The Myth of Fashion As Self-Expression

September 8, 2016

by Gracia Ventus

Issey Miyake Bergdorf Goodman Ombre Coat

When I was younger I used to think that displaying one's tastes externally was cool, despite knowing that deep down inside I risked being uncool by wanting to be cool. However the compulsion was strong. I wore my Tool shirt with much pride, paired with the skinniest of jeans and the most hardcore of Harley Davidson boots. Ideally they should destroy someone's naked toes if I step on them. While my outlook remained the same, my interest gradually switched to fashion. I made sure people know of my hobby, which in itself is probably not a bad thing because every human craves for validation. But I was also secretly judging people for being unadventurous with their clothing choices. Instead of letting people be who they want to be, or wear whatever pleases them, I'd instinctively be tut-tutting their choice of clothing silently (she's wearing t-shirt and shorts with her birkin?!). I was an awful, despicable snob.

I was reminded of my old self because recently someone I spoke to complained of a girl who chided his preference for J. Crew. Her exact word was 'GROSS', before going off on a rant about how clothing is a way to express one's personality. To choose nondescript clothing labels to wear was a sign of a lack of it.

Her words echo this popular notion that fashion is a form a self-expression, that it is a genuine way of showcasing our inner self. I say it's utter nonsense.

Dress is an important dimension in the articulation of personal identity but not in the sense of voluntarism, whereby one's choice of dress is freely-willed, expressive and creative. On the contrary, this 'personal identity' is managed through dress in rather boring ways because societal pressures encourage us to stay within the bounds of what is defined as a 'normal' body and 'appropriate' dress. Too much attention has been given to self-expression and individuality, while ignoring the implicit constraints that we face every day (Enwistle, 2001, available here and here). In fact, we often make sartorial decisions based on practicality, whom to impress, whom not to offend, which fashion tribe to align to, what our heroes are wearing, and how we want the world to perceive us. There's also budgetary, class and social constraints that we have to adhere to. If fashion was truly a form of carefree self-expression, many of us would choose to be naked, and men would not feel insecure about their fragile masculinity when confronted with feminine clothing. The external pressure to dress a certain way is most evident in the realm of fashion blogging and street style, whereby the need to be recognised or conform to certain aesthetics (Southern prep anyone? Or the cool kids of Vetements?) often trumps other hidden desires. Even yours truly still falls prey to that. I know I love the clothes that I wear, but I'm also aware of the external influences of the zeitgeist, which is why my favourite shoes currently are my Rafdidas.

There are several reasons for one to feel the need to express their identity and these mainly revolve around issues of social status, economic class, gender, sexual orientation, age, race, ethnicity, religious condition, recreation and individualism. With the creative use of fashion, individuals are able to either confirm or subvert several of these facets about their identities, consequently transmitting culturally coded, visual messages about themselves. This personal identity that is often tied into fashion is a created self that has to be crafted through social interactions. While one can argue that we internalise these influences to make them a part of our existence, there are still plenty of other external forces that play a strong role in our decision-making processes, as mentioned above.

So why then are we so hung up on the idea that fashion is an authentic form of self-expression and personal identity? It's a romantic idea that is as clichéd and unhealthy as the line 'You complete me.'. Do we really believe that Justin Beiber is a big fan of Metallica when he wore their t-shirts? Should we care? Why do many of the most creative people in the world choose to wear black t-shirts all the time?

At the end of the day, we have to stop swallowing this myth because it turns us into judgmental creatures. It shouldn't matter whether a person dresses normal, lavish, outrageous, subtle, boring, so long as they're appropriate within the context of the situation (again, bowing down to external forces). We do our darndest to not judge a book by its cover, and we should do the same for fellow human beings.

Issey Miyake Bergdorf Goodman Ombre CoatIssey Miyake Bergdorf Goodman Ombre Coat

Issey Miyake Bergdorf Goodman Ombre Coat


Is New Necessarily Better?

August 22, 2016

by Gracia Ventus

Wearing: Céline dress; Issey Miyake dress; Jil Sander shoes

Are the days of Céline over? We don't seem to be excited over Pheobe Philo anymore. I remembered the days when Fashion was obsessed with stark Minimalism. All white everything! Absence of details! Desaturation! The uniform of the day was a big camel coat with Adidas stan smiths. I too, was swayed by Philo's magic. I loved her play with proportions and juxtapositions of mismatched colours. Fast forward to today, the new hot name is Demna. Love him or hate him, his influence is rather visible on the streets of Paris to Beijing. Bold graphic prints, oversized jackets, strong emphasis on reworked utilitarian and vintage clothing. I may not be a fan of Vetements anymore, but his first season of Balenciaga is something I'm looking forward to seeing in person.

