Apr 062012
 

Remember when you would watch a music video, lust after the clothes you’d seen, and then scour the internet searching for similar threads? Gone are those days! Ssense, an online clothing retailer, has styled the “World’s First Interactive Shoppable Music Video.”

The music video “I Think She Ready” features duo FKi, rapper Iggy Azalea, and Grammy-nominated producer Diplo, and they are all styled by Ssense. The video uses interactive hotspot technology to allow fans to view and shop for every item that is seen in the video. During the music video, white square icons with the letter “S” pop up on the screen. Rolling over the icon will expand the “S” to “SHOP THIS LOOK”. Clicking on those icons will take you to a screen that shows each of the products worn in the selected shot. Each article of clothing links to the Ssense product page where the item can be viewed and added to a cart for purchase.

Image Courtesy of Ssense.com

Even though the white icons only appear sporadically throughout the video, do we really want music videos to display these distracting icons each time we watch them? If this trend catches on (and I think it will), perhaps the icons will become smaller or less intrusive in future music videos. Continue reading »

Mar 302012
 

Renowned British designer Stella McCartney recently revealed her Adidas designs for the Great Britain team’s uniforms. The prominent graphic on the bodice is McCartney’s unique take on the iconic Union Jack: “I thought it would be great if the design could make everyone feel like one team. I started with the Union flag, which I love—but it’s been so overused…So I isolated parts of the design and used it as a graphic.” McCartney also opted to use the color red, which is featured so dominantly on the flag, only sparingly.

Image Courtesy of Vogue and Stella McCartney

As an eco-conscious designer, McCartney was also pleased to announce that much of the sportswear was made from recycled materials: “Half a million plastic bottles have gone into all this!”

However, the uniforms were met with quite a number of dissenters. Critics of McCartney’s uniforms were enraged that the national flag had been manipulated and transformed into something almost unrecognizable. The red, white, and blue colored flag has been translated into a uniform that is mostly shades of blue with white and red as accents. Since the graphic wraps around the body, only half of the graphic is seen from the front. Continue reading »

Mar 252012
 
1980s Jem

Original Jem (image courtesy of Fanpop.com)

(Via io9Hipster He-Man and Other High-Fashion Cartoon Heroes.)

I don’t know that I would change a thing about Jem’s (of Jem and the Holograms) 1980’s glam pop fashion sense, but otherwise these are kind of fun.

Ciraolo's Jem

Ciraolo's Jem (CC BY-NC-ND image courtesy of fabianciraolo.blogspot.com)

 

 

 

 

I like the artist’s aesthetic. I like his use of collage techniques and find myself fascinated by the repeated starfield background.

However, looking at the io9 blog post, I was immediately struck by the sort of predictable fan-art tendency to depict female characters with heightened degrees of sexuality (i.e. hipster-clad Rainbow Brite and Lala Orange depicted as though interrupted in a moment of charged intimacy). This seems like a classic representation of “girl on girl action” for hetero male pleasure that reinforces mainstream representations of women as sex objects to be gazed upon. Sure, there are all sorts of alternative uses to which these fantasies and depictions might be put. But as I said above, it just seems a bit predictable. Admittedly, once the images are situated on Fabian Ciraolo’s blog they stand out less and seem part of an overall running theme of pop culture iconoclasm. Which reduces the predicability factor.

So my suggestion would be to view the images on Ciraolo’s blog, appreciating the cartoon fashion makeovers as they are interspersed between the artist’s other work.

Mar 212012
 

Perfume 「Spring of Life」 (Teaser) – YouTube.

H/T to the Craftzine blog

This is a teaser trailer for a new song from the Japanese pop group, Perfume.

I agree with Brooklynn at Craft. This color changing dress is indeed cool. As is the song. What I find most interesting, however, is that the dress is placed on bodies that are robotic and puppet-like. So far the characters are shown in fairly passive positions, not doing much more than the Geminoid-F mannequin android about which Janet M. blogged last month.

It is unclear whether there will be a longer video released with the song. From this brief teaser it would seem that the portrayal of cyborg-femininity is one that is passive and devoid of power. The beats are played out in luminescence across a body that cannot even meet the gaze of the camera.

