Saturday, March 14, 2009

On Fashion's Fetishized Use of All Things "Fierce"

Photo Credit: Jak & Jil

Alexander McQueen Fall 2009

Photo Credit: Jak & Jil Blog

Perhaps it was Christian Siriano's repetitive and catchy use of the word that started it. Or perhaps it was the oft-photographed fashion editors in various daily blogs wearing a copious amount of space-agey, mechanical, and fetishized shoes. Or perhaps it was the resurgence of all things Eighties and Nineties: exaggerated shoulders, DIY projects, shredding, distressing, studding, and bondage. In any case, fashion has a newfound obsession with all things "fierce."
According to the dictionary, the adjective "fierce" is associated with something menacing, savage, violent, and severe. The look certainly conveys all of this, but more: the shiny leather, the ripped clothing, and the multiple straps evoke a highly fetishized version of the female ready to engage in S&M, or, sexuality aside, it is reminiscent of the angry goth/punk ready to battle the establishment. Of course, these two versions are extremes of this emerging trend, and while women may only dabble in these personas, the reasons behind its appeal are more revealing than the sartorial items themselves.
With all of the gloom and doom that has been dominating the airwaves, it is hardly surprising that fashion has reflected this growing anger. We are constantly being told that our "recession" is nearing levels akin to the Great Depression, that jobs are at an all-time low, that shantytowns are starting to spring up in Middle America, that banks are no longer reliable, and that our houses, our livelihoods, and our retirement are being threatened. And apparently, this sentiment is also shared by designers. Sarah Mower eloquently noted that Alexander McQueen's recent collection was a backlash against the staid commercialism that bullies designers: "This is a designer who has drawn so much poetry out of the past, yet this time his backward look appeared to be in something like anger, defiance, or possibly gallows humor." While many designers felt browbeatened into creating conservative collections--after all, they're told that women in a recession want "sensible," "classic," "trend-proof clothes"--, many rebelled and voiced that rebellion with a barrage of fierce clothing fit for the urban warrior. In some paradoxical way, this look simultaneously speaks of weakness and strength, for the costume indicates that a threat exists (otherwise, why would the wearer don it?) and that the wearer is capable of challenging--and perhaps defeating--that threat.
Many of the fall trends that have emerged reflect the wearer's need for protection: thigh-high leather boots, fur, leather leggings, long black capes. One must feel psychologically protected in order to begin to have hope. It reminds me of something Arthur Miller wrote in his brilliant essay "Tragedy and the Common Man": "But tragedy requires a nicer balance between what is possible and what is impossible. And it is curious, although edifying, that the plays we revere, century after century, are the tragedies. In them, and in them alone, lies the belief--optimistic, if you will, in the perfectibility of man. It is time, I think, that we who are without kings, took up this bright thread of our history and followed it to the only place it can possible lead in our time--the heart and spirit of the average man." Miller's message, however ironic, enables us to embrace the fierceness we feel and wear, knowing that it ultimately points to the perseverance and hope that we have deep within.


Mode Junkie said...

i love all things FIERCE. :)

Anonymous said...

Really interesting commentary on all things fashionably fierce. Enjoyed reading this. Made me rethink fashion, the economy, and the spirit of (wo)man.

-h said...

i feel that there are two extremes in fashion. that clothing is very dark, a newer version of what's "tried and true" to make it fresh. and then there's this other side, where things are so extreme and very bold! Like look at the shoes designers have been sending on the runway! Staggering heights all sorts of embellishments... very crazy shoes!

TLT said...

This was a really interesting and insightful post to read! It definitely gave me a fresh perspective about "fierce" fashion :) I look forward to reading more from you!

Anonymous said...

great statement,
which makes me rethink post-modernism/relativism, which is emphasizing individual creativity/freedom with no boundary and is surviving absolutism. Where are words like decent/proper/beautiful? Nowhere is standard/authority. I used to think that beauty cames from balance/harmony. Our eyes is adjusting and updating to shocking trend of art/music/fashion, once we bent the brows. I miss that God saw that it was good.

Anonymous said...

Great commentary! It was great to read, as it was wonderfully well written. Your whole blog is well written. Can't say I'm surprised! ;)