ZoneModa Journal. Vol.10 n.1 (2020)
ISSN 2611-0563

Fading, Mixing, Slicing, and Looping: the Deconstruction of Fashion Through the Creative Process of Music

Vittorio LinfantePolitecnico di Milano (Italy)

Art Director and Professor of Fashion Design, Branding, Communication Design, Curation at the Polytechnic of Milan, University of Bologna, Polidesign and Milan Fashion Institute. PhD candidate at the Design Department of Politecnico di Milano. Curator — with Paola Bertola — of the exhibition Il Nuovo Vocabolario della Moda italiana, Triennale di Milano (November 2015–March 2016).

Published: 2020-07-29


Fashion as mirror of socio-cultural evolutions. In light of the ever-increasing plurality and hybridization of languages, fashion change, through disassembling and reconstruction actions according to creative processes capable of generating new design approaches. The creative process, having passed the phase of revival, rediscovery and re-proposal of styles, today acts more and more according to an approach far from citationism. A method that deconstructs and reassembles products, materials and styles, in a mash-up, generating new signs, meanings and shapes, that recall, but do not refer didactically to precise references. Shapes, symbols, textures are thus deconstructed and recomposed according to logics and approaches that generate a multiplicity of meanings.
Brands such as Vetements, Off-White, United Standard, Marcelo Burlon borrow from music not only cultural references but also a design approach. There is a form of deconstruction that looks more like a music mix using techniques such as Fading, Harmonic Mixing, Slicing, Swap or Looping. Thus a new identity of contemporary fashion takes shape: we witness to a meta-design process that, thanks to a group of emerging figures hovering between DJs and fashion designers, defines an idea of deconstruction according to approaches that owe much to consoles, mixers, and synthesizers.

Keywords: Deconstruction; Design processes; Creative industries; Fashion Branding; Music.

Fashion tracks. Creative Discourses between Fashion and Music

Music, according to Patrizia Calefato, represents a social practice that involves others. It can be understood as a complex place of textuality. In this sense, music should be understood as a process of production of meaning in which the body participates deeply.1 In the same way, we can (and must) interpret fashion. Fashion, in close relationship with the body,2 by its very nature is to be considered as a social practice3 and as a process of production of meaning and, not least, of creativity. The relationship between music and fashion takes different forms as the historical fields and moments vary, defining each time cultural, communicative, market and style connections. Music and fashion indeed build synergies from the creative process point of view; a process that in the contemporary hybrids traditional production processes with new technologies, the physical nature of raw materials and the virtuality of new design tools. If “the advancements in information technology lead to new ways of music creation, production, distribution and consumption.”4 In the same way, also in fashion, we are witnessing the definition of new contaminations that give shape to innovative products, not only because they use new materials or define new aesthetics, but also and above all because they are often the result of creative approaches and processes that are difficult to attribute to a specific field. These new approaches are the result of connections not only between fashion and music,5 but also with the world of art, retail,6 marketing and production. The project is therefore considered from a relational, holistic, evolutionary and complex point of view.7
Fashion, as a language,8 has increasingly enriched the creative discourse with references, cross-references and meanings, creating a process that redefines, deconstructs, disassembles and re-assembles over and over again the relationship between history, production, display and consumption. Fashion as habitus9 gives meaning to the body, thus realizing the concept of the interface10 as an expression of social identity, of the fact that wearing a specific dress corresponds to a communicative act.11
Fashion, the dress and the dressed body become elements of an interface,12 capable of generating multiple discourses and interactions with the environment and between people in a continuous flow of references, in the real and the virtual space. Flows which define the perception of fashion in constant change. As stated by Ornella Kyra Pistilli, an individual aesthetic that moves between experimentation and research, detachment and disenchantment, cosmopolitanism and cultural hybridizations is thus realized.13

This approach defines a vision of the project, and the creative process that we could say has a lot in common with Jacques Derrida’s thought. A thought that sees fashion as a field of experimentation for talents belonging to different creative areas.

