Glossy Talk: Fashion's passive-agrressive aesthetic (and Stevie Dance's departing words for RUSSH)

Girl Talk: Fashion's passive-aggressive aesthetic (and Stevie Dance's departing words for RUSSH)

Earlier in the year we mused on what aesthetic direction fashion, and its associated magazines, might take in 2011 in 'Visions of Femininity'. And here we are, six months in. Transparent, almost invisible girls rendered mute and androgynous in the Andrej Pejic mould, and he appearing, controversially, on the cover of Dossier magazine with his bare, flat-chested, physique and luminous skin and white hair, a whisper away from disappearing off the face of the earth.

"Sailing is the closest I can get to nature — it’s adrenaline, fear, a constant challenge and learning experience, an adventure into the unknown," Daria Werbowy tells T The New York Times Style Magazine days before embarking on a two-month sailing expedition from Guatemala to Belize, during which she would be doing it all – sailing, steering, cooking and cleaning. "And of course there is nothing better than wearing the same T-shirt for days and not brushing my hair for weeks."

While Werbowy's skill on the seas is reason to celebrate, hers is an idealised life, much like the tambourine-playing Abbey-Lee's; Daria plays the model muse whose sinewy, lithesome, stop-traffic form, "enviable tan" and nonchalant uniform of "jean shorts covered in patches she sewed on herself, an old Nirvana T-shirt, lots of silver rings" is the personification of many teenage girls' fantasies.

I wonder if the wistfulness, the being blown where the wind takes you, this quest to be young, wild and free, is not an undermining of what was won through decades of feminism, and if there's not a danger in this passivity; the world-weary apathy giving way to a homogenised, soft-pornish American Apparel-esque look that defies individuality and usurps one's personality and a searching/longing/chasing/fleeting/wanting/insatiable way of life. 

"They give themselves over for the picture and that vulnerability is so very inspiring," writes Stevie Dance of RUSSH's canon of model muses, Tallulah, Abbey, Anja, Alie, Karlie, Alessandra, Stam, Eniko, Tony Ward and now Aline, in her last musing for the magazine.

"So we search. We search for the person whose heart is bigger than her bank ability. We want kind eyes; a touch of irreverence; an even bigger dash of ratbag; no sign of precociousness or ego. A girl that slings stuff in an old bag, not a new one, and whose nuances and hometown habits and sense of style have shaped her sense of self and who wants so very much to be there in the moment."

Dance herself is departing RUSSH after six years to "go to Morocco to burn incense and taste fragrant oils in Italy and sail ships in my mind". Perhaps with Daria Werbowy?

RUSSH leads in this issue with an image of three models wearing Fernando Frisoni with the caption, "Tomboy, flapper, free spirit... He called her Zora and dressed her in silk fringes – it was more than a little luxury: think silk, mesh and textured linen; his signature low-crotch met crisp shirting complete with capes and tails. Among it all, our latest we-want: G-Shock watches in white and black. Because Zora, she's a girl on the clock."

A sartorial shock to the system, perhaps, to jolt oneself out of the lost-lonely-girl ether?

There is hope to be found.

"When I began fully tasting life, rather than denying myself the right to be here, I was blessed with riches beyond what might have been previously imagined," writes Sophie Ward of her awakening in RUSSH. "Throwing myself at the canvas of life, life threw itself back to me, and then I was covered in paint. When I awoke, the entire world was waiting for me...Did you know the entire universe is expanding? So are you. About a week ago, I rode alone down a wide street washed fresh with spring rain in the dusk. I remembered what it was like to come home as a child, so happy, so safe and so free."

Now if only that expression of self, captured so well by Garance Dore, could find its way into fashion's numb, passive-aggressive aesthetic, which reflects this global feeling of unease turned inwards and projected outwards in a uniform state of nothingness (if you are nothing, who can bring you harm?).

The sentiment expressed here in January still seems to ring true, echoed by RUSSH's own Michael Gilles, who writes of "the nauseating cycle of recurring images all originating somehow, despite the immense size of the internet, from the same universally bookmarked moodboard blog", as well as former advertising executive and Turned Out blogger Maya Villager, who tells Katrina Israel,"I am attracted to women who seem comfortable in themselves. Their future seems really bright to me." (Though she seems to be perpetuating fashion's current washed-out-woman aesthetic).

Feeding the fashion fantasy, aspiration and consumerism need not mean negating what is good for women: representations of strong, beautiful, powerful, stylish, feminine, smart, political, sophisticated, funny, creative, complex women. So, again, guard yourself against fashion's fickle aesthetic obsessions by securing your own identity.

See also:
Visions of femininity for 2011 + Kanye West's misogynistic new film clip
The Preservation of the Self on the Everyday Internet
The Gradual Demise of Phillipa Finch

Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

This whole article is extremely small minded and undermines feminism far more than any of the magazines your writing about do. If magazine choses to show women in simple muted shots does not mean they are undermining women's power. However accusing other women of undermining feminism because their aesthetic is not in line with your own does. Women should have the freedom to express themselves in anyway they someone else's like and not be forced to conform to ideas and values.
There is strength in vulnerability.There is no single way to portray strong women, just because a magazine shows them in a different way to your personal stereotype of a strong women does not mean those women aren't strong.Women come in all shapes and sizes, attacking a magazine for featuring angdonomous women is just as damaging as attacking a magazine for featuring curvy women.

It is human nature to explore and search. We are continually evolving and the curiosity we have for the world and thirst for more is something to be celebrated.
Daria Werbowy's decision to embark on a long sailing trip alone, free from the trappings of modern life shows great strength.She and all women should be free to make their own choices about their life without facing persecution and judgement from others who does share the same dreams.

Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) said...

Anon, a fair and considered response. But if you look at the overarching aesthetic, fashion - and by way of communicating this aesthetic to the consumer, fashion magazines - it is very much a reflection and reaction to the times we live in (the power woman supermodel of the big-spending 80s, the pared-back 90s, the celebrity-centric bling-is-good noughties, the nonchalant 20-10s) and people's behaviour in response to the overaching cultural sentiment. As participants in public life, and in cultural consumption, I think it's important to question how the ideals, aesthetic and lifestyle projected from the top of the fashion chain might influence our behaviour, our outlook, our politics, our values, our beliefs. And, as women, question whether these are positive influences or negative in terms of our self-image. Granted, a woman should not be judged according to her attire or lifestyle choices – we know women are more than that – but to passively participate, without taking a moment to contemplate before we subscribe to whatever fashion's new look might be (or, indeed to look on from the sidelines and wonder why you feel rejected or dejected by what you see), is itself surrendering power.