The Magic of Elsewhere
The fundamental element underpinning both the photography of fashion and the essence of Haute Couture design is the magic of elsewhere. What we observe time and again is the otherworldly nature of these designs, with the models themselves acting as a conduit through which we are transported to an idealized vision of our own society. Controversy will reign about the extreme physical nature of today’s models; however, it is simply impossible to imagine a change occurring. This is not some failing on the part of the industry to protect its workers; instead, it is inherent within the magical reimagining of the world undertaken by fashion itself.
Perfection is not everything; we need only look at Georgia Jagger or Lara Stone to see that it is idiosyncrasy that defines this industry. However, both women, beautiful as they are, will begin to lose their caché as the feature that defines them becomes increasingly normalised; this is the crux of fashion’s dynamic progression and the reason why ‘last season’ will never be good enough. In the words of Mao Zedong – the irony is not lost on me – there is enacted a ‘constant revolution’, in a way that the capitalist market thrives upon. The clothes, and the models who wear them, must forever depart from the normal, forever depart from the security of the present.
This ethos is captured on film just as forcefully as it struts along the catwalk; everywhere we see a desire to express that which does not occur in our daily life: the clothes are impractical; the scenarios, fantastical; the models, an impossible extension beyond the realms of our imagination. The photography we see in the pages of Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar is not simply the commercial wrangling of the major fashion houses as they jostle for primacy, it is a form of escapism in which we can briefly imagine a world beyond our own.
The beauty of these images is that they need never come into contact with reality; they remain the preserve of our fantasy and need not translate into the practical utility of daily wear. There is no doubt that a certain filtration occurs, in which elements of Haute Couture will find themselves reproduced synthetically at a High Street level; however, this is not to be sneered at. Indeed, this entire process completes the cycle of normalisation required to compel the industry into action. As one image finds its way into our wardrobe, there is the necessity to enact a departure, to defamiliarise once more; it does not matter to where we choose to depart, as long as it is elsewhere.
W. J. Humphries