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Essay: Flat On Your Face

by Paul Vincent on 29 October 2010

Writer Paul Vincent considers the 2-D representation of the body in fashion.

Writer Paul Vincent considers the 2-D representation of the body in fashion.

When we speak of a fashion body, the inevitable focus is on the human body itself, the push and pull of fashion against the physicality of the form. The corset, caving a waist to unnatural handspan width. The heel, elevating man and woman from the ground, torturing the body in the name of vanity. Even tailoring, subtle as it seems, radically transforms the body, padding shoulders into unnatural peaks, flaring hips, lengthening legs and narrowing torsos through simple variations of seam, dart and hem.

But the fashion body we see is not this three-dimensional figure of flesh and fabric. On the contrary, since the Middle Ages and the birth of what we call fashion, we have consumed the fashionable figure primarily in two dimensions. From Renaissance oil-paintings and their sumptuous, hyperreal depiction of rich fabrics, to a proliferation of nineteenth-century fashion almanacs, twentieth century magazines and the giant twenty-first century leap of the World Wide Web, fashion is two dimensional. Multi-angled, granted, but always flat.

Maybe that accounts for the fashionable figure - tapeworm-thin since the sixties, boyishly streamlined in the eighties, emaciated in the nineties.

Maybe that accounts for the fashionable figure - tapeworm-thin since the sixties, boyishly streamlined in the eighties, emaciated in the nineties. Feminists have snickered that, rather than approximating the willowy models that populate their sketchbooks, fashion designers are attempting to slim their mannequins to the same proportion as the paper on which those drawings are executed. Then again, we are all used to seeing ourselves in 2-D - as our own reflection first and foremost, but in this new digital age we're equally comfortable with our image as jpeg photograph and even webcam star.

When she opened her first Comme des Garçons boutiques, Rei Kawakubo refused to put mirrors in the changing room. She place priority on the feel and touch of the clothes rather than their appearance. The gesture ultimately failed - they may be cerebral, but even Comme des Garçons customers demanded to see before they bought. In Amy Heckerling's 1995 film Clueless, the heroine Cher Horowitz interacts with photographic images of her wardrobe to select her outfits. We all laughed. Today, Myspace, Facebook and lookbook.nu have made that a reality, instant replays of your own fashionable image broadcast worldwide, judgement made via 2-D image even more than mirror image. It's ironic that fashion rushes to embrace 3-D technology, given the fact that the fashion body is, has been and probably will always be, rendered two-dimensional. Please note, two-dimensional doesn't always read as shallow.

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