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VIDEO FASHION: Fashion Mediation +

Writing this not knowing where it will end but I think I am served best letting go of the many things I hold on to in my mind. 

...Like, where does my art lie and where do I take stake of my own words? Where do I share myself, and when do I recoil? Can I afford silence? What is the cost of staying too long in the observational "downloading" stage? What do I fear? 

I guess time is in control after all because here I am writing this on the first day of the new year committing to posting it before the day is out. There is so much work to be done and I often feel the weight of this all at once or try to forget. Chipping away at making feels really necessary right now. It could be the past semester spent with my head in theory books talking, but I am wanting to think a bit less. Stopping myself from the limitations of my own mind and tapping into the elements that are really guiding the world around me, like space and time. In a way letting go. In a way emptying my mind. In many ways, understanding the hybrid of both words and action. Maybe understanding that action can be quantifiable? Maybe being sure to understand my sanity is at stake. 

I spent the past two weeks living in partial silence, allowing space and time to propel me forward, all while treading behind. But that too is exhausting. It comes with its own worries. I must be moving along-side space and time. 

Some folks think I am too hard on myself, to some, I am invisible. Where do I see myself? How to I reconcile the need to both be heard and to observe? It would be nice to look at each day as the start to creating something. 

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Here is something. 

I spent the last year or so working on a project about fashion. As I hope this blog relays, I am constantly mediating my relationship to fashion. My outsider-insider approach can leave me flailing in the wind at times and this project was a way of reconciling that. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or send me an email. xo

VIDEO FASHION Fashion Mediation
: an exploration of the relationships cultivated when fashion is tied to identity.

 Kimberly E. Powell, Syracuse University College of Visual and Performing Arts, Transmedia, 2015

Under the great mentorship of Dr. Kheli Willetts, Syracuse University Pan African American Studies Department, Professor
The Community Folk Art Center, Executive Director


Fashion as an entity exists in very relational terms. We can’t avoid fashion. Though to varying degrees, we are all responsible for curating our daily wardrobe and the cultivation of our perceived sense of style. This project, Video Fashion: Fashion Mediation, set out to blur the lines of the visible and invisible worlds of fashion, to delve into the ways people make connections to fashion and identity. No matter how brief, I wanted to create a space where folks were engaged with fashion. This project challenges the notion that fashion is communicated from the top-down (i.e. from the fashion insiders to the fashion consumers), and proves that there are many streams of knowledge that inform our relationship to fashion and they are not unilaterally communicated.
Many have formed working relationships with how they’d like to be viewed by others, and are in-tune with how fashion can make them feel. On almost every occasion when this work was presented, a significant dialogue would follow, where folks would share in-depth moments of fashion and identity colliding. Further, the importance of fashion as informed by the world at large and not in isolation is a vital part of this research. Through a categorical system, I developed a vocabulary to describe the many ways in which fashion can inform identity: Locked, superficial, consumed, moderate, or free.

Identity Free
 Identity free is a foundational concept to this research. This is the space one occupies when they are looking to contest idealist notions of fashion that often contribute to elitism in fashion. A fashion free individual seeks to push the boundaries of the fashion industry with hopes of revealing that there is simply more.
            Fashion blogger, Susie Lau, commonly referred to as an “online editor-in-chief,” are among those I’d consider identity free.[1] In an interview for Skype, Lau says: “I’m interested in how fashion connects to the larger world.”[2] Fashion exists both in a pubic and private sphere, and a public sphere can’t exist without the private and vice-versa. Therefore, fashion is not an independent concept that can be carried out through just one industry, and people are way more than just consumers. We have vested relationships with fashion by way of the clothes we choose to put in our closets. Our closets (the private sphere) are then not only a space for us to simply mimic fashion trends, but also to carry out our desires in how we represent ourselves. This is a relationship I believe the fashion free person understands and respects, enough to be invested in deconstructing barriers of belonging and rebuilding spaces of agency for all (or at least folks other than the ones that take up the most space in the fashion industry). One might say this project was birthed from a place of identifying with the fashion free spirit.[3]

