Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Just Like Pagliacci Did: The Use of Clowns in Fashion

Miu Miu Spring '08
When I first began to think about clowns as an archetype for female fashion I couldn't help but remember one of my favorite Miu Miu collections featuring a doll-up Kristen Dunst as a nymphet harlequin in hemlines that make my weiner hard. The use of the harlequin as an influence as opposed to the traditional clown is intriguing as its' origin from French passion plays is no less than a black-faced emissary of the devil that roams around the countryside chasing damned souls to Hell. I wonder if Miuccia was slyly referencing the particular dress of the female as a way upon which men are driven wild (for all intensive purposes) and females are provoked into jealousy? Since I can't ask Miuccia directly I'll just assume that the influence of the harlequin, and in particular the designs for this label, reference the elastic nature of the performer while also implying the naivete of the character as inferred by the both charming and callow nature of the advertisement above.

Left: Erin Fetherston Fall '09 Right: Moschino Spring '09
In contrast to the puerile vision of the Miu Miu girl, both Fetherston and Moschino show a more comical vision of femininity that displays a variant theme on the literal buffooning of women's fashion. Through the use of exaggerated collars, headpieces, and detailing the designers successfully obscure the female form while concurrently showcases an obvious costume rather than design. That being said, I don't believe there's any harm or disservice to the above designs particularly with the historical model that has been shown at Moschino since its inception. It is, however, a clever nod to the notion that women will wear what is deemed to be in fashion regardless of the piece of clothing actually enhancing their natural features.
Perhaps it is unfair to include anything from Japanese fashion week as an example of clown as muse, however it is particularly in this flippant expression of fashion that the designer is most forthright. If Moschino and Fetherston encourage women to playfully incorporate exaggerated details into their wardrobes while maintaining a classic color palette, then the unknown Japanese designer appears to promote a world in which figures and limbs are as equally obscured as faces. In creating this unrealistic vision does the Japanese designer negate their own collection and relegate it to overzealous harajuku girls or American tourists buying into an inane avant-garde?

The enduring inspiration of the clown is in its' clandestine nature both emotive and physically, in that the latter remains camouflaged and therefore de-sexualized, whereby the former assumes an instinctual emotional dread. If one does not know what is underneath the bulbous suit nor what actual affect is being displayed the incorporation of the clown motif appears to represent the antithesis of the development of visual recognition skills established soon after birth. While the consequence this fashion cache may lead to the desire to see the "clown" stripped of its' novelty the adherence to deception more often than not affirms the horror of the unknown, and essentially supports the fear of the clown.

If the Japanese design assumes a theme of the veiled figure, then the above use of balloons as couture fabrications convey a light-hearted juxtaposition of farcical fashion with an untouchable wall of rubber that apparently only last one night (in contrast to the 10 hours of construction and hour and a half of fitting on the model). Balloon fashion has recently been shown during the Kim Tom Clown Festival fashion show in Shanghai, China with ensembles ranging upwards of $2,000 for the time-sensitive outfit.
The nature of the balloon is vulnerable and fleeting much like the cyclical trends of fashion and it's economic influence over women; in referencing the novelty of Paper Clothing in the 1960s, the concept of disintegration and disposability is sharply contrasted to the extreme cost of the balloon garb. Imagine showing off your wealth by the deliberate destruction of each balloon "thread" with the prick of a pin! $10 here... $40 there! Perhaps a more practical question would be how the model uses the bathroom in a balloon dress...although that has certainly not stopped women in the past from wearing constrictive clothing..just ask Daphne Guinness.

In I Pagliacci, the character of Canio is driven mad by hatred and jealousy of his wife's betrayal, and in a murderous rage the performance becomes a reality as he stabs both her and lover to death in front of the audience who assume it is part of the show. As Canio drops the knife and turns to the spectators he yells out, "La commedia e finita! (The comedy is over!)", and with that exclamation the facade of the clown disappears to reveal the genuine nature of the cuckolded man before his peers. The dance of the deception is no longer an option and Canio voyeuristically sheds the costume of the clown in order to once again be seen as a man.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons that I am personally drawn to the clown as an archetype, in that I think each one of us wears a mask that if both difficult to relinquish while being extraordinarily easy to demand from others. By using fashion as a frivolous and novel distraction we become the products of our own deliberate representations while never revealing our true uniformity. It's simple to become a mass without hair or make-up or jewelry or stylized clothing...I mean, concentration camps? Did this really end up at WWII? This was supposed to be light-hearted. Regardless, the symbol of the clown is universal as both a fool and an example of obscured drives which is no doubt why as a model it so closely resembles the costumed nature of our own projected personalities.
It's true,

1 comment:

  1. I love your writing nicole its fabulous just like being swept up into a world that's above all of the "narcissistic crap" as you so eloquently put it on your comment on my blog :) I really like stuff that's a little creepy for fashion inspiration too. Style rookie just put up a heap of photos of dolls dressed in the latest runway looks but the one that struck me was from mcqueens fall '01 "demented circus" collection in which he had some really creepy clowns at the end I really loved the slightly macabre element Mcqueen put into his work. Luv ur blog! (actually interesting as opposed to what you wore yesterday...and the day before....and the day before....) :) ha ha ha hilarious