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On Queer Lives, Fashion, Mourning, and Pulse (Fashion Conscious: A Column)

August 18, 2016

by Dominique Michelle Davis

The mass murder in Orlando at Pulse Nightclub, which claimed the life of 49 people, had me feeling less than optimistic about the future of our country, although I believe that love has a true power to heal pain and hurt. I tread lightly with the following words as not to unintentional offend anyone. I am not trivializing or trying to marginalize the LGBTQ community to a world of fashion and the arts, we know that LGBTQ people are and bring so much more to the world than that, so know that I get it. Still, the recent murder of all of those people, and the target specifically of the LGBTQ merged with a due date for a article. Unable to mourn without writing, and grieve without mourning, I thought I would try to find a way to accept the clear synthesis of the two for me over this summer. So this column is dedicated to members of the community that identify with the LGBTQ community as allies or otherwise. People have dedicated their life’s work to our society whether embraced or not.

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As a member of the human race and being doubly oppressed as an African American woman, I was floored by the inhuman hatred that we still harbor toward our fellow humans. The human existence is thought to be one of the highest levels of transcendence as we have the ability to intellectualize thoughts and act beyond our worse instincts. The human struggle is difficult enough with the games and systems that exist within our society, and for us to choose to add on the persecution of our fellow human beings based on whom they choose to love or who loves them is deeply sad. This Fashion Conscious column then pays respect to the lives lost to senseless violence due to a hatred caused by lack of understanding, a lack of empathy and persistent intolerance.

Numerous people have written about the many wonderful contributions LGBTQ people have made to history, culture, politics, and religious life. Fashion is, of course, only one such area. In February 2015, for example, Queerty ran a story called “The 15 Greatest Gay Designers,” while legendary fashion scholar Valerie Steele of the Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) presented an exhibit and accompanying book called “A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk.”

Jenny Shimizu - QueerHistoryOfFashionBookCover

Writings like this article and book provide such important insights into some of the many contributions that queer people have made to fashion for more than a century.Confirmation of these contributions are all around me. Every time I look around at the day to day fashion in the city of Chicago alone, I stand to view at least 1 person wearing a Michael Kors watch, purse, or shoes, not to mention he was a major factor in project runway, Yeezus shouts out Ver-say-ce in “when it all falls down”, Nikki Minaj repped Alexander McQueen, Calvin Klein has been an influential figure within the fashion industry and the list continues beyond the world of fashion of how many people have contributed to advance our culture and broaden the perspectives of curators and critics.

In the days following the murders at Pulse, many people took to news and social media to grieve. Several noted that what was sad was that so many of the people were so young and had so much they would do with there lives and contribute to the world. I understood that and share that sense of loss, and and yet, I hesitate to highlight or mourn these contributions in the same way I have talked about what queer people have given to fashion here because, what Pulse taught me about mourning queer lives taken with such disregard is that it shouldn’t take for a person to be a great designer, dancer, singer, actor, politician, religious leader, teacher or anything at all for us to mourn them. The death of any person, and in the context of what I say here any queer person, is a loss because it is a loss of a human being who other people loved and needed. So much of the focus on those who were killed at Pulse, and the queer people who are killed everyday because they are queer, makes the well intentioned point that their death means also the death of potential for what things they will have bought to the world. My point here is that their potential doesn’t matter. It is a loss regardless and tragic regardless. The simple taking of a life is sad enough, and focusing on what those people could have or would have been seems also a bit too insufficient. So this column ends, perhaps rather abruptly and still very sadly, in not really knowing what to say, but hoping that we can create a space to be.

Fashion

Uniform Madness? (Fashion Conscious: A Column)

May 2, 2016

(above: Eco-conscious haute couture look by Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel.) 

by Dominique Michelle Davis

Over the past few weeks I’ve begun to read Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul by Dr. Tanisha Ford, and reading Glamourtunist editor Dr. Eric D. Pritchard’s recent post of “Dissonance, Denim and Social Change,” I began to wonder about the origins of uniformed apparel as a sense of belonging to an outfit or organization demonstrating solidarity among its members. This brought my thoughts back to my very first “Fashion Conscious” column, when I learned and wrote about the first known fashion designer to create his own fashion label which was a break from societal norms placing him on the vanguard within the fashion industry.

In thinking about what keeps fashion current and moving forward are the artists that are willing to take risks and break from the traditional molds to present a different view for consumers. This could include incorporating political messages or an affront to societal rules by redefining hemlines, incorporating traditional and cultural ethnic inspired prints, color contrasts and mirroring nature. The Gucci spring/summer 2016 show perfectly exemplified breaking out of the mold and uniformity along multiple lines, especially mixing colors and prints on clothes and accessories in gloriously wacky ways.

