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Booklook – Wearing is Publishing is Reading


A set of garment-magazine hybrids that unfold hidden stories about fashion and garments.


The reader of a fashion magazine casually scans, browses and flicks through its glossy pages. They jump through the content, constantly interrupted by advertisements and opening the magazine in random places. They encounter flat images and short snippets of text which are sometimes about garments, but just as often are not; they address the fibres of dreams instead of fabrics. The magazine, found in living rooms, bedrooms, waiting rooms, beauty salons and shops, is held in hands and laid on laps - the supple and heavy pages following the form of the reader’s upper legs. The paper feels cold, the text promises “Ethereal, elegant dresses that will have you dreaming of summer escapes”.1

Although hinting at garments, fashion media offers us no actual interaction with a real, material garment. Apart from the occasional T-shirt folded into the plastic wrappings of a magazine, such as a white T-shirt with the word Vogue on it, there is no material garment in a magazine or online fashion platform. There is no real woven texture or stretchy knit touching your skin, no holes to put your head, arms or legs through. In fashion media we, as ‘readers’, interact with fashion through looking at garments, not through wearing them. Even though fashion is seen as inseparably connected to material garments and bodies, fashion in media takes the shape of images and text. Or like Barthes says: image clothing and written clothing, instead of real clothing.2 This de-materialized and disembodied form of fashion, representing garments instead of being them, makes it easy to circulate fashion; it fits in your (digital) mailbox, on your apps, on your mobile phone and computer screens.

The lack of the material garment in fashion media is not only a literal absence. In the images, and especially in the texts, we can detect the ‘loss’ of the material garment as well. Although many images and texts in fashion media depict garments, they are focussed on the looks or visual style of the garments instead of their real materiality and our physical interaction with them: “Multipocketed trousers have never looked more desirable.3

The written garment (the text) especially, freed from the practical and aesthetic restrictions of the real garment and the photo, easily evades material reality. It often describes the look of a fabric or the ‘feel’ of a look, not the depth of the pockets, the smell of a fabric and the sound of a zipper. Instead, the text creates new meanings and symbolisms that are not present in the garment or photo itself. It invents and explicates feelings or values that we are supposed to associate with a garment. Take these examples from the magazine Porter: “So, wear that ‘wow’ dress whenever you want to if it gives you strength”4 or “Channel Ipanema’s laid-back spirit of adventure with sizzling swimwear and beach essentials to bring surfer style to hot days.”5 According to these captions, dresses can feel like ‘wow’ and give you strength and swimwear can be ‘sizzling’ and channel a ‘laid-back spirit of adventure’. The media’s focus on looks, style, symbolism and feelings easily dismiss and ‘cuts through’ the connections with the real act of wearing, the interaction of the body with the material garment, and the garments’ situatedness in daily life, with all its particularities. 

Circulated and easily adopted through the many magazines and online platforms, mainstream fashion media is a strong force in the general fashion discourse. The disconnection from the material garment and the body (in form and content) that these forms of media are built upon, therefore plays an essential role in our perception and understanding of fashion (as a system of value production) and garments (as material objects that we wear).

It is important to realize that, due to its interconnectedness with the commercial fashion industry (its brands and conglomerates), dominant mainstream fashion media is determined by industry.6 Its text, images and circulation are aimed at sales and revenue. Fashion media approaches the wearer as a consumer and the garment as a commodity, a standardized commercial good. The commercial foundation of the mainstream fashion media becomes explicit in the overt presence of advertising (a typical mainstream fashion magazine starts with at least 20 pages of advertisements) but also in the fact that the industry determines the content of fashion media in general. This makes the glossy fashion magazine into a sales guide.

In order to successfully turn garments into attractive commodities, the fashion industry heavily relies on alienating practices. Through fragmented and hidden production processes, outsourcing, world-wide distribution and brand facades, the industry disconnects the garment from the makers, the locality of its material, its cultural origins, and the exploitation and waste that came about in its creation. Cutting these cords of reality gives way to the production of new, alluring, fashionable stories: presenting the idea of an ‘authentic craftsman’ instead of showing the assembly line factory worker that actually made the garment, veiling the murder of an animal in order to promote a ‘sustainable’ leather boot, or ignoring cultural origins to present a weave design as a new fashionable style. Alienation is essential for the success of commercial, industrial fashion.