Can’t we do better than fantasies of pretty, puppet-like women in flashing dresses? To what end should a dress blink? And how can we leverage the electrified garment to challenge mainstream representations of passive femininity?

Cross-posted at The Spiral Dance.

Mar 122012
 

M Saraswathy’s brief BusinessWorld article (Tech Couture: Fashion keeps a date with augmented reality) outlines some recent uses of AR in advertising, including uses at Lakme Fashion Week. The article ends with a tempered approach suggesting that so far, advertisers have not been able to tell if AR translates into more sales.

Even so, the possibilites for augmented reality with fashion advertising seem endless. Because clothing is a visual communicator, AR offers many interesting possibilities for layering visuals over bodies, environments, etc. The “Fashionista” tool below allows shoppers to try on clothing wherever they may be, using augmented reality.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnBcqV9POkY[/youtube]

But AR offers other tantalizing prospects for causing disjunction in the public spaces in which clothing is sold and worn.

So far the most interesting uses of AR that I have seen have been for aesthetic or critical purposes. I can envision AR being used for purposes like overlaying images of the workers who produce clothing items or the workshops in which they are produced. Or statistics about ethically sourced material. Or overlaying images of real women over advertisements or mannequins. Or, or, or…

A few links to interesting AR projects:

Dec 152011
 

Jean Paul Gaultier Fashion Show

The fashion industry has certainly built a fierce reputation. It can be unethical, judgmental, and profoundly inequitable. Yet, it still remains alluring, innovative and a space for creative collaboration. I think the latter attributes are in part a result of the exclusivity of the high end fashion world. Arguably, nothing is more elite, more select, than a runway show. These full on events, as they have evolved into, are not simple and random showings of a few items. These shows are full on productions and as they grow in popularity, more and more people want an opportunity to experience such an exaggerated performance.

For decades, attending these shows has been the privilege of the fashion world insiders: models, celebrities, and the wealthy. Over the past few years, designers have filmed their fashion shows for general release at later times, or allowed viewers to watch live streams over the internet. And while this has absolutely afforded new groups the luxury of moving into a once secret world, there still seems to be something missing. We laud our current technology as being so clear, so sharp, so high definition that it’s like the real thing. But is this really the case? Can a televised/streamed event be a substitute for the actual performance? Until about a month ago, I think my answer was yes. But after seeing the Gaultier Exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art, I think my previous answer was based on the fact that I had never seen such works up close. They were more than just clothes, they were works of art and I was able to get a new appreciation for the works without seeing them through a television or computer screen.

 

Gaultier at Dallas Museum of Art

The exhibit wasn’t inspiring because of a lack of technology but more so the removal of an intrusive screen between me and the fashion. I was able to experience the texture, color, and draping of the fabric as it was naturally. In an environment where we are mobile and increasingly creating, buying, and communicating solely in digital formats, being at the exhibit was a nice change of pace. It made the fashions and, thus the designer, tangible. They were not figments of a digital imagination, but pieces of art that someone laboriously took the time to make.

With that being said these works, by no means, were ordinary or every day. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was able to have a personal experience but with very recognizable and over the top costumes. The exclusivity inherent in fashion shows was not lost, but merely transformed into something that multiple people could experience at once without feeling like they were being intruded upon or receiving a watered down version of the rule thing.

And perhaps my fascination with the exhibit is so prominent because I feel (and have been labeled) as an outsider because of my body shape. My presence at the Gaultier exhibit was of course fun, but it was also a little bit daring. To see my frame against the frame of a model (albeit an inanimate one) felt strange. At the real exhibit, would I see someone like me? Someone my size. Plus size.

I was able to be in the front row for a collection that I could never have anticipated doing in “real life” and that is why this exhibit was worth seeing for me. I am continuously fascinated by the questions surrounding someone’s access and opportunity to various experiences. In both the academic and fashion worlds we often take the experience of one person or one group and hold it as truth for all people. This is inaccurate and problematic. Now, of course, the exhibit is not without any barriers to access – you have to pay to get in, if you’re not asked to pay then you will need to be a part of an academic group, and if you have no connection to high fashion, then even with this exhibit seemingly at your fingertips, it can still remain as elusive as a haute couture show in Paris.

