FASHION, DISTINCTION, DEMOCRACY

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IT’s possible that Fashion’s power reached its zenith when Kate Middleton married the heir to the British dynastic throne of the United Kingdom in April 2011.

Prince William had fallen in love with her, it was said, as she paraded down the catwalk at a charity Fashion show in their shared university town of St. Andrew’s, near Edinburgh, in Scotland.

Roland Barthes, the 20th century French philosopher and voyeur would have been fascinated by how the signs of the harem had transmitted themselves to a virile young royal.

Realising that the written garment is made by publicists and journalists, created through words, Barthes was interested in the way sign systems produce not clothing, not women, but the abstract notion of Fashion. He saw any number of extra meanings in everyday gestures and images. His genius was to write about them in a kind of reverse poetry; to reconstitute rather than condense.

Arch flâneur, he was consumed with a passion for observation. Speaking of Fashion as a ‘cross-subsidising organism’, he was enchanted by its vivacity, seeing it as a living thing. He thought it could do two things at once; extend everyone’s access to clothes, while making each wearer feel distinctive.

He writes of modern democracy, as if it were a universal given. In mid 20th century Paris it may have felt quite near.  Now not so much!

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