Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto in Paris in 1981/1982, but they made it into universal fasion only around 2002, where they were still a top fashion in 2006.

… Brian Eno said in 1992, ‘[I]f there is any unit of cultural intelligence, it’s empathy.’

In 1978, Miuccia Prada took over the family business, founded in 1913, which produced select handcrafted leather goods. Having studied politics, she had no relation — not even a negative one — to fashion. At the beginning of the 1980s, the one thing that she invented was a mid-sized glack rucksack with outside pockets made of light, weather-resistant nylon; it was unlined, light and practical. Without any logo or monogram initially, it was produced industrially in a parachute factory. Her cit rucksack was the absolute antithesis of the company’s former craftsmanship, and philosophy become product. Only after the impossible idea had begun to assert itself did she add the original metal triangular label of the early Prada suitcases and use the high-tech material Pocone. The one-time hiking rucksack and backpack became a symbol of urban mobility and — as a result of the logo — a gender-free prestige object. After this, Miuccia Prada developed the company into a luxery fashion concern.

In fashion, the classical is the symmetrical form that encases the body without exaggerations, for it aims to be as simple, stable and consistent — in other words, as harmonious — as possible. A quintessential example is the classic suit, which developed from the English costume or tailleur in the late nineteenth century. The functional demand of Modernism led the ladies’ tailored suit to develop from the ladies’ riding costume, which had always been made by a men’s tailor. It is the tailored costume for which, applying the classical postulate of symmetry and balance, tailoring technique is employed to counteract the nature of the body, that is its irregularities and asymmetry.

(Peter Baldle) ‘Japan’s avant-garde astonished the international audience with a completely new understanding of fashion, a kind of intellectual rejection of fashion, which echoed neither past decades nor kimono-bliss nor samurai glory. What some have met blunderingly as ‘apocalyptic end-time fashion’ emerged as modification rich in ideas… produced in apparently poor materials like creased linen or crinkle-cotton… Rei Kawakubo… became known for holes (in knitting), her cave-look presented on wildly dishevelled girls, their faces entirely without make-up. She ripped skirts into flapping strips, tore things and knotted them together, and removed the back from jackets below the yoke seam. And in all this, she surprised us with a great number of new ideas for cross-wrapped dresses.’ The reputation of the Japanese increased, although they were not yet understood in Europe and the USA. In November 1982, the Yamamoto show in Tokyo filled a huge stadium…

Coco Chanel transferred the regional identity of an alpine ‘farmer’s jacket’ to the international haute couture of a Chanel jacket. The anorak developed from the clothing of the Inuit into a global functional garment and sportswear, and finally universal street wear. By devaluating the clothing’s original function — that is its origins, tradition, environment, functional task, material and so forth — the original reference is questioned and the garment is made ‘free’, or in other words, globally available.

The sportswear manufacturer Nike admits that 80 per cent of products are not used according to their actual purpose.

Workwear should be understood as working clothes like an overall, but also as a specific labourer’s clothes such as those of a lumberjack. Often their transformation into street wear is connected to marketing as a youth fashion brand or designer fashion. However, the transformation does not necessarily lead to the improved social standing of the wearer group.

Famous examples are gold-digger jeans and their adoption as leisure or everyday pants ranging from mass goods to luxury brands; the Canadian lumberjack’s jacket which became the thick, checked jacket of everyday wear or cord trousers that were worn by labourers in the nineteenth century. The process of workwear to street style was first noticeable in the USA (among other things, because of the lower urban concentration) at the beginning of the twentieth century and followed in Europe only fron the 1950’s onwards.

Fashion extends far beyond the objective aspect of the product, clothing. It gives this clothing a social purpose, above and beoyond those of function and aesthetics. Clothing is supplemented by semblance and illusion, which are defined as increased value or additional usefulness; in short, as fashion.

In the historical context, the social construction of fashion also explains the change from the fashions of status that existed until the end of the eighteenth century to fashions of attitude during the nineteenth century and the fashion pluralism of post-modernism after the 1960’s.

This … is signficant because sport spans national and international levels, and social and age groups, as well as the sexes… Beyond all pretension to fitness, this is connected … to the fact that today’s way of life in Western-influenced society is defined less by traditions and more by the demand or wish for each person to constantly define him- or herself on the basis of mobile, multiple, self-reflective, alterable and innovative lifestyle requirements.