Whether in the order of a spoken or written discourse, no element can function as a sign without referring to another element which itself is not simply present. This interweaving results in each element […] being constituted on the basis of the trace within it of the other elements of the chain or system. this interweaving, this textile, is the text produced only in the transformation of another text. Nothing, neither among the elements nor within the system, is anywhere ever simply present or absent. There are only, everywhere, differences and traces of traces.14

“Traces of traces” which we could consider as the music tracks that in contemporary musical practice define the rhythms that become dance floor hits. “Traces of traces” which are as those present, sometimes as a real citation and sometimes as a cultural reference, in the continuous elaborations and reworking of styles, periods and archetypes that fashion creates. “Traces of traces” which are as those physical ones left on clothes by material and formal manipulations that, since the beginning of the last century, have defined the language of construction and deconstruction of garments. It thus creates a codependence15 between the music industry and the fashion system. Says Janice Miller: “music and fashion marketing are feld by a variety of practical and visual interrelationships in which fashion and style are core to a kind of intertextual taste-sharing between the two industries.”16 In this way, a co-dependence between the music industry and the fashion system is defined, which takes different forms in the contemporary consumer society.
Relationships, those between musicians and fashion designers, which are not limited to a relationship in which the former are only testimonials of brands and fashion collections. New links are created in the contemporary world, where we see the fusion of the world of music with fashion, through new forms of entrepreneurship and creativity that see musicians becoming designers and designers becoming musicians. As Katie Baron says: “fashion and music are formidable forces: entrancing, bewildering, identify-affirming, panic-inducing, tribe-forming, arguably life-saving and indisputably two of the finest playgrounds for indulging creative vision. As such, it rarely gets more exciting than when the two collide.”17
Talking about the link between fashion and music unfolds a vast range of relationships, which create innovatively synergies between the intangible nature of music and the tangible nature of fashion. A link, between the physical nature of fashion and the intangibility of music that finds in music videos an ideal touch point. As Maria Cristina Marchetti and Nello Barile state,18 video clips — which are real cultural divulgation and aesthetic tools — have represented, and still represent today, the most important medium for the creation of the image of an artist, through the spectacularization of the artist’s image. A spectacularization that makes the performers — as well as the clothes they wear — objects of desire.19 Music videos still represent today a space for aesthetic, formal and technological experimentation. From a pure promotional product, halfway between cinema and advertising, they have increasingly become an independent art form. An artistic form that almost immediately blended with fashion, making it increasingly faster, more consumable and disposable than ever before.20 Fashion designers have started using music videos as promotional tools. But also as places to show their creativity through constant collaborations with musicians and singers21 as a tool for staging their creative process22 or as featuring collaborations.23
The short form of the video clips also shares several characteristics with the fashion world: a high dissipative character (both are made available for consumption for limited periods and are replaced by new productions); and an almost unlimited creative freedom that allows to experiment always new technologies and aesthetics.24
Different types of connections that in the historical evolution have defined various opportunities for interaction: from the communication one to the decorative one, from the performance one to the creative one. Fashion communication has created a strong partnership, between fashion brands, musicians and singers, that has grown over the years through the language of advertising and fashion photography25 or the creation of collaborations for the production of items or collections in co-edition. The tangible forms of music (notes, sheet music, musical instruments) are also the starting point for the creation of clothes and accessories from Elsa Schiapparelli to Viktor&Rolf have defined some of the most outstanding fashion collections since the beginning of the twentieth-century up to the present day.
Aesthetic imagery conveyed through videos, and live performances are also the starting point for fashion collections. Collections which are practically costumes as in Jean Paul Gaultier’s Spring/Summer 2013 fashion show, which presents on the catwalk almost the same looks and the same outfits of music icons such as David Bowie, Grace Jones, Boy George and Annie Lennox. Ultimately the relationship between music, fashion and body in motion takes shape when choreographers and designers work together to create fashion shows26 and dance performances.27 But the link between music and fashion does not end here. On the contrary, especially in contemporary music defines a brand new creative process that goes from Vivienne Westwood to Virgil Abhol through Rei Kawakubo and Martin Margiela.

The Sound of Fashion. Music as part of a Fashion Creative Discourse

Music over the years has generated or stimulated changes, not only of style but also from a social and cultural level.

The evidence of the juncture between fashion, music and dance was marked when Strauss’s music inspired the waltz and gracious nineteenth-century ballroom gowns; when the 1920s jazz provided the tempo to swing the lightweight Charleston-fringed dresses; and when modern south American dancing set the stage of sexually charged, tight-fitting tango garments. In the 1930s, musical theatre and Broadway shows extened a great influence on everyday fashion as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical scores created a new Hollywood cultural genre with its unique concept of glamour.28

At the beginning of the twentieth century, women were free from the rigid structures of nineteenth-century fashion. They began to wear lighter and less structured clothes “which shimmered and ‘flapped’ with the slightest movement on the dance floor.”29 Simultaneously to the diffusion of jazz music, the structure of the clothes changes: the corsets and meters of fabric that characterized the outfits of the late nineteenth century disappear. Fashion and clothes become a communication media that, over the years, define new forms of clothing through an increasingly close synergy with artistic and musical movements. Subcultures were born, they became increasingly mainstream and established wide niches in global markets.

