The Fashion Professorship aims to rethink the cracks in the fashion system and the role that fashion plays – and could potentially play – in relation to urgent social, cultural, environmental and political developments in contemporary society. We envision an alternative and more engaged future of fashion in which we do more justice to fashion’s human dimension. Through research, design and critical thinking, we analyse and develop alternative approaches, systems, vocabularies and strategies. In doing so, we aim to activate the power of fashion to reimagine future bodies, future materials and future makers to contribute to resilient futures and inclusive societies.
Fashion in times of the coronacrisis, and post-crisis
by Charlotte Verdegaal
Daniëlle Bruggeman and Hanka van der Voet started an ongoing conversation about fashion in times of the coronacrisis (and post-crisis). What is the impact of the coronacrisis on the fashion system? What is the relevance of fashion today? What is at stake? How could - or should - fashion play a role in re-imagining our post-crisis society? And how does this all relate to Dissolving the Ego of Fashion?
Thank you for your letter and the invitation to join this on-going conversation. Your letter encouraged me to look beyond today’s fashion system while it also brought me an unexpected comfort; re-calling the doubt and vulnerability of the previous letters made me feel I am not alone struggling and that this is OK. It was captivating reading that even you practiced Martha Balthazar’s ‘meaningful confusion’, as you allowed doubt when you openly rethought your previous arguments and eventually adjusted them, saying we “need to disrupt altogether the logic of advancedness and backwardness that forms the commercial motor of fashion”. Also the concept of ‘killjoying’ felt familiar. It exactly describes how I am too, willingly or unwillingly, challenging the joy I once so unconditionally experienced with fashion. I find myself questioning fashion as an exploitative system and my role within it – if I want to be part of it even.
One of my personal conclusions on fashion and how I relate to it is that I express myself through fashion and I also communicate my professional work through fashion. I feel that not using the word ‘fashion’ here would be – to answer your question immediately - pointless. I could use other words to describe my work (and even fashion) such as ‘connection’, ‘identification’ or ‘experience’ and perhaps keep a sane distance from what other people associate with fashion in the first place. But this would feel ignorant; I prefer to not be blind to my role in the fashion system - as a professional and consumer. Instead I’d like to deliberately position myself within the fashion context and be open for dialogue, seek solutions. More than doubt, I am looking for action and I hope this is something the letters will steer to as well.
In fact, your thoughts on paradigmatic change triggered me to think of relevant examples, attempts or flirtations of ‘game-changing alternatives’. When thinking of disruptions of the fashion system, I had to think of digital fashion house The Fabricant whom I interviewed earlier this year. Radically different from how we have experienced fashion, the company is operating outside the material world. Due the absence of traditional production, ethical and sustainable issues are irrelevant and other constructive values come to the fore. It is about freedom of expression and individuality as The Fabricant enables the consumer to endlessly create their own unique identity – and isn’t this what fashion is about? Whenever we will be wearing digital fashion or not in the near future, The Fabricant demonstrates how fashion can be approached differently.
Another example of a practice challenging “the temporal dismissive and excluding logic of fashion” is JOIN Collective Clothes. The modular clothing system created by Anouk Beckers invites people to create clothes together. Four different patterns create a complete outfit together, eventually resulting in a collection of unique pieces that can be recreated infinitely. It is a project about the making process and of collaboration, rather than turnover and profit, about individuality and creative freedom instead of fastness and shallow meaning.
Like the digital fashion house, it seems that there is room for meaningful and inclusive values once a practice is placed outside the existing fashion discourse.
Whatever will be the eventual effect of Covid-19 on the fashion industry, our values in society have been shifting and have shown us – at least temporarily - another perspective. And this is what brings me hope as well. Take essentiality, as Emma Disbergen mentioned already, that we started to re-evaluate once Corona changed our daily life. Not just applicable to commodities, but also to society at large, we started wondering what it actually means. Or how ‘support your local’ made us realize and cherish what we have, what resources are at hand. But also transparency or authenticity: unfiltered versions of our private surroundings and ourselves became visible through the Zoom meetings and Skype sessions. Togetherness became a luxury. Creativity, humanity… All values close to our heart redefined or rediscovered by the changing situation. I wonder if we can also reinvent our values in the fashion industry.
To me, one of the most interesting manifestations during the pandemic is ‘huidhonger’: the intense need of physical contact that emerged out of the personal distance (and consequently digital communication) we are now obliged to have with each other. It exposes how being touched is a primary necessity in life. The urge to touch another body that embraces us or simply shake hands, craving for recognition and comfort we experience when we are near each other.
Here I see a link with fashion. Living in a society where sight is the privileged sense, I believe we forget about the touch and true connection with our garments. Every day we are focussed on (the) image, consequently troubling us to look beyond the representation and signification of advertisements or influencers. Where has my garment been made of? Is if soft or stiff? Maybe it is heavy and warm, or even itchy - it seems irrelevant. Our perspective on ‘intimacy’ has changed during the pandemic and perhaps it is time to study fashion through this lens as well. What about the intimacy we have with our garments? Isn’t this a necessity as well?
True appreciation with fashion arises in the personal and intimate context: the touch of your favourite sweater or the comfort that a winter jacket can give. This is when we experience garments – through a broader perception of our senses, such as the bodily experience of ‘affect’ or what Laura Marks calls ‘haptic visuality’: a kind of visuality that is drawn to the senses. 
Although visual fashion communication is currently focussed on anything but materiality, this is ironically where I see my imaginations of resistance. Affect explains how materiality can be experienced, which in turn can be sensed through image. Here, I believe another visual language is required with a focus on the ‘agency’ of the materiality itself, focussing on what it does. Images that rise questions such as how and why, instead of an immediate and urgent want might help rethink our relationship with our wardrobe. By reframing the stories communicated through marketing practices, I can imagine rethinking how we relate to our garments and finding true connection with fashion through its materiality. Because haven’t we discovered that intimacy is the ultimate luxury?
During my Masters I am experiencing a variety of perspectives and especially different approaches to the same subject among my fellow students. This is why I am curious what other imaginations of resistance will look like. How else can we re-imagine fashion’s dynamics? What values within the fashion system should be reinvented? I would love to read about other unshared visions, unheard messages or unseen aesthetics, opening up our perspective on what fashion could be.
The Fabricant (2020) Showing the world that clothing does not need to be physical to exist [Online]. Available at: https://www.thefabricant.com/ (Accessed: 27 August 2020)