In the functionally differentiated world society, managers, politicians and the like dress in a similar way. This is equally true of the adherents of subcultures and pop cultures — of hip hoppers, for example. Their appearance is more or less global, because they have created values of their own that are not characterised by traditions and conventions.

We are cultural hybrids… However, this does not lead … to a truly individual diversity in fashion. On the contrary, it leads to polarisation, that is to international luxury-brand fashion at the high end and international mass fashion at the low end.

Each person communicates a self by means of clothes, and others perceive him as an entity together with his clothing. Difference (the individual) is also established comparitavely by means of observation or communication. This means that individuality must develop qua the inclusion and not qua the exclusion of clothing.

… Jurgen Habermas (born 1929) differentiates between personal identity as the unit of an unmistakable life story and social identity as an individual’s belonging to various reference groups. Fashion gives to the persona the capacity to express precisely this ambivalence.

‘Beuys is not Beuys without his hat.’

The unfinished seams turned to the outside, the crumpled material, and the crooked hemlines result in an aesthetic casualness — which does not meet with overall acceptance in society, however. (It is a different matter when an increase in the casual responds to a demand for comfort, both in wearing and also as ease of social competition in the sense of jeans and T-shirt as ‘ugly standard culture of the bourgeois middle class,’ as Vivienne Westwood puts it.)

Rei Kawakubo’s prime intention is to create forms that no one has seen before and optical stimuli in complete opposition to our customary manner of perception.

Perhaps second modernism would never have been so successful had it not found expression in Yohji Yamamoto’s collections for Adidas. Yamamoto made sportswear fit for design and — as a Japanese designer — was thus the first on the European continent to directly adopt the philosophy of American designer Claire McCardell.


Title: Art Power
Author: Boris Groys
Source: LAPL
Interest: 2 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed the introduction and first few chapters, but grew weary about halfway into the book. The essays seemed to grow more specific in scope, to the point they no longer felt relevant to my questions of music and fashion. I like Groys’ writing, however, and will try other books.

Modern art operated not only as a machine of inclusion of everything that was not regarded as art before its emergence but also as a machine of exclusion of everything that imitated already existing art patterns in a naive, unreflective, unsophisticated — nonpolemical — manner… The field of modern art is not a pluralistic field but a field strictly structured according to the logic of contradiction.

But the equality of all visual forms and media in terms of their aesthetic value does not mean an erasure of all differences between good art and bad art. Quite the opposite is the case. Good art is precisely that practice which aims at confirmation of this equality. And such a confirmation is necessary because formal aesthetic equality does not secure the factual equality of forms and media in terms of their production and distribution. One might say that today’s art operates in the gap between the formal equality of all art forms and their factual inequality.

… Fischli and Weiss exhibit objects that look very much like readymades… In fact, these objects are not “real” readymades, but simulations: they are carved from polyurethane — a lightweight plastic material — but they are carved with such precision (a fine Swiss precision) that if you see them in a museum, in the context of an exhibition, you would have great difficulty distinguishing between the objects made by Fischli and Weiss and real readymades. … you could take them in your hand and weigh them… [but this] experience would be impossible in a museum since it is forbidden to touch exhibited objects. … In this sense we can say that it is the police that … guarantee the opposition between art and non-art — the police who are not yet aware of the end of art history.

One could say that today’s art audience increasingly encounters art documentation, which provides information about the artwork itself, be it art project or art action, but which in doing so only confirms the absence of the artwork.


Title: Brioni
Author: Farid Chenoune
Source: LAPL
Interest: 2.5 stars

This is a short and enjoyable, 15-page essay on the history of Brioni, followed by photographs of Brioni designs. I like Chenoune’s writing, and appreciate his focus on male fashion. It was interesting to me to read the text imagining Brioni’s “extravagances” and vivid colors (and assume that I wouldn’t like them), only to be impressed by the clothing in many of the photographs. My ear’s taste doesn’t quite match my eye’s.


Title: This Changes Everything — Capitalism vs the Climate
Author: Naomi Klein
Source: LAPL
Interest: 3 stars

Although it’s preaching to the choir, This Changes Everything is full of facts and figures to buttress the case against deregulation and unfettered capitalism. I liked the first two-thirds of the book more than the last third, but liked it enough to check it out twice in order to read the full 450 pages. Recommended for the climate-conscious to strengthen resolve.