However, there is still something to be said for its existence and for Jean Paul Gaultier’s desire to share his art with a larger audience of people than would typically be allowed access to it.

 

 

Dec 152011
 

H&M Computer Generated Models

Retailer H&M has received some decidedly negative scrutiny recently for using computer generated models on their website. As reported on mashable.com the retailer came under fire for superimposing real models heads onto computer generated bodies to showcase a range of collections on it’s retail site. To the unsuspecting viewer nothing is amiss, however if one looks closely it becomes evident that all of the models have perfectly identical body types.  Key word being: “perfect.” The retailer has incurred the ire of many who view the casting of virtual models as setting an unrealistic standard for women to live up to.

H&M Under Fire for Using Fake, Computer-Generated Models

This H&M boondoggle puts me in mind of the 2002 film Simone. Simone tells the story of a beleaguered film producer, played superbly with frazzled panache by Al Pacino, who, fed up with the antics of spoiled Hollywood starlets, creates a computer generated actress who proves to be a little too good at her job – and in short order takes over his entire life. The story is a funny, albeit slightly disturbing, modern day, emerging media Frankenstein – and a cautionary tale for brands. However, we’ll touch on that later. Here’s a clip:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkQAIHcpWfI&feature=related[/youtube]

H&M asserts that the fake models make it easier for their customers to focus on the clothes rather than on the models wearing the clothes. Per H&M spokesperson Hacan Andersson, “The result is strange to look at, but the message is clear: buy our clothes, not our models.”

Though the retailer’s strategy was particularly ill advised I’m not sure I read any deliberately dubious intentions. Frankly it strikes me as a rather sophomoric attempt at cost cutting. I am concerned however, with the side effects of this practice. Does the use of fake models set up an unrealistic expectation of perfection among women? Or does it legitimize an expectation that already exists? Contemporary human fashion models most often do not present a realistic representation of the average female body.  Not even close. However the employment of computer generated models, whereby an advertiser can literally code whatever model body measurements they like, literally says to ordinary humans, model or otherwise, “You’re not good enough.” I find this particularly troubling and more than a little misogynistic.

More H&M Computer Generated Models

Indeed, what does this say for the company’s regard for women, it’s primary customer base? Not only is the company legitimizing an unrealistic aesthetic, they are literally dehumanizing half of the world’s population. Placing a real model’s disembodied head onto a fake, computer generated body, a body that is exactly identical to several other fake bodies sporting real heads, is just…offensive.  Terribly so.

Additionally, I find the practice of designing all women’s bodies identical immensely troublesome in itself. If the idealized collective male fantasy is a world where women are literally interchangeable then we as a society are in trouble indeed. Real women’s bodies aren’t identical. Even supermodels figures have variations. While I do suppose it would make it easier on clothing manufacturers if they only had to make clothing in one size, the idea of a world populated with bodily identical women is frankly disturbing.

It is time for retailers and advertisers to realize that the images that they disseminate are more far more than just advertisements for goods. Indeed they are cultural artifacts in the truest sense of the term.  Contemporary advertisements are inevitably informed with  the aesthetic sensibility of the context within which they appear. As much as they promote they also reflect. Perhaps unwittingly, they reflect cultural norms, mores, desires and expectations. They are imbued with meaning far beyond the intentions of the photographer or the commissioning brand. Accordingly they wield a tremendous power that extends far beyond just selling attire. Indeed I contend that images unconsciously promote the idealized self. Now it should be a little more evident why the employment of idealized computer generated, nay computer manipulated, models is a spectaularly bad idea.

