Monday, February 15, 2010

The Postmodern: Bricolage & Intertextuality

by Ece Oney

The idea of the Postmodern condition is associated with Jean François Lyotard. He was born in 1924 in Versailles, France. He was a French Philosopher and literary theorist. In the 1970's he was hired by the Canadian government to study society. He wrote the La condition postmoderne: Rapport sur le savoir ( The Postmodern Condition: A report on knowledge). He stated that we are now aware of differences, diversity, beliefs and desires, and the incompatibility of our aspirations. He talks about how reason and imagination work differently.

Malcolm Barnard explains the differences between Modernity & Postmodernity. Modernity was considered the era of the industrial revolution, when people's lives were influenced by machinery and mass production.

Postmodernity, was the era after modernism, when excess and individualization began. Modernity conceived of the object in terms of production, postmodernity conceives of it in terms of consumption. There wasn’t one set meaning to an object or a garment anymore. Both postmodernity and its fashion were based on new and different ideas. This created desire for new things and for the latest model. So there was a cycle of desire for endless difference. Now in most cases our needs are met and the mystical value of some thing is more important than the use value.

The postmodern era emphasizes difference so there is no metanarrative, meaning no real right or wrong. This creates a lot of subjective confusion and creates what is known as the "postmodern crisis of meaning" in which people are overwhelmed by options and no longer know what to do with their lives.

Modern mass production created excess that resulted in the current postmodernity of style. With excess production of clothing, people combined the variety of forms.

Combining and assembling things to form something new is called bricolage. The idea of adaptability is also postmodern.

Pastiche is a playful reference to a master work. Pastiche happens when a design directly references another, as in YSL's reference to artist Mondrian's work below. Bricolage, as described above and seen below right, involves combing sometimes anonymous things that have already been used, and also giving them new purposes and meanings. Bricolage is able to create new meaning from the old while pastiche is just referencing the old for what it means.

With excess there is also cultural referencing between signs. It is similar to pastiche but it involves more than one media and is called intertextuality. With excess signs in media, designers and artists can play with the signs that only mean something within media. This is the practice of a dj, mixing samples that represent the songs themselves without having to play the whole track.

Signs are meaningless if there are no other ones to compare them with. Intertextuality is relating something to a well known reference from the past. For example Madonna wearing a crucifix doesn’t show her Christian nature but is a rebellious, misappropriation of something with a traditional significance.

Ambiguity is also a part of postmodernism in that the excess of similar forms creates confusion.

Postmodernity also plays with established structures. Designers like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, are most known for transforming the runway show. The theatrical way of presenting their garments gives them added value, with a change in context the garment gains a different feel to it.

Since postmodernism no longer has a single authority, the media becomes the only thing that can legitimize fashion.

A Tale of Inscription Fashion Statements
There are a lot of ideologies that can be related to fashion. Is what a designer showing a pure aesthetic or a statement with a deeper meaning? Fashion is a very ambiguous subject. One thing can be related to others really easily. For example in the time of the feminist rebellion, women dressed more plain and masculine. The author associates the body and power with fashion and is concerned with eras of colonialism in which mostly women were subject to fashion changes.

Above an Anti-American campaign and on the right an Hermes campaign that featured an Indian women in Western clothing. Below "The Hampton Project" by Carrie Mae Weems showed former slaves who were dressed in more formal clothing as part of a school training.

At any specific historical time, fashion is located in a discourse on health, beauty and sexuality, the nation and the economy and location. In Freuds Interpretations of Dreams the techniques he uses to analyse the dreams can be related to fashion. First of all symbolic; a relic from a older indentity, secondly, decoding; the signs translated in to meaning and third, deciphering. There is however no fixed meaning to fashion. Any person, any object, any relationship can mean something totally different. While modernism valued the essential, the real, the substantial over the ephemeral, the imaginary, the formal, postmodernism has been engaged in questioning these divisions, and these transcendental positions.

Japanese teens as producers of street fashion

This article talks about the subculture of Japanese teenagers ( mostly girls) from districts of Tokyo, Harajuku and Shibuya. In this subculture the creators of fashion is not the well-known designer but the teenagers themselves. Even though there are Japan inspirations in fashion such as Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons and Kenzo, Japanese street fashion is led by these unique postmodern styled teenagers.

These teenagers mix and maches different patterns, fabrics and accessories together and create an uncommon look. They wanted to make a statement and show that they are different than the stereotypical Japanese person and they are not like their parents who wear more conservative and cultural clothing.

They have different catagories within the culture for example the Kogal which were young girls wearing clothes that look like school uniforms. And even within this there were created subcultures called Ganguro (bleached haired, tanned school girls), Amazoness, Yamamba etc. and even though they look really similar the members of the groups were able to identify themselves from the others. There were also groups who were inspired by mangas, Japanese cartoons which wore more costume like clothes and call this CosPlay (costume play) also there were another group called gothic lollitas.

These girls don’t look up to celebrities, their fashion icons are themselves. Mostly it is not a nice job to work in a department store, but in Tokyo it’s different it is prestigious to work Shibuya 109 because it means you are fashionable. The sales girls in this stores are the trendsetters within their society. Even in the magazines you cant see the celebrities but there are photos of ordinary people from their groups.

It was better to explore a store, a new designer then go to a well known brand. Even the designers they used to shop become famous they lose interest. The garments they buy should be unique so stores create limited numbers. These girls doesn’t spend much money on what they buy because they have to keep up with the newest fashion trends which changes in 2 or 3 weeks. We can see that fashion is not always controlled by the famous designers but there are people who create their own fashion and trends.

Postmodern clothing

Bernard Wilhelm references the Japanese war flag

Jean Charles de Castelbajac re-contextualizes American culture

Postmodern images

David LaChapelle creates absurd photos that suggest the excess of postmodernity and the crisis of meaning

Juergen Teller for Marc Jacobs emphasize celebrities, in postmodernity there is no single authority so media and fame become a form of legitimization

Postmodern brands

Jeremy Scott uses bricolage, combing elements of Mickey Mouse with the American dollar bill and his own portrait to create new meaning


  1. I tried typing out a well-thought out response to this post, three times.

    I absolutely loved it & was forced into sharing it on twitter (if that's ok) via @bestiare.

  2. Wow I loved this post. I think it is very interesting. And I love it that you are not simply blogging about the style you love or something like that, but really about something more meaningfull!

  3. I'm doing an essay on post modernism, and you've reallly helped me out, in my lectures the information was sooo confusing, and you've completely summed it up for me. very much appreciated ! :)

  4. You are welcome Laura, I am the instructor and when I was a student I found a lot of teachers made this more confusing than it needed to be!

  5. I loved the post..

    I just have a question that is still going through my head.. is pop culture part of postmodernism?

  6. Some nice pics you have there :))
    I am doing my research on postmodernism now and your clear and simple writing helps me out somehow.
    Thanks !

  7. This is very interesting content! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your points and have come to the conclusion that you are right about many of them. You are great.
    Fashion Blog