Identity Locked
            Identity locked is a person that feels fashion has a way of operating that needs no contention. The belief that there are rules and ways of operating in fashion and that it is all necessary and integral to a successful operation of fashion. This person that believes it is not a broken system, and is not in need of repair or reconstruction. They believe that fashion only shifts from within; it is not influenced by the outside world in any significant way. 
Rather than focusing on an individual for this category, I reflected on fashion institutions. Particularly, I think of the empire that is Mercedes Benz Fashion Weeks, and the one I have watched most closely, New York Fashion Week. Over the past four years, the level of exclusivity has risen. My cousin, friend, and freelance-casting director for designers such as Jason Wu, Crystal, claims that in the past, people weren’t required to show their ticket at the door, and one could often get in simply by looking the part.[4] Now, tickets are absolutely mandatory for entry. Those who can’t get into the show are now referred to as “gawkers” and become spectators to the production of creating the perfect fashion week narrative.[5] Even though one could reach out to PR teams or designers prior to the event in order to reserve a ticket for a show, the narrative is still one of fantasy, which can be positive unless it errs on the side of exclusivity and elitism. This is the way New York Fashion Week presents itself. When something becomes so enticing, but barriers of exclusion as oppose to inclusivity gets formed, the enchantment increases creating a wider gap of separation. Fashion Weeks were in fact created for the high-ups in fashion and never meant to include the general public.[6] Now, runway shows are easily accessible online for anyone to see, so why do event-goers and organizers still hang on to the illusion of exclusivity?

Identity Superficial
Identity superficial is unique as it is first defined from a place of being viewed by others as oppose to how one views oneself. In this category, your relationship to fashion is often assumed. This identity aligns most with a person who works as a model. Others often view models as being somewhat complicit in their relationship to fashion. Crystal calls them “walking hangers,” referencing the slang term used among fashion insiders to classify models.[7] They are at the forefront of fashion through their inherit visibility.
Model, Shaun Ross brings an interesting nuance to this category through his interview with Vogue. Here, Ross calls himself: "An object of luxury."[8] He seems aware of the ideas and stigmas around being model; yet, he seems to be one with this idea. While having had to navigate his life as a young child who was bullied and teased for having albinism, Ross seems to have no qualms about the objectification of self, or at least, the reclamation of such. In a way, identity superficial can be fixed or transient. It can be either reinforced, or completely disrupted. Models can be superficial as it relates to fashion, but it is also within their power to not be.

Identity Consumed
“Fashion sometimes needs to be fantastical. There’s a beauty amidst the sad reality. Fashion, an industry in which the aspirations of young marginalized identities are often silenced from conversations around consuming fashion – rendered invaluable. To consume fashion more than the next, but to still need tactile resilience in order to matriculate into the industry. Being ignored as a consumer can often leave folks short on dreams of being an influencer. Fashion sometimes needs to be fantastical” (excerpt from Video Fashion: Fashion Mediation, 2015).

I believe if you are a young creative seeking entrance into the fashion industry (or any creative industry), you take on the additional role of having to prove why you are there. The notion of exclusivity that exists within the fashion industry is not immune from the racist and capitalist world we live in. In the fashion world I’ve observed, there is also privilege that assumes white people belong, and people of color do not. I have witnessed it, I have felt it, and I am a young person of color with hopes of discovering a place for myself in that world. Whiteness is still privileged, seen as the epitome of value, beauty, and worth. It goes unquestioned. It can be blatant, like when Edward Enninful, Style director of W Magazine and a British-Ghanaian man, was denied front row seats at a fashion week event in Paris as he was assumed to not be apart of the group. It can also be subtle, complex, and hard to verbalize.
            Enninful isn’t the only person in the industry who has been forthright about discrimination. Tamu McPherson, past Editor-in-chief of Grazia.it, and Edward Buchanan, knitwear designer at large based in Milan, sat down to talk particularly about this as two young black creatives with major experience in the industry.[9] We also hear this from models on the modeling industry. As aforementioned, models are a visible representation of fashion that we encounter frequently. Though these conversations happen outside of modeling spaces through the examples above, I would say the conversations around race and discrimination in the industry, has been most heard by models (such as Iman, Tyra, or Naomi).
As soon as this month, W Magazine will issue a full spread featuring six black models. By way of Edward’s styling and directorship, we also get to see black actress Taraji P. Henson on the cover. And even now, this kind of intentionality is still necessary on all fronts of the fashion industry.

