Garment As King

by Penny Martin .

One of the criticisms leveled at contemporary fashion photography from the design industry's perspective is that increasingly, imagery is replacing the role of the garment in the consumption of fashion.

'Just as art works become commodities and are enjoyed as such, the commodity itself in consumer society has become image, representation, spectacle. Use value has been replaced by a packaging and advertising.'

In the land of global fashion, the logo is king. At least, this is how the system underpinning the luxury market has been understood hitherto. Traditionally, the logo has been regarded as the 'point of entry' to a brand, an internationally recognisable gateway into the lifestyle choices, style and assertions of uniqueness and affluence associated with the products marketed. Consumers covet fashionable clothing and particularly the cheaper luxury accessories, ranging from the sublime (baguettes and belts) to the ridiculous (leather writing desks, portable wardrobes and even drinking water), so long as the products in question sport the 'correct' gilt monogram or silken label of the day. Current opposition to global branding from social and ethical perspectives forces one to wonder what would happen if this system was somehow altered and the logo - even the product itself - was removed from the equation? In essence, what would fashion look like without its logo?

It was this question that impelled Web artist Daniel Brown's to focus on contemporary fashion branding in his interactive project for SHOWstudio, Virtual Accessories. 'I find the notion that people are prepared to spend so much more for the emotive qualities and mystique of a brand intriguing' he explains. 'That these are founded on dreams and imagination, properties owned by the consumers in the first place, is highly ironic. In Virtual Accessories, I wanted to create a virtual space for that magical activity to live in'.

To do so, Brown selected the signature garments from the Spring/Summer 2002 collections of Balenciaga, Marc Jacobs, Missoni and Prada, four key labels with a strong brand identity, and proceeded to transform still images of the clothes into beautiful, three dimensional, moving interactives for the computer screen. To these, he added the appearance and atmosphere of each brand's current advertising campaign, and an overlay of interactive, interpretative sound, resulting in four image-led explorations into the brand identity of the companies featured. In each piece, the computer screen is simultaneously accessorised by the viewers' recognition and Brown's interpretation of the brand.

In practice, Virtual Accessories are playful, seductive experiences. As you introduce the cursor into the dark screen that opens interactive one, rays of textured colour fan out into star shapes, revealing wave-like printed patterns that could only belong to Missoni. In two, a snapdragon-like spiral of colour tumbles across the picture plane into a soundtrack of children's voices and birdsong, suggesting the girlish, floral prints and summery textures of Marc Jacobs. The kaleidoscopic majesty and elegant intensity of the third interactive reveals Prada's current brocade splendour, whilst the molten-metal-patchwork cycling the interlinked Mobius band in four recreates the beauty and meticulous construction of Nicholas Ghesquiere's collections for Balenciaga. The effect is intensely personal. In each case, the viewer is asked to draw on their recognition of and familiarity with contemporary fashion to connect with the brand identity portrayed.

One of the criticisms leveled at contemporary fashion photography from the design industry's perspective is that increasingly, imagery is replacing the role of the garment in the consumption of fashion: that the desire for fashion is sated by images of the garments, lessening consumer's need to buy the actual clothes and leaving young designers unsupported. In Virtual Accessories, however, the garment is king. The garment replaces the logo as point of entry to the brand, communicating all its alchemical potential and iconic associations. Crucially, in turning this process into an enjoyable, performative activity, Brown demonstrates how multimedia can be used to stimulate the pleasure associated with fashionable consumption and imbed it into the very brand imagery itself.

1. Huyssen, Andreas 'After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture and Postmodernism', London: Macmillan Press, 1986, p.21
2. Pavitt, Jane 'Image de Marque', La Mode dans le Monde, Special Issue of Beaux Arts Magazine, Paris, 2001, p. 36.
3. McRobbie, Angela 'British Fashion Design: Rag Trade or Image Industry?', London: Routledge, 1998, p.14.