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Mon, Sep. 1st, 2008 12:12 pm
Fake de rue

What a co-incidence! I had a vague yen this morning to write something about street fashion (I'd call this recurrent urge "floral"; it's based on the desire to put up some pretty pictures and see people as, essentially, flowers), fired up Neojaponisme, and found a Marxy post entitled Street Professionals.



Surprisingly, Marxy begins by commending a diss I made of The Sartorialist a while back. I'd described the New York fashion blog as a "bully butler", but Marxy says a more common complaint is that, while it poses as a street fashion blog, The Sartorialist is actually showing, a lot of the time, fashion professionals. (I've made this criticism myself.) The idea is that the top-down, elitist Western fashion system is simply giving itself spurious grassroots legitimacy by showing us snaps of its elite on the street, rather than at the catwalk marquee they're heading to or photographer's studio they were at ten minutes before.



I've often contrasted this Western elitist fashionista decadence with Japanese magazines' much greater emphasis on street photography, with particular reference to Shoichi Aoki's stable of street fashion mags (FRUiTS, Street, Tune). When -- quite by chance -- I was photographed for Street magazine myself, I commented: "That's the thing about Street; you don't wake up and remember you're going to be photographed for it that day. It just happens by chance, unexpectedly. Your path crosses the Street photographer (in this case New Yorker Fumi Nagasaka), she thinks you're interesting, the editor likes the shot, you're in. No advertising, no product placement, no stylist."



"The beautiful fantasy of street photography is that there is no fantasy", says Marxy, and goes on to debunk the illusion by saying that this notional "site of amateurs" actually often features fashion college students, stylists and product placement. He welcomes a new Japanese street fashion blog called Style from Tokyo because it lists the occupations of the people it shows, revealing many if not most of them to be fashion industry insiders -- shop staff, hair dressers, stylists and the like: "junior officers of the fashion army".

"The narrative framing of Japanese street photography leads us to believe they are 'everyday kids'," says Mr Marx. "This adds to the power of their fashion as true grassroots style and democratic creativity." But -- thanks to Rei Shito's revealing captions at Style from Tokyo -- we can now see that "amateurs are window-dressing for what is very much a professional game".

This charge repeats several points Marxy has been making over the years in his various blogs: that Japanese culture is top-down and conformist ("orthopraxic" rather than "orthodoxic"), that things marketed "based on a true story" usually aren't, that professionals determine amateur culture, and that Japanese creativity is, if not vastly overrated, at least widely misunderstood by the admiring, exoticizing, projecting West.

Now, how relevant this message is depends on how much correction your starry-eyed vision of Japan requires; it's a glass-half-empty, glass-half-full kind of thing. Yes, there's styling, sifting and product placement in some street fashion shoots. You only have to look at the frequency with which Osyama and Yama from Tokyo Bopper turn up in street fashion shoots to see that

a) most street fashion from Tokyo is shot within cat-swinging radius of Cat Street, and

b) clever retailers dress their staff up and send them out to get photographed as a kind of free advertising, and

c) all you need to do to find a street fashion photographer is go to the corner of Meiji Dori and Omote Sando.

So, sure, to some extent the "grassroots, democratic" element to street photography is an illusion. The question is, is it a beautiful or useful illusion? Should we use the partly-illusory nature of street fashion photography as a pretext to rush headlong back to the catwalk shows, the paid celebrity endorsements, the Vanity Fair society pages featuring unbearably arrogant designer X hobnobbing with worthless aristocrat Y, or discussing with fabric manufacturer Z what exact patterns will sell in what exact quantities in the autumn of 2010? I think the answer is that the grassroots metaphor is a beautiful and a useful illusion, and that we can love street fashion even when we know that it's not as amateur as it may at first appear.



My current favourite street fashion blog is a completely fabricated and illusory one: MiLK magazine's Look de Rue. When it comes to expressing their individuality through clothes, children are quite possibly the least creative, least empowered consumer group known to man. How the hell can you use clothes to "say who you are" when you've just been born, have a different shape of body from month to month, don't make your own purchasing decisions, aren't considered legally or financially responsible in any way, and basically trail alongside your parents wearing whatever they pull over your head? Childhood is certainly a problematical area for cherished Western notions of individuality.



Yet the adorable thing about Look de Rue is that the captions present the kids as tiny, fully-formed individuals, masters of their own destiny. "We hadn't thought about suggesting tying your summer scarf this way," raves the magazine a propos the little girl above, and goes on to compliment her for "the audacious mixture of rabbit motifs, dots and bows, wisely united by dominant violet shades. Summer hasn't been a time for her to set aside her fashion attitude, quite the contrary!"

