Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fashion & Display

Display is an essential aspect to both fashion and art. For fashion, display is not considered the initial unveiling of design on a runway. Rather, display is understood as the planned presentation of design in a showroom to buyers, through a store window or sales floor to customers. Display can be a creative extension of a designer’s values, vision, form and brand. It is an opportunity to advance the seasonal or brand image. Display is also a prime interest for retail and department stores that aim to create seasonal harmony among different labels. Because display advances fashion for consumption however, it is also a site of critique.

Jean Baudrillard wrote Fashion, or the Enchanting Spectacle of the Code, in 1993. He wrote about the system of fashion and its grand presentation and promotions. Baudrillard is also interested in the signs of fashion as free floating signs of “intense pleasure.” He writes, “fundamentally, fashion imposes upon us the rupture of an imaginary order…we are able to enjoy the dismantling or stripping of reason.” Fashion, he explains operates in the “sphere of commodities” and is itself a “sphere of fashion,” known as the fashion world.

Courreges, 1967

Fashion exists only in the framework of modernity, dominated by a myth of “progress and innovation,” specifically the “myth of change.” He describes fashion as “the core of modernity” infecting other realms with a need for change. Fashion is our spectacle and “spectacle is our fashion.” The grand promotion of fashion is an ongoing event of display.

The acceleration in production and turnover of style has resulted in an excessive market

In fashion, all signs are exchanged. The result is what Baudrillard calls a contamination, meaning that the original value is altered. He is equally critical of the system of fashion as an “aesthetic of manipulation,” and “passion for the artificial.” He continues by explaining that fashion “aims for a theatrical sociality.” He also suggests that advertising “wants a feast of consumption.” The result is excess, excess of clothes, excess of signs, excess of meaning.

Baudrillard quotes Vogue's defense of fashion: “‘Why haute couture?’ a few detractors may think. ‘Why champagne?’ Again: ‘Neither practice nor logic can justify the extravagant adventure of clothes"

Galliano Couture, German Vogue

Baudrillard concludes by emphasizing the relationship between fashion and sexuality and the connection to the body. He finishes: “We cannot escape fashion (since fashion itself makes the refusal of fashion into a fashion – blue jeans are an example of this.)”

Baudrillard was living and writing in Paris, home to the department store. Aristide Boucicaut founded the first department store, Le Bon Marche, in 1838. The other main Parisian shopping stores of Printemps, Galeries Lafayette, and Samaritaine all began business in the late 1800’s and continued to be expanded through the 1920’s establishing what we know as the main display spaces of fashion.

Les Grands Magasins from top, Bon Marché, Samaritaine and Galeries LaFayette

Louise Lague, “The Ultimate Marketplace: It’s Not Just Window Dressing,” 1989
This older article emphasizes the role of visual merchandizing as an art form. She focuses on Simon Doonan but also discusses Gene Moore of Tiffany fame, Candy Pratts Price, Bob Curie and others. Artists such as Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Tom Sachs have also worked on windows . Doonan is quoted for saying “Display and merchandising are a marriage.” Barneys gives half of its display budget to the windows. Barneys can have thematic windows, while designers need brand integrity with everyone window supporting the larger vision. See a site devoted to store windows here and my own photos of windows from Madison Avenue here.

Gene Moore, Windows for Tiffany's

Above Barneys, Summer 2009, lower image from June removed due to controversial content

The dense lux display of Bergdorff Goodman, above September 2009 and below Holiday 2008

Above Printemps, Holiday 2008 and 2009

Collaborative Window, Moschino, The Whitney Museum & Vogue, Fall 2009

Dior in New York, October 2009

See more windows from Madison Avenue here.

Read about Art & Display here.


  1. BTW, your blog is my greatest fantasy realized! I'm so interested in the collision of art and fashion, and you do a masterful job of addressing the issue.

  2. WOW..i absolutely agree. I've searched for ages for a blog like this.


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