Fashion Space. Essay by Bradley Quinn

Fashion Space

The spectacle of fashion masses in and around our clothing, constituting a unique space in itself. Fashion space can be found in urban cityscapes and built environments, but also on digital platforms and in virtual worlds. As the spaces of fashion extend beyond their physical confines, they take shape at precisely the point where traditional definitions of public space – as urban sites, democratic arenas and open-access areas – break down.

By Bradley Quinn

Fashion space is nothing new, it has existed throughout time. It has been constantly rewritten, but never erased. It has always been a field of action for an endless exchange of codes and interpretations, including predatory sexuality, promiscuous styles and fleeting identities. Fashion space reflects structures of economic power, social interactions, and commodification, yet also provides sites for curiosity, exploration and resistance. It is a stock exchange of status and chic, where the kudos of labels and the reputations of designers boom and crash. A vast territorial sprawl that extends to strange and uncertain destinations, fashion space is global in reach.

Dominated by the ideology of the public sphere, fashion space, like fashion itself, produces a sense that there is something more, some more intense experience, a wider horizon to be found. Fashion space is both a written source and a visual representation, read like a text and decoded in cinema-like images. Imbricated with fantasy and desire, as well as suffused with memories and nostalgia for other places, fashion space is always heavily romanticised, and imbued with fiction, fetishism and ideals. Unpredictable, immense, uncharted, condensed; lived, performed, directed, reformed – it weaves in and out of public architecture and stiches through private space. Fashion space is not limited to particular places, giving it a wide spectrum of possibilities to exploit.

Although fashion is expansive in scope, fashion space shrinks the distance between body and building. Conceived as space, garments are designed and constructed as three-dimensional entities rather than second-skin façades, and are simultaneously thoughtful and sensual. The spatial enclosures that garments and buildings provide are produced by a convolution of vision and tactility. Numerous sensual transactions occur between the body, the eye and the building as the wearer traverses the space. Fashion space is felt, seen and travelled, implying a kinetic way of experiencing the garment as well as the space itself.

One of the functions of fashion space is to broker the connection of opposites, bridging the static with fluid movement, merging privatised space with public existence. Fashion space is premised on mobility, a key consideration of architecture. Buildings are designed to predict and anticipate the effects of the contrasts and linkages through which the individual must pass; as garments anchor the space around them, they become signifiers of the body’s connections to the spatiality of lived experience.

Fashion, like architecture, is not constructed as an object to which movement is added. Movement and garment are conceived as a single expression, enabling fashion to exist in the dimension of time and movement. A building is conceived and experienced in terms of sequences; it is a modernist transaction of movement and form premised on representing and experiencing. Both architecture and fashion articulate the dimensions and essence of existential space; both create experiential scenes of individuals moving through urban life. In the same way that buildings and cities preserve and reconstruct representations of society, fashion space juxtaposes an archaeology of the era that it references along with the signifiers of the present.

Fashion space can be described as a synthesis of fiction and realism. Catwalk shows combine the artificiality of the catwalk with the affected movement of the model, presenting garments in a hyperreal context that radically dislocates them from their intended environments. What takes place on the catwalk is fictitious, but it is not experienced by the viewer as artificial, because it appears divisible and repeatable. In the context of everyday life, the garments in a collection continue to be animated by a multitude of wearers against many different backdrops. In this abstract sense, fashion space is intensely cinematic; as the frame of a film is replayed many times and the action reconstituted, the circulation of garments through fashion space repeats these movements.

Looks are created or reconfigured with fashion space, where individual social realities take on new contexts. The fashioned identity exists as a work in progress: unfinished, incomplete, mechanical, serviceable and renewable. It confronts the imagined with the real, affirming or negating the prevailing assumptions about individual social identity and relative positions in social space. Fashion space represents the means to affirm or deny these convictions through clothing alone, constantly tempering new versions of self-fashioning through other garments.

The concept of space presumes the presence of a public. Fashion space is characterised by onlookers and participants with different and often conflicting sensibilities. Multiple publics take shape in fashion space as style tribes form and disperse. Individuals may circulate among several publics simultaneously, or clearly demarcate themselves from the outsider ‘publics’ who do not conform to the conventions of ‘their’ space. When fashion space is enacted in built forms, it is framed by the kind of architecture that elevates the commodities of fashion to provide a space that is easily accessible to its patrons but capable of filtering the foreign, alien, unwelcomed ‘public’. Architecture creates one such ‘filter’, providing the means for fashion to manage space and use it to construct images of desire.

Right now, fashion is beginning to reinvent itself as a space for both speaking and listening, as an open forum where individual identities are finding expression in both real and virtual spaces. Fashion space reframes the way we engage with digital spaces and understand the role of bricks-and-mortar architecture. As expressions of fashion begin to create fresh relationships with the spaces around them, we may never be able to draw a demarcation line around fashion’s ubiquitious space.

Author, academic and fashion industry strategist, Bradley Quinn is an expert on wearable technology and emerging trends. He has written several books, including Techno Fashion, UltraMaterials, Textile Futures, Design Futures, Fashion Futures and Textile Visionaries. Based near Paris, Bradley also directs Bureau Bradley Quinn, a communication agency for the creative industries.