Of course I am not suggesting that the masses of the ad viewing public are mindless drones literally powerless to defend our virgin eyes from the whims and caprice of evil brands. Far from it, in fact. The brands, though often misguided, aren’t evil, and the layer of cultural encoding that results from advertisements is complex and nuanced. No one can state with certainty that any advertisement has a direct effect on consumer behavior. It is the cumulative and collective effects, effects that indeed have nothing to do with short term consumer behavior, or merchandise sales, that I am referring to here.  The negative effects of cultural artifacts like the H&M fake model images are far more subtle – and ubiquitious – for both for the viewer and the producer. They make it ok to objectify women, they promote a literally unattainable (unless one day we really will all live in the Matrix) aesthetic ideal, and they legitimize and promulgate the Stepford fantasy…just to name a few.

Poor H&M. It seems the retailer has unwittingly created their own little army of long legged digital Frankensteins. While their computer generated models showed off their merchandise beautifully, and cheaply, they  also did a superb job of showcasing a contemporary ethos bent on misogyny. Good job, girls! Well done! Like the aforementioned movie producer in the film Simone, the brand may find it in their best interest to destroy their creation before they are able to wreak more havoc. However if that film taught us anything it’s that digital cultural artifacts have a way of taking on lives of their own.

Dec 122011
 

My scent of choice: Miss Dior Chérie. I’ve been wearing it exclusively for a few years now and barely remember how that came to be. I had never seen a commercial for it nor was I accosted by an overeager salesperson and a spray bottom at my local mall. My mother had another Dior perfume and the overall notes in the Dior collections were my style. But after reading an article by Cynthia Freeland in Fashion: Philosophy for Everyone, I wonder if there are other factors contributing to my or another consumer’s preference for a certain perfume. Share the Fantasy: Perfume Advertising, Fashion, and Desire first points out that perfume advertisements are fundamentally different from other aspects of the fashion industry: such as clothing and cosmetics.

Perfume cannot rely on language alone to sell. Instead, perfume advertisements need to employ visual descriptions, music, and visual imagery. Perfume is thus said to be “aspirational.” Consumers want to hold the qualities or experience the actions of the people in these advertisements. It becomes less about the actual physical characteristics of the fragrance, and more about the anticipated intangible characteristics that a consumer will obtain if they purchase the perfume.

I looked up two of the most recent commercials for Miss Dior Cherie to see if I had gotten it right – not based on scent preferences, but on a desire to be the people displayed in these commercials.

In the first commercial, directed by Sophia Coppola, a bubbly young Parisian woman has what appears to be a fun, light hearted day around the city. Cutely dressed and fresh faced, she also gets the guy.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSpfNBMyt_g[/youtube]

I can’t say that the woman in this commercial is “me” though I wouldn’t mind a carefree day in Paris filled with pastries.

In the second commercial, Natalie Portman is our leading lady. We have no idea what she does, but it includes fabulous clothes, long baths, and plenty of kissing.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHH7ZrfY9sE&feature=endscreen&NR=1[/youtube]

Again, there is nothing inherently that draws me to this character that makes me want the perfume. But what if I am the wrong audience? I am viewing these commercials after having already bought the perfume and without any strong prior connection to Christian Dior.

Let’s look at Justin Bieber’s latest perfume, the perfectly named Someday. I literally could not have asked for a better example. As Freeland explains, “perfume ads work by linking fragrance to lifestyle.” And Justin Bieber (or rather, his team) is communicating lifestyle right away, even in the name. Someday you can be with Justin Bieber.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_PXszrG1mI[/youtube]

The commercial stars a girl presumably in the same age range as the core of Bieber’s fan base: tween to early teen. Her flowing blonde locks and porcelain skin play with the music, creating a whimsical fantasy. She is not overtly provocative, yet she and Bieber do embrace (often and intimately) and the dark eye shadow and red lip stick give her a seductive aura. The two could just as easily be playing Frisbee in a crowded park. Instead, they are alone together in a dimly lit bedroom. For any person desiring to be that close to Bieber, they are most certainly picking up on the sensual cues of this commercial and the ultimate message is that Someday that person can have exactly what he or she desires. Prices start at $35, but for a few more dollars, you can buy more products to undoubtedly get you that much closer to the Biebs.