Identity Moderate
            The concept of moderate implies balance, defined as “neither too much nor too little” (Merriam Webster). When Timi Komonibo, graduate student at Syracuse University and founder of Style Lottery says: “I realized people had memory with their clothing, and identity attached to their clothing.” And even going on to say: “I started seeing that fashion was more than just looking good, it had more power” (Interview, 2015).[10] Identity prevails, and when we begin to consciously identify ourselves, we also choose how we’d like to represent ourselves and that includes how we dress. How we clothe ourselves then becomes less driven by fantasy, and develops a healthy relationship to reality. In the case of Komonibo and Style Lottery, it began as clothing swaps with her friends in her living room, because she couldn’t always afford to buy new clothes while in college. Style Lottery has now developed into a non-profit, and continues to be both invested in developing and reshaping personal style, while taking into account real-life circumstances such as financial disparity.
            As money is a real-life factor, so is lifestyle. Someone who is a new parent might not want to buy the newest designer coat; instead they might want more comfortable footwear, or a jacket that’s spill proof. In this sense, fashion meets creativity and innovation, just as much as it does identity and circumstance. Further, one might make fashion choices in a simple attempt to not stand out. Some people are comfortable blending in, feeling as though they are less susceptible to the scrutiny that might come with being fashion conscious. If they play the middle ground; not dressing to be admired, nor to be critiqued, they might feel more comfortable in who they are.[11]  

In many examples and relationship formations, fashion is present. It is an active way in which we mediate identity. This categorical comparative study looks at each relationship as a part of the whole, necessary to developing a true discussion on the makeup of fashion. By the latter part of the project, I’d come to realize just how much these categories were intertwined, and conducive to the larger narrative on fashion. I wouldn’t encounter one category, without discovering a thread to another. They bridge various chapters of the project, and fill in various gaps of the dialogue. In this sense, these categories are building on and around each other. Fashion is global and has numerous avenues of revenue, exploitation, and satisfaction.
While this project calls for a true representation of fashion, fashion extends beyond the narrowly defined fashion industry. It also exists beyond glamour and the image we so often see at its forefront, fashion is real life. So in setting out to complete this project, it only made sense to look beyond the conventional fashion-goers that had ties to the industry. I too had to challenge myself in the ways in which I saw fashion working. Sitting down with my cousin Crystal at the beginning of this project, was the start of truly putting that approach into practice. Crystal and I sat down many times before off the record, to discuss fashion as two young black women seeking entrance into a creative field. She would talk about the thrill of previously attending Milan Fashion Week, but gripe about just how difficult it was to actually carve a space for herself in the field of fashion right in New York City. Six years and countless fashion weeks later, Crystal is now heading back to university for a Masters in Brand Management.
There are numerous relationships that uphold the powerhouse of fashion, but this project also takes into account the ones that are neglected or ignored. Through these five categories, I’ve developed a deep sense of understanding fashion. I have also developed a curiosity to uncover more. What might this project look like in the Caribbean? Europe? What if I did this study during my time abroad in Turkey? In how many ways can these categories be reiterated? I believe despite the numerous expansions or repetitions of this project, these categories are at the core and will remain the most vital way to navigate my exploration of fashion, an exploration that always takes into account the larger picture.


[1] Style Bubble, ‘The Sad Clown’ (http://goo.gl/hh3RM1)
[2] Skype, ‘Style Bubble’s Susie Lau talks fashion and blogging’ Interview. (https://goo.gl/CJ5QHb)
[3] Dr. Kheli Willetts & Kimberly Powell, Conversation, 2015.
[4] Crystal, Interview. NYC, 2014.
[5] Garage Magazine, “Take My Picture” Video.  Paris, 2013 (https://goo.gl/OrOlQs)
[6] Garage Magazine, “Take My Picture” Video.  Paris, 2013 (https://goo.gl/OrOlQs)
[7] Crystal, Interview. NYC, 2014.
[8] VOGUE, “VOGUE ITALIA: Shaun Ross” Interview. (https://goo.gl/B8eqlw)
[9] All The Pretty Birds, “Tamu’s Café #11: A Heart to Heart with Edward Buchanan (http://goo.gl/1zM3a4)
[10] Timi Komonibo, Interview. Syracuse, 2015
[11] Dr. Kheli Willetts & Kimberly Powell, Conversation, 2015.

There is a video but I am still hiding it. Sorry, needs work. That is my field of study after all so no shit video allowed. 

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