With the concentration on our carbon footprint, we forget that an essential part of our human DNA is the cultural footprint we construct throughout our lives, which plays a key role in our economic, social and cultural interactions. Whether it is the books we read, the music we listen to, the films we watch, or the clothes we wear; we are constantly developing our social, cultural and political ideas and ideals and this cultural footprint expresses who we are in very real and physical terms.
International travel, mass media, branded products that transcend the world, books translated into numerous languages, you tube, tweets and podcasts all reveal the voracious appetite we all have for new knowledge, new experiences as well as our capacity to assimilate knowledge, ideas and influences. Our cultural footprint is easy to visualise in the context of the internet. This makes our physical geography and very presence seem irrelevant while placing our social and cultural interactions central to our daily interactions with the world around us.
This is clearly apparent in the fashion industry which is now fast moving, international and inclusive of many cultures and nations: a factor largely brought about by the huge changes to global communications and obviously demonstrated in the success of e-tail companies such as net-a-porter or As Seen On Screen (asos.com) which began by specialising in selling original replica versions of celebrity clothes.
At this point a dichotomy becomes apparent. On the one hand we are increasingly concerned about the effects of our cultural footprint: the inexorable spread of western influence and fashion with its symbiotic relationship to media and the web. From Ulan Bator to Bond Street we can buy Louis Vuitton, from Paris to Beijing we can buy a Chanel lipstick, fashion retail aspires to have a global presence, whether you are Topshop in New York, Jaeger in Dubai or Burberry in China – the ubiquity of fashion designer brands and fashion media seems to have no bounds. Every major fashionable city aspires to have a fashion week and magazines like Vogue have their own focused national publications supported by websites. Yet if we have so much choice, why do we all look the same? Wherever we are, the influence of casual sportswear or celebrity endorsed clothes, purchased from one of the many fast fashion outlets is present. We all seem to have lost our national, cultural identity, our sense of style, individuality and pride in our personal creative involvement with our clothes. Have we forgotten that our cultural engagement with clothes is a part of who we are?
My nightmare is that we will end up with a homogenous world where every High Street has the same shops, where every nation shows the same TV shows, where global mass media affects and limits our individuality and restricts a nation’s cultural diversity. Yet I am also hopeful that the fashion industry can show us a way forward. Although fashion constantly incorporates cultural references seeming to demand a homogenous output and people dressed the same, it also constantly celebrates and encourages distinctiveness.
Anna Catherina Dietz. BA (Hons) Fashion Photography
Fashion uses and references a range of cultures and histories, constantly referring to them, consistently manipulating them, celebrating diversity, enabling us to buy clothes that include a range of cultural references, which we can then play with. Interpretations of Chinese and Japanese traditions influenced for example many fashion designers during the 1990s, seen in the cut and decoration of designs by Valentino, McQueen and Galliano. The Iranian designer Shirin Guild reworked the traditional cut of Iranian menswear combining this influence with British fabrics to create a womenswear collection in 1996, which was culturally distinctive and wearable. Historical events have influenced designers, for example McQueen’s collection Highland Rape of 1995-96 was inspired by the Highland clearances of the eighteenth century. Political references have been exploited by designers such as Katherine Hamnett in her 1984-85 “Worldwide Nuclear Ban Now” T-shirts, whilst film references will always feed many designers as with Christopher Kane’s recent 2009 Planet of the Apes collection. There are in effect a whole plethora of designers working across a range of price brackets, creating dynamic, design-led, culturally referenced, exciting clothes. We have the chance to exploit this, to be well-dressed individuals who are committed to wearing clothes that look beyond the matter that they are made from, recognising clothes are a means to express our thoughts about who we are, where we come from and how we wish to be seen.
For Sublime Magazine. Issue 23 Beyond Matter