Originating and still situated in the Global North, the dominant (industry-led) fashion media plays an essential role in the creation and preservation of a Eurocentric and consumerist fashion discourse that dismisses the real materiality of garments and their situatedness in our lived realities. Disconnected from our bodies, (non-industrial) histories of production and cultural heritage, fashion media dumbs down our relationship to fashion and enhances symbolic stereotyping and shallow repetitive narratives.

Booklook is a project that merges the fashion magazine with the material garment, resulting in a set of hybrid items that fuse reading and wearing. Printed on fabric-like paper, the project collects and shares stories that are not based on stereotypical commercial Eurocentric narratives but stem from the situatedness of garments in non-commercial, cultural, and daily realities.

Booklook is a series of magazines that can be unfolded into a set of garments (for example an apron, a shirt and a balaclava) which can again be refolded into a magazine. It’s nothing new that a garment can be folded, but the Booklookitems are made of a fabric-like paper, carrying printed images, texts and page numbers. They have a reading order and adhere to the squared physical shape of a magazine. Although they fit in your physical mailbox like traditional printed fashion media does, these items also fit on your body, they can be worn. 

Booklook plays with familiar and important agents in the fashion industry: the garment, the fashion magazine, and as the title suggests, the lookbook, a publication in which brands traditionally offer buyers an overview of their collection (their ‘looks’). Booklook instead aims to address this dominant consumerist fashion discourse. Instead of denying and cutting the cords with the reality of production, cultural situatedness, historical references and practices of use, Booklook opens up these narratives and tells exactly these stories. By inviting makers, thinkers, designers and writers with various backgrounds to share their experiences and knowledge about the role of garments in their lives, cultures and practices, the set of Booklook items aims to form a collection of narratives that can help us question and reflect on the dominant commercial stories in fashion and redefine the role of fashion and garments in a cultural, social, political and economic context.

Instead of wearing the logo of a big brand, sponsoring fashion conglomerates, or expressing an ironic message of pseudo-criticism that often leads to nothing, Booklook uses the garment and the fashion magazine (actors which are co-opted by the fashion industry), in order to protest.
The combination of text and image printed on paper-fabric and worn on bodies not only situates Booklook in fashion in general and fashion(media)in particular, it also clearly shares tropes of protest wear. While the paper placards or shirts with text worn by protesters often refer to situations, persons, institutions and topics outside of the garment (such as a shirt that says ‘Make America Great Again’ or ‘Defund The Cops’), Booklook instead uses the garment to protest against the industry and dominant discourse itself. Inspired by a boycott of Judy Bond blouses (by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, in the 1960s, US) showing protesters that carried placards saying ‘don’t buy Judy Bond blouses’7, Booklook’s items are protest wear against the dominant fashion narrative and the role of garments within it. And instead of the short, striking slogans that are customary for commercial fashion media or protest wear, Booklookinvites you into lengthier narratives that situate the garment in its context.

Easily circulated by mail-order and through the simple act of wearing, Booklook offers an embodied way to protest against the disconnected, disembodied and alienated fashion industry and its discourse. When received at home and unfolded, the stories can be worn. You can wrap them around your body, put your arms through them and feel the material on your skin. The image, text, body and garment interconnect. The act of wearing the garment and simply walking around in it becomes an act of publishing. Booklook is an embodied way of sharing, unfolding and reading stories that are often hidden and unknown because the mainstream fashion discourse deems them trivial, unglamorous, unfashionable and unprofitable.

Wearing becomes publishing, wearing becomes reading.




1    Elle, UK. May 2019. London: Hearst. p.20
2    Barthes, R. (1967) The Fashion System. Berkeley: University of California Press. p.3
3    Vogue, UK. March 2019. London: Condé Nast. p.47
4    Porter, UK, Summer 2019. London: Net – A - Porter Group. p.66
5    Porter, UK. Summer 2019. London: Net–A–Porter Group. p.16
6    Titton, M. (2016) ‘Fashion criticism unravelled: A sociological critique of criticism in fashion media’, in International Journal of Fashion Studies, 3: 2.
7    A caption saying: “Picketers with placards that urge people not to buy Judy Bond blouses, pose for a group photo outside the Gertz Center, 1965 estimated, unknow photographer.” In: Vinebaum, L. (2017) New Demands? Part 1, in Countersignals, #2, fall 2017 - winter 2018. Chicago: Other Forms. p.62 The nationwide boycott of Judy Bond was organized by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union after the company moved production from New York to a Brewton, Alabama, plant in 1961, looking for cheap labor while putting the previous workers out of work. (link)

Booklook is a project by Anouk Beckers.
This text is written by Femke de Vries.
 


2023