… if the governments of developed countries want a fifty-fifty chance of hitting the agreed-upon international target of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celcius, and if reductions are to respect any kind of equity principle between rich and poor nations, then wealthy countries need to start cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by something like 8 to 10 percent per year — and they need to start right now.

… oil and gas companies remain some of the most profitable corporations in history, with the top five oil companies pulling in $900 billion in profits from 2001 to 2010. ExxonMobil still holds the record for the highest corporate profits ever reported in the United States, earning $41 billion in 2011 and $45 billion in 2012.

The U.S. military is by some accounts the largest single consumer of petroleum in the world. In 2011, the Department of Defense released, at minimum, 56.6 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent into the atmosphere, more than the U.S.-based operations of ExxonMobil and Shell combined.

The study found that methane emissions linked to fracked natural gas are at least 30 percent higher than the emissions linked to conventional gas. … methane leaks at every stage of production … and methane is an extraordinarily dangerous greenhouse gas…

In order for the value of these companies to remain stable or grow, oil and gas companies must always be able to prove to their shareholders that they have fresh carbon reserves to exploit after they exhaust those currently in production. … At minimum, an energy company is expected to have as much oil and gas in its proven reserves as it does in current production, which would give it a “reserve-replacement ratio” of 100 percent. … in 2009, on the same day that Shell announced that its reserve-replacement ratio for the previous year had ominously dipped to 95 percent, the company scrambled to reassure the market that it was not in trouble. It did this, tellingly, by declaring that it would cease new investments in wind and solar energy. At the same time, it doubled down on a strategy of adding new reserves from shale gas…, deepwater oil, and tar sands. All in all, Shell managed that year to add a record 3.4 billion barrels of oil equivalent in new proven reserves — nearly three times its production in 2009, or a reserve-replacement ratio of 288 percent.

In 2013 in the United States alone, the oil and gas industry spent just under $400,000 a day lobbying Congress and government officials, and the industry doled out a record $73 million in federal campaign and political donations during the 2012 election cycle, an 87 percent jump from the 2008 elections.

The Nature Conservancy began to do the very thing that its supporters thought it was there to prevent: it began extracting fossil fuels on the preserve. … That this could happen in the age of climate change points to a painful reality behind the environmental movement’s catastrophic failure to effectively battle the economic interests behind our soaring emissions: large parts of the movement aren’t actually fighting those interests — they have merged with them.

There are… large parts of the green movement that have never engaged in these types of arrangements [with polluters] — they don’t have endowments to invest or they have clear policies prohibiting fossil fuel holdings, and some have equally clear policies against taking donations from polluters. These groups, not coincidentally, tend also to be the ones with track records of going head-to-head with big oil and coal: Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have been battling Shell’s and Chevron’s alleged complicity with horrific human rights abuses in the Niger Delta since the early 1990s…; Rainforest Action Network has been at the forefront of the international campaign against Chevron for the disaster left behind in the Ecuadorian Amazon; Food & Water Watch has helped secure big victories against fracking; helped launch the fossil fuel divestment movement and has been at the forefront of the national mobilization against the Keystone XL pipeline.

In the context of the European debacle, the fact that the U.S. Senate failed to pass climate legislation in 2009 should not be seen, as it often is, as the climate movement’s greatest defeat, but rather as a narrowly dodged bullet. The cap-and-trade bills under consideration in the U.S. House and Senate in Obama’s first term would have repeated all the errors of the European and U.N. emission trading systems, and then added some new ones of their own.

… while these movements won huge battles against institutional discrimination, the victories that remained elusive were those that, in King’s words, could not be purchased “at bargain rates.” … If there is an exception to this rule it is the huge gains won by the labor movement in the aftermath of the Great Depression…

… these economic demands — for basic public services that work, for decent housing, for land redistribution — represent nothing less than the unfinished business of the most powerful liberation movements of the past two centuries, from civil rights to feminism to Indigenous sovereignty.


Title: Designing, Building, and Testing Your Own Speaker System
Author: David B Weems
Source: LAPL
Interest: 3 stars

This is a well-written overview of the topic that does much to dispel the myth and mystery of speaker design. I appreciated how Weems assumes a decent scientific understanding in the reader and jumps right into the details. I’m eventually hoping to build a subwoofer and loudspeaker system and although I’ll probably use a kit or plans, I feel much better prepared thanks to this book.

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