Clothes sing, records talk, style is language, and genre is affinity. In a moment where digital communication is imperilled, the kids are, all of them right. Fashion and music are the morse code of young people, providing aa system of both signification and organization that is habitually turned into a commercial system of class emblems … Clothes and songs are analogue, even if the source is digital; they both move through physical space before they are captured.30

Space — whether real or virtual, urban, commercial or for entertainment — in which bodies move and music is consumed, becomes the stage for changes in style and endless loops that fashion and music define, in a syncretism between novelty and revival. We witness the coexistence of styles, sounds and attitudes from distant epochs and geographies, but which, in a postmodern way, mix in an aesthetic and cultural melting pot. Subcultures such as Flappers, Zazous, Beats, Bikers, Teddy Boys, Mods, Hippies, Punks, B-boys, Metalheads, Skaters, Rappers, Grunge, Ravers, Emos, just to name a few, persist in the contemporary, between nostalgic revival and contamination that take shape through industry, film, music and the fashion system. As Nello Barile states, the proximity of the music and fashion systems has led to a chaotic movement of sharing of signs.31
The boundaries between the two became more and more blurred. For the first time, the boundaries are clearly and definitively demolished by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Mclaren who implement in fashion the same creative process which is typical in the punk movement by breaking (of clothes as of melodies), distorting (of volumes as of sounds) and creating chaos (of references and rhythms). A process that made chaos and noise — as punk music was perceived by the establishment — the design vision of the two British creatives.32
We can say, paraphrasing Adam Lowe and Charlotte Skene Catling, that for the two British designers, chaos and noise give shape to their creative act.33 A performative act defines through a process of selection and reduction that aims to reveal a pre-existing element. Instead of a method of addition, it is a process of subtraction. An action that involves the finished garment, through operations of destruction, subtraction and recomposition according to an (apparently) random order of elements, materials and artefacts from different backgrounds, social contexts and eras. (Fig. 1) A fusion of elements, confusion of symbols, Do-It-Yourself, disassembly and reconstruction under new forms, become creative actions that characterize for a long time the scene of experimentation both in music and fashion.

Figure 1: Punks at a festival, the early 1980s
© Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images

A new trajectory of fashion in the second half of the twentieth century is defined, thanks to designers such as Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo on the one hand and Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester and Rick Owens on the other, who with their work follow idly the path taken by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Mclaren. An approach generically labelled, the first time by Bill Cunningham, as deconstruction fashion.34 The label attributed by Bill Cunningham to Margiela has marked, (Fig. 2) often incorrectly, not only the group of designers mentioned above, but also the many designers who have made the concepts of unfinished, asymmetry, and imperfection only an aesthetic element and not a real creative process. Many designers, in fact, reject the label of deconstruction fashion. For example, Rei Kawakubo in 1998 declared: “Deconstruction, reconstruction, etc. are words given by the media. What I try to do in my work is to dispense with preconceived ideas (about language or fashion, for example) and established techniques to create something new.”35

Figure 2: Bill Cunningham, images and text on Martin Margiela, Autumn/Winter 1989, Details, September 1989

The approach of the founder of Comme des Garçons and the Dover Street Market is not limited to an aesthetic or formal language. We could say that she adopts the same method that in music was introduced by the French composer Pierre Schaeffer at the end of the 1940s. As Pierre Schaffer starts for his compositions from noises, traditional, western or exotic musical instruments, voices and various types of synthetic sounds,36 in the same way, Rei Kawakubo redefines the language of fashion and the relationship between clothes and the body through very elaborate, if not even equilibristic37 montages, defining an approach generated by an innate intellectual and speculative curiosity, implemented through a divertissement that takes place in a practice of instinctive intervention, at times playful, on the construction of volumes and forms.

Paraphrasing Chion38 the effect of manipulation of the dress and the body, performed by Rei Kawakubo is in a certain sense not predictable a priori on paper because the creation ends when the last touch is given to the dress. From this point of view, as for some modern and contemporary music compositions, the dress is not something that pre-exists in the designer’s mind because it is not the starting point, but the end point, the purpose of the creative process. (Fig. 3)