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Gucci, Spring/Summer 2016.

I also think about the cliché term that history and fashion repeats itself which brings me to one of the current fashion trends forecast for this spring and summer which is 70s inspired suede and fringe garments. We’ve seen the look presented in the 2016 collections of designers Jonathan Sanders, Alberta Ferretti, Rebecca Minkoff and Olivier Rouesteing. Historic recurrence is thought to be the repetition of similar events in history.

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Rebecca Minkoff, Spring/Summer 2016

Staying in line with what was happening in the 1970s we could draw a few parallels to the current state of affairs in the decade of 2010. In the 1970s films like “Rocky” and “Star Wars” were released and the rise of technological advances saw of the first commercially available game being released. In 2015-2016, “Creed” and “Star Wars VII” were released and we see the advancement of social media networks such as Instagram, Snapchat and Kik.

Reviewing the political climate of the 1970s in comparison to the current state of affairs it is interesting and noteworthy to mention how the people continue to use threads as a method of communication to advance social change.In politics, the second wave of the feminist movement grew celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the 19th amendment to the United Stated Constitution which also saw the Women’s Strike for Equality and other protests as well as Margaret Thatcher became the first woman Prime Minister in the United Kingdom in 1979, and of course in 1972 Shirley Chisholm became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

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In 2009 the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed and in 2016 Hilary Rodham Clinton is running for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination for President of United States. With this in mind I think of Karl Lagerfeld’s recent eco-conscious haute couture collection for Chanel to be mindful to use repurposed materials and bringing an environmentally conscious collection to the forefront for consumers and fashion elite alike.

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Karl Lagerfield’s recent eco-fashion collection for Chanel.

Dr. Ford and Dr. Pritchard shed light on how apparel was used to help bridge the advancement of blacks across the African diaspora and promote social change. Apparel has long been used to show solidarity in wardrobe uniformity across political structures to showcase party allegiance. The use of colors, and structure and likeness of uniforms creates and promotes cohesion and at the very least the appearance of harmony and conformity. Individual breaks and/or the use of uniformed apparel to break from rigid or traditional norms attempts to cause a disturbance to what has been understood to be acceptable. The ability to have free will and choice of how to appear clothed in public can be liberating and maybe evening therapeutic for a sense self expression. The use of apparel throughout history can be viewed as having multidimensional in its approach to represent a structure, a movement or a creative vision to spark a conversation for change.

Glamourtunist

Sightful Sensation: Style and Visual Culture (‘Fashion Conscious’ Column)

March 28, 2016
(ABOVE photo credit: from eco friend, a brain model made out of recycled denim).

by Dominique M. Davis

Ever wonder what causes your heart to skip a beat as you fight a damn near orgasmic reaction to the flyest pair of pumps, no wait, caged sandals, and the bag… the bag to die for paired with the perfect skirt and a lipstick that screams wear me NOW? The power of visuals is a powerful draw, presenting images that appeal to our senses and ultimately our desires. Marketing and advertising has a lot of influence in consumer purchasing behavior, but why and how? My interest in visual art and fashion as a visual art led me to do a little information gathering on visual art and how it influences or affects the brain and consumer purchasing behavior.

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In my search, I went through some articles on neuroscience and neurobiology that provided insight supporting how visual art has real affects on the brain in both perception and cognition. How does this apply to fashion, beauty and the arts? As we perceive images we assign meaning or interpret data to discern and make informed judgments and/or decisions. Culture and society has a huge influence on norms and customs which can affect consumer tastes preferences and purchasing behavior. Integrate marketing and advertising to appeal to emotional states of mind and the power of visuals can become that much greater in influencing culture.

Fashion and beauty (whatever that may mean to you) has the power to empower and transcend norms and traditional customs by incorporating messages from all walks of life and cultures. In an editorial for Ebony.com   entitled “Who Gets to Make a Social Fashion Statement?” Eric Darnell Pritchard cautions us to be more mindful of the inequality evident in   what politicized fashion statements are readily accepted and celebrated, and which are targeted for dismissal or punishment particularly when they visually disrupt norms.

Fashion is a visual art form that can be a creative outlet of expression in a culture bogged down in norms and customs. The images that we see can trigger a multitude of emotions and sometimes call to action. I think about Karl Lagerfeld’s latest haute couture collection for Chanel during Paris Fashion Week 2016 which focused on eco-conscious couture. This high fashion couture collection focused on environmentally conscious fabrics keeping the integrity of couture and incorporating socially conscious and environmentally friendly messages.

The power of visual art has a huge influential factor on society and culture, fashion as a visual art has the ability to evoke thought, appeal to emotional content, and allow for creative expression while still serving a functional purpose of clothing the body. That’s a lot for one brain to process.