Now, you could say that this patronising tone -- the tone the fashion industry takes towards us all, complimenting us on the good sense we show in following its dictates, telling us we act the way they suggest "because we know we're worth it" -- actually implies the little girl's complete non-agency. Not only do we know that the outfit was bought and put together by the child's parents, the audacity being lauded is the courage to fail to put aside a fashion attitude: this little girl is being praised, in other words, for staying tuned for the latest updates from the chief monkey in Paris. What is "fashion attitude" (as distinct from "style"), after all, but this constant, semi-passive receptivity, this flexibility, this pliability, this limited competence to chose from a limited, legitimised range of colours, shapes and forms?



But what's so adorable about seeing an unfree agent praised, precisely, for this unfreeness -- and, by the same token, what's so unpleasant about pure expressions of individuality -- is that the clothing of a child represents something successfully communal: the relationship between a group of people who love each other. What you see in the clothing of a child is not the little tyke's will and sense of self, but an adult's love for the half-formed little creature.

What do we know about love? That it's blind, that it projects like crazy, that it's easily deceived. It may be that the cult of Japanese street fashion is based on the same charm we see in Look de Rue: that palpable sense of love, projection and deception. There are three love relationships keeping Japanese street fashion vibrant and relevant: the indulgent love of aging Japan for its shrinking, fleeting, narcissistic youth, the love of the fashion industry for the street, and the orientalist love of the West for Japan. Clothing as an expression of close communal relationships of love and protection -- rather than, say, authenticity, freedom and individuality -- is something Marxy is no doubt keenly aware of: he recently became a parent himself.

38CommentReply


(Anonymous)
Mon, Sep. 1st, 2008 10:55 am (UTC)

Glad to see the old Marxy-bashing tradition at Click Opera is alive and well, if somewhat attenuated...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 1st, 2008 02:08 pm (UTC)

You've got a key on your computer marked "Marxy-bashing", haven't you? But did you read this? No, because it was "attenuated" and nuanced. So you just reached for that dusty key.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Sep. 1st, 2008 11:11 am (UTC)

Momus, you lazy thing, you've been using that Click Opera automatic post generator again, haven't you?

West bad, Japan good = check
Individualism bad, collectivism good = check
Goofy "street" fashion shots = check
Pic of Momus trying to look all "street" fashion = check
Marxy is wrong = check


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 1st, 2008 02:10 pm (UTC)

Click Opera automatic anon comment generator = check.


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rwillmsen
rwillmsen
rwillmsen
Mon, Sep. 1st, 2008 11:20 am (UTC)

Hi this is off topic but I am trying to find a click opera post from a few months ago on ugly or wrong design, could you possibly point me in its direction? taa


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brokenjunior
brokenjunior
Mon, Sep. 1st, 2008 10:56 pm (UTC)

http://imomus.livejournal.com/318968.html ?


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robinsonner
robinsonner
the maven
Mon, Sep. 1st, 2008 11:41 am (UTC)

Fashion is still too close to fascism for me.

There's a documentary about the Berkeley Free Speech Movement In it one of the Anti-War leaders starts recommending everyone get an orange hard hat for the next rally. Asked where people could find these accoutrements, he smiles and mumbles, "The Army Surplus Store"


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 1st, 2008 03:11 pm (UTC)

That's the perfect image for my point about cynicism becoming quickly counterproductive. When you disdain the counterculture because they can be marketed to by the corporations, you're generally just a heartbeat away from the cynicism required to work at the corporations. You start wearing a suit "to fight the suits".


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Sep. 1st, 2008 12:41 pm (UTC)

You accept Marxy's point that street fashion shots are at least partly illusory. But then you jump to say that the alternative is to go back to catwalks, society photography etc. You miss another possibility: to actually photograph street fashion, rather than just the people who congegrate on the corner of Meiji Dori and Omote Sando in order to be photographed.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 1st, 2008 02:20 pm (UTC)

I don't "jump to say that the alternative is to go back to catwalks". I put that, with a question mark, as an alternative for disillusioned street fashion consumers. Of course, for street fashion producers, as you say, there are many other possibilities, like being less lazy and less sly. But how many of us are street fashion producers? I'm not, are you?

My piece isn't about how producers can make things better -- they generally can -- but about how consumers should react on hearing that everything in the garden is not 100% rosy. And a wider theme behind it might be "the uses of cynicism". I take Adam Curtis' line (spelled out in Century of the Self, for instance, and the idea that R.D. Laing's cynicism about the family played into the Game Theory paranoia being propagated by Cold Warriors at the Rand Institute) that cynicism doesn't necessarily help. It isn't really the way to escape whatever web of deceit it points at. Cynicism's medium tends to become its message: whatever you're cynical about, it's the cynicism that tends to win out in the end -- and that endless corrosion of trust and respect becomes a malign circle quite quickly.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Sep. 1st, 2008 02:39 pm (UTC)

There is some black fellow that he photographs from time to time named Maury or something like that. Just because this fellow works in a high end male fashion store doesn't mean that I wouldn't find his outfits worthy of looking at.