And while this may seem harmless and “normal” – young girls pining for the heartthrob of the moment – is perfume advertising really that innocent? I don’t think anyone should be faulted for desiring a certain kind of aesthetic or wanting to live a fantasy every now and then. I certainly can’t make daily trips to Paris, so what’s the harm in a few splashes of Miss Dior Chérie to make me feel like I’m there. Then again, I feel okay with my pseudo escape because I am the one that decided it would happen. I was first drawn to the perfume for its fragrance qualities, and decided to “give in” to its advertising only later. What happens if instead I were the young fan of Justin Bieber? Would I know that Someday I may not meet him even after purchasing a box set? Will I know that if I don’t purchase the perfume, that it doesn’t mean I am less of a fan, or more importantly, less of a person? This type of pressure in perfume advertising is not strictly for a young or naïve audience.

Perfume advertising also communicates strong ideas about race and gender that go largely unchecked. We use humor and sex to mask stereotypical depictions of large groups of people. In the case of Ax and Old Spice, it’s hard to draw the line between joke and insult.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owGykVbfgUE[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fT6IWAIf580[/youtube]

We, philosophers and academicians are not so dense as to miss a little sarcasm, but surely we can go a bit deeper. Are women that simple minded? One whiff of a stranger’s cologne and we lose our ability to think. Or do we just sit around dreaming of the perfect man all day? Someone to rescue us from our dreary lives to shower us with poetry (and money). This is every woman’s fantasy after all. The fact that these depictions are always heterosexual is a topic for another day but even without that analysis they still do a disservice to women and men. But, here we fall into the grey area of stereotyping, where large group assumptions are considered positive, so we do not question the intention of the creators of those messages. Why would we see a problem with a man being able to attract large swarms of women? It seems pleasant enough, but these advertisements are still creating a false world for men. Once in which a few cologne clicks makes you the envy of all men and the desire of all women, and for nothing that takes any more thought then stepping into a shoe.

This vague middle ground of perfume advertising also appears in those fragrances either created by or marketed for women of color. In the case of Halle Berry, Mariah Carey, and Beyonce, all of their commercials are hypersexualized.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76lPciEip3A[/youtube]

We get the depiction of black woman as exotic, as temptress, as insatiable. Again, who doesn’t want to be a sexy woman? Well, in a historical and sociological context where black sexuality is often seen as excessive and deviant, then these commercials are just playing to those themes. And a simple read of user comments on video sites or magazines shows that even with these glossy and sexy commercials, women of color still have to legitimize their fragrances.

Ultimately, perfume is a wonderful facet of fashion that allows us to express our identity through scent.  However, we need to be cognizant of the fact that we are also transmitting markers about our identity not based on the fragrance alone, but on the advertising that surrounds that fragrance. Perfume advertising is created to elicit a response from the consumer, to make them desire the lifestyle above all else. This can be a whimsical and lighthearted way to help consumers express themselves, or a deliberate attempt at creating fake deficiency in people that can only be rectified through the purchase of yet another thing.

Dec 072011
 

I have been super fascinated by 3D printers lately. 3D printers are an additive manufacturing process that, through the use of digital prototyping, print layers of material to create 3D objects using heat applied to a material such as metal or liquid polymer. While 3D printers are typically used in engineering and more technical industries, it is fascinating to see what fashion designers are thinking up using this new tool as a medium.

Iris van Herpen uses 3D printers to develop uniquely constructed dresses that were shown during Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week this year. She has an amazing collection of very diverse and interesting dresses – one designed specifically for Bjork. (There’s a very interesting video on Herpen’s site) The 3D structures she is able to create allows for a new kind of feeling from the polymer textile. A designer using 3D printers must make room for new considerations around things like flexibility and fit not seen with traditional fabric materials. Continue reading »

Dec 072011
 

Eric Kee and Hany Farid of Dartmouth College have developed ‘A Perceptual Metric for Photo Retouching‘. Meant to detect and rate the amount a photo has been altered on a five point scale, this tool has some very interesting implications towards the future use of manipulated images within the fashion industry. Although photographs and images have always been subject to tampering, it is more recently, with the proliferation of tools like photoshop, that editors and advertisers have come under fire for using highly altered photos.

Continue reading »