Fashion

Fashion Conscious: A Column

November 3, 2015

by Dominique Michelle Davis

[Editor’s Note: It is my great honor to introduce the very first “Fashion Conscious,” a column that will be a featured monthly on Glamourtunist.com, and penned by contributing writer Dominique M. Davis. You can learn more about Dominique’s experience working in and love of fashion on our contributor’s page, but I wanted to extend that to say that Dominique and I previously worked together on a project where we styled and produced fashion shows several years ago, and it was one of the great joys of my own work in fashion. Since that time she has gone on to complete a Masters of Education degree in Community Counseling, with interests in arts therapy, and writing and development. “Fashion Conscious” will merge Dominique’s intersecting areas of expertise, joining it with Glamourtunist.com’s  commitment to “celebrating people of color, LGBTQ people, women, youth culture and all types of bodies in fashion and pop culture. All too often the messages we receive in pop culture and fashion can be destructive… this [is a] resource that loves pop culture and fashion but doesn’t come with any of the baggage!!” as said by a supporter, Dr. David Glisch-Sanchez of Soul Support Life Coaching. So please enjoy Dominique’s first “Fashion Conscious” column below, and please read, share and otherwise engage with her important work. Love, Eric]

“…I walk the streets and camouflage my identity…”

~Fugees, The Mask

These lyrics from The Fugees prompt gnawing thoughts of a curious fashion fiend, and invites me to consider questions like: How does your outward appearance reflect who you are? How does clothing mask our identities?

Alexander McQueen's "Red Lace Dress Covering Head"/ photo credit: Chris Osburn

Alexander McQueen’s “Red Lace Dress Covering Head”/ photo credit: Chris Osburn

I think we all believe that we are making conscious choices about the garments and labels that we purchase as consumers. However, I have to consider Miranda Priestley from the Devil Wears Prada when she stated, “…that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.” Let us consider this for a moment. I argue that our outward appearance is not a true reflection of who we are, simply because the garments have been preselected and predetermined for us. So how do we truly become individualist in our fashion?

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In the 19th century, Charles Frederick Worth (above) was the first designer to have his label sewn into the garments he created. Although Worth set the stage for implementing a democratic process for designers to get credit for their work, it nonetheless added to the elitism perpetuating social constructs of class. Take a huge step forward for artists developing a profitable niche market. While this allowed tailors to gain artistic control of their designs, it also created a competition within the market, giving way to the best designer to be dressmaker for the social elite. I guess some things still haven’t changed although we see new labels such as BySonyaMarie, whose mission is to bring “Hollywood to the middle class.” This is one individual choosing to start a long journey of making the fashion industry as an art form more equitable for all to enjoy.

The roots of contemporary couture offer some details that are conversant with my interests here in deciphering the camouflaged identities of artistic expression from fashion elitism. In the beginning, fashion, if I dare to declare it as such was as basic as hardware of gold and tribal markings, evolving into a multibillion-dollar industry, which can perpetuate narcissistic behaviors of using labels as a way to distinguish class. No judgment in that last statement. I enjoy designer labels too! I appreciate pieces by the likes of Lois London, Charles Elliott Harbison and Barbara Bates to name a few.

Although I have a consumer science background I’m just becoming more conscious of implementing how to question the motives of my behavior. This leads me to further my knowledge of consumer markets and read more about Marx theory and John Locke in regards to class and consciousness. I consider how my dollar is impacting the world… and my wallet; making me more aware of the purchasing power of the consumer. As this relates to fashion, I am more concerned with the quality of the garment and consider for example; the price? How long will this last? Is this a classic, a trendy or a fashion forward item? How many styles can I get from this one piece? How am I feeling about my purchase? And lastly, am I using this purchase as a way to mask emotions and avoid dealing with difficult situations? The last two questions can be great to avoid the slippery slope of developing a process addiction, a debilitating habit of using processes to avoid feeling pain. On the flip side, internally there is a multitude of conflicting emotions occurring simultaneously within each of us. As a way for us to express ourselves, we buy clothing that suits our individual taste.

Fashion is what you determine. Labels or no labels, however you choose to present yourself is up to you. I challenge us to be more aware and conscious about what drives you internally, and what role fashion can play in a greater effort to express that outwardly. We owe it to ourselves, and to those who are watching and can learn from us, to become more conscious about our adornment beyond labels. My purpose is to use the arts – including fashion and style – to promote social consciousness. This is how I choose to express myself and make a positive impact on this world today and for the generations to come. It would be great if we had a relationship to fashion and style that breaks down labels and lets us get to know one another genuinely, and not the mask we adorn ourselves with day to day.