There are so few people wearing suits and ties these days that I never get the feeling that I'm having some package of style imposed upon me from some massive corporation above. This is kind of a niche appeal.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Sep. 1st, 2008 03:10 pm (UTC)

I'd like to see people hack traffic and other surveillance cameras to secretly create portraits of the homeless, and then display them for free via DIY media, and then, people should dress each other the opposite of this with stolen and self-made clothes, but in a loving way.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 1st, 2008 03:13 pm (UTC)

You magnificent madman!

Oh, wait, you're a cynic, aren't you?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 1st, 2008 03:28 pm (UTC)

By the way, Rei Shito says about her street fashion blog:

"Sometimes,i'm asked 'what is your criterion when you choose people you shoot?'
I can't explain about it,
cause i only choose them by just my own feeling.
i hope each of them will find what is good or be valuable for themselves."

In the end, I think that says it all. She goes on her hunches, rather than caring whether the people she photographs are inside or outside the fashion industry, or whether street snaps are in conflict with the fashion industry or complicit with it, or whether it's being "hypocritical" by legitimising its elitism against the backdrop of the street. Such critical-slash-cynical thinking ("cynical thinking posing against the backdrop of critical thinking", we could call it) is far from her mind. But she's kind enough to allow us to go there if we really want to.

I think her "heart-not-head", "hunch-not-logic", "eye-not-brain" thing is ultimately very... well, very Japanese.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Sep. 1st, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)

You're a sucker for the faux-naive pose, aren't you?


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crowjake
crowjake
crowjake
Tue, Sep. 2nd, 2008 01:52 am (UTC)

People photographed for dressing well turn out to be involved in . . . Fashion!

GOOOD! I'm sure many people prefer to believe that street fashion photography only shows images of completely oblivious civilians because that makes it easier for them to imagine that the actual fashion-folk, such as those photographed, are incompetent elitists and that the roots do it better... which is a real illusion ...Many of these clothes show some ingenuity, something which isn't actually secluded to completely external mavericks, and in addition those wearing them are STILL a part of this streetscape, whether also part of a perceived elite or not.

Aesthetically I don't think most street stuff is "wrong" enough for me to really be inspired by it, but that's what real streets are for. This, however, is always just one photographer or one magazine-editor and there's no reason why their edited street can't be liked/disliked in the same way as it would no matter who they were snapping.


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pay_option07
pay_option07
Tue, Sep. 2nd, 2008 03:05 am (UTC)
at that point I'm a bit torn./ about cynicism

I'm really enjoying this blog and its critical points which at every word narrows the exploration of 3D-imagery into a graviton field of illusion. Your magazine image is pretty impressive. How many copies do you own?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Sep. 2nd, 2008 07:41 am (UTC)
Re: at that point I'm a bit torn./ about cynicism

Just one!


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theopsys
theopsys
Tue, Sep. 2nd, 2008 03:30 am (UTC)

All flashy-magazine-illusions aside, my general impression of Japanese youth is that, on the whole, they are impeccably stylish. The best way to judge a culture's true fashion sense, though, is to look at how straight males dress themselves. It's not enough to have stylish women and gay men: that's just status quo. It's when the general population of straight guys begins to value style that evaluations can start to be made. Once the uniforms have come off, I think Japan's young male demographic is hard to beat in terms of everyday dress. In fact, until recently, it was quite easy to distinguish Japanese folk from other Asians on the street simply by observing the dress code. When I think of Japanese youth fashion, particularly among males, the word that comes to mind most often is "effortless." Contrast this to street fashion in, say, NYC where street style is inseparable from the hipster aesthetic, which comes across as rather contrived and scripted. So much for Western individuality. But if we just accept that street fashion everywhere is some hybrid of the top-down/bottom-up dichotomy, the real question becomes, who is making better use of the tools at their disposal? Fashion is art, and like any other form of art, it doesn't matter who the patron/gallery owner/critic is; what matters is that it's being made at all.


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pulled-up.blogspot.com
pulled-up.blogspot.com
Tue, Sep. 2nd, 2008 09:57 pm (UTC)

http://www.kidswear-magazine.com/ - They sold this magazine at American Apparel when I was working there.

Kids do have a certain amount of input into their outfits. I know that Joe used to like to wear a bow tie and braces when he was wee. I liked short hair, big hats, big earrings and big patterns... pretty sure my dad thought I was a lesbian at 9.

I put together an outfit the other day that was a rip-off of an something Alice (Joe's younger sister) was wearing in a photo I saw of her aged about 4. Red plaid scarf, black jumper, denim shorts and black plimsolls.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Sep. 2nd, 2008 10:11 pm (UTC)

How's Torry?

Kidswear: I used to write for it! Well, they published one short story, anyway. Here are some pictures from their Indian issue last year.


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