Werkleitz Festival 24.-26.Oktober 2008

XXL: When Fashion Oversteps Borders

“Fashion 2.0 – online, anything goes: build your own avatar, dress HER or HIM just as you like. Gender stereotypes here break, blur or disappear. Slip into a new body. Take shape to suit yourself. The monitor is the mirror of your imaginary identity.”

The beautiful new world of fashion in Web 2.0, to which radio journalist and author Tina Täsch here refers, appears to know no borders. Users here become surgeons with nothing more than a click of the mouse. A few fast key manoeuvres and one’s personal avatar can be coiffed, remodelled and dressed to the nines.
Whilst Tina Täsch sees virtual space as the locus of the beautiful new world of fashion’s sheer endless potential, British pioneer of medical textiles Jenny Tillotson has long since exploited this for use in the real world. In 2003, inspired by Aldous Huxley’s Scent Organ, she developed her Smart Second Skin Dress into which are woven wafer-thin tubes containing freely circulating aromatic oils. Wearers can use clips on the sleeves and hem of the dress to adjust the aroma flow and influence the wellbeing of their immediate vicinity.
It is here, in the field of intelligent textiles and experimental fashion, at the interface of industrial design, IT, physics, medicine and everyday fashion durables that previously undreamed of opportunities are emerging. How does it look, the fashion of the future? How does a trade sector look, once it’s moved beyond all restrictions? It was questions such as these that the textiles workshop “XXL: When Fashion Oversteps Borders” set out to answer.

Due to the unhindered expansion of international clothing giants, the textile market itself seems to have already reached the XXL point – as a glance at the uniform face of our urban landscapes quickly confirms. The dense network of branches, opened by chains such as Orsay, Pimkie, New Yorker, Mango and, not least, H & M, has slowly pushed smaller retailers out of our city centres.

The clothing giants have long since discovered that in order to win – and keep – a mass, diverse customer base they need not only to offer the lowest possible prices for their product range but also to differentiate the latter and thereby dispel any impression of uniform lines. Despite its apparent homogeneity, the Swedish textiles company H & M offers an extremely comprehensive range designed to turn its customers’ individual tastes into healthy sales figures, from its trendy Impulse line, oriented to young consumers, through to LOGG, its line of higher-end basics. Individual collections are presented separately to their respective target groups, as a means of ‘personalising’ fashion for the masses. In 2008, as part of a move to win over socially aware kids, today’s more critical consumers, H & M even invited famous musicians and designers to add a dash of ‘Street Credibility’. Following the initiative of Ninette Murck, founder of the non-profit organisation Designers Against AIDS (DAA), numerous renowned designers and musicians such as Katharine Hamnett, Timbaland or Rihanna designed a t-shirt, a hooded sweat, a bag or a tank-top for H & M under the slogan ‘Fashion Against AIDS’ – and free of charge. A quarter of the income generated by the ‘Fashion Against AIDS’ collection is to be donated to international AIDS prevention projects, says the Swedish textiles giant.

Socio-political critique and commitment in a good value, easily consumable retail format for Mr. & Ms. Jo Normal: but whether the latter actually live up to the message on their shirts remains questionable. It’s often nothing more than a fashion statement, a fleeting trend, fully interchangeable with whatever new fad may come along next: a development that reached a new zenith in the 1990s. Amidst a flood of brainless labels such as ‘Bitch’ or ‘Porn Star’ even originally meaningful insignia and politically ambitious motifs such as the hammer and sickle or a likeness of Che Guevara were pathetically reduced to empty phrases. Nowadays, personal statements are changed as frequently as are t-shirts themselves.

The political was rendered particularly, palpably banal in a portrait series designed by Christian Diaz Orejarena, which depicted a total of sixteen models dressed in t-shirts emblazoned with the word ‘Rebel’. To what purpose and with what political intent this fashionable item was worn remains unclear.

The question is, whether a diversionary route along the catwalk can actually mobilise the masses to take action on political, social or ecological issues.  What Republican presidential candidate Dewey undertook in 1948 in a somewhat stilted attempt seems to be functioning wonderfully well for Barack Obama in the run-up to this year’s elections: T-shirt & Co make great campaign-wear. Online shops such as “Barackawear” offer a broad product range, turnover of which is remarkably high. From t-shirts to punk graffiti-style Obama portraits, from romper suits with electoral slogans through to an Obama sneaker from Nike, the fashion-conscious Democratic electorate knows no bounds. The more closely one puts fashion under the microscope the more improbable it seems that any borders remain to be crossed in this sector. Yet a few situations in which fashion makes a splash, grows articulate and defies convention were elicited in the course of the workshop. For example, US-American punk rock activist Elisabeth Pickens consciously replaces in her creations the usual XS, S, M, L, XL and XXL size labels with the simple message “Fuck Sizes!” Paris-based British designer Lucy Orta takes a further step back from the narrowly defined dimensions of industrially manufactured casual wear and towards XXL: she presents fashion in her action art as mobile architecture.

Artists such as Erwin Wurm, Piotr Nathan, Louise Bourgeois or Yuka Oyama take an uncompromising approach to fashion, liberating t-shirts, tights & Co. from their role as mere garments and bursting the bounds of conventional fashion with their textile sculptures.

It is precisely here, at the artificially inflated, non-utilitarian level of fashion that the practical part of the XXL: When Fashion Oversteps Borders workshop began. From 17th – 21st August 2008, in keeping with the Festival theme, souvenirs in XXS format were created from a range of American export textile trademarks such as jeans, parkas, bandanas, t-shirts, brushed cotton lumberjack shirts and more besides. The goal was to elaborate in particular the ‘consumerability’ of the souvenir. For as
 a product that’s as useless as fashion itself, it remains a one-hit-wonder, cherished as a souvenir of a certain event or person, forever damned to gather dust.

“ (...) Charlie Chaplin’s shoe / and Picasso’s comb / spectacles from Garbo / and from Monroe a sponge / (...) all of them leave something behind, the stars of this world/ and those are the souvenirs, that one finds everywhere.”

(Bill Ramsey, Souvenirs, 1959)

Stephanie Müller led the textile workshop ‘XXL: When Fashion Oversteps Borders’ from 17th-21st August 2008.

© Impressum