At the end of the day, I'm reminded that no matter how obsessed we are about something, we will never stick to it forever. Something else is bound to capture our attention, regardless of whether the new is better than the old.

(one comment)

Issey Miyake’s Golden Moment

August 4, 2016

by Gracia Ventus


Modern Issey Miyake collections as we know it began in the 90s. While his fashion career had spanned two decades by then, it was during this period where he plunged deep into fabric technology. The result was the beautiful collection of Spring/Summer 1995.

issey miyake pao coat

Issey Miyake Pao Coat - Spring/Summer 1995

In the midst of an urban jungle that is Shanghai, therein lies a beautiful park in the middle of the city. Aptly named People's Park - the government has a thing for adding 'People' in everything - it's the perfect spot to take refuge from the sun and enjoy the well-pruned greeneries. Unlike most parks though, this is the place where Tinder comes to life. In a corner called Shanghai marriage market, this version of Tinder involves elderly parents putting up information of their unmarried children (mostly their age, height, qualifications, salary, and what they want from the other person) on an umbrella. No tiger selfies nor dick pics involved fortunately. When one has 'swiped right' (or is it left? I forgot), one can then request for a photo of the person being advertised.


As an Asian raised in a conservative society, the importance of marriage and producing an heir for the older folks is well-understood on my part, but I still found this display quite amusing. Children are the pride and joy of the grandparents, even more than for the parents themselves. Millenials in Chinese urban cities are slowly shunning marriage and child-rearing, focusing their energy on career, independence, and finding the right person to marry even if it places them in the ranks of 'Leftover Men/Women' - a highly controversial and derogatory term in Chinese society. The desperation is very real for the older generation, which often creates discords between their children and them. But like it or not, times are a-changing. Societal norms are evolving as literacy rate and economic opportunities rise across the nation. It is undoubtedly a dynamic period for China where the old traditions and new values are attempting to find peace with each other.

Issey Miyake too, was in a state of flux in the 90s. His occasional dip into textile innovation since late 80s gained traction in early 90s, which leapt in full force in his Spring/Summer 1995 show. One of the most lauded - and documented - collections in contemporary fashion history, the 140-look collection was a celebration of fun, of life in the ordinary and extraordinary, of textile technology and the future of the label's aesthetics for many years to come. This collection offered a glimpse of what Miyake would offer before his retirement. The architectural pleated garments we are now familiar with took centre stage, suggesting an experimental and jovial future. His subsequent successors have ensured that this vision was realised, as can be seen by an equal mix of conceptual and practical garments we see today.

Set against 8th century Pan-Asian live music, the show opened with uncomplicated outfits made of natural materials such as linen and cotton (it was for summer after all), followed by tailored suitings made of textured fabrics which he was already well-known for. Seventy looks later, models walked out with the diagonally-pleated cocoon coats with sharp edges. Dresses followed the coats, but they were no ordinary pleated dresses. The diagonal seams across the body and sleeves interrupt the natural flow of the dress, creating disjointed torso and arms.

Issey Miyake Blouse 1995Issey Miyake Blouse 1995

Left: Pleated blouse on ROSEN (sold out); Right: Look 104 from S/S1995

Then lo and behold, the Minaret dresses glided down the runway gracefully like moving sculptures. One can't help but to think of Poiret's slinkified Lantern dress . When the 90s were all about bodycon dresses and exposed midriffs, Miyake's bottom-heavy silhouette was a big middle finger to the normality of the decade. Though that was probably far from his intention, they were nevertheless refreshing in an age ruled by spanx and Britney Spears.

Issey Miyake Minaret Dress Spring/Summer 1995 The pleats we are familiar with today differed considerably from the early 90s version, notably in the tactility of the fabrics, treatment and patterns. Most basic Pleats Please are lighter, finer, and also tend to be pleated vertically. The Minaret dresses on the other hand, have horizontal seams, and coats were pleated horizontally. This resulted in garments that expanded up and down, instead of side to side, creating a bouncy effect which can be seen when models were bobbing about in their Minaret dresses.

Then came the Pao coat. It might be safe to say that this is the most famous garment in the history of Issey Miyake's career - judging from its prominence in museum exhibits and ranking on google. The sharp seams down the sides and back create a three-dimensional silhouette that resembles a shark's fin. Despite the sheer size, it is rather lightweight and as amusing as the Minaret dresses, bouncing slightly with every step.


Issey Miyake Pao Coat

"Designers should bring good news to people. There's so much depressing news today, and I believe clothing is the one place in life where we can be positive and uplifting," - Miyake, 1993

It's hard to emphasise this pivotal moment of Issey Miyake's works, in which he shifted away from natural fabrics to technology-driven textile manufacturing process. Pleats Please was introduced in 1993 - although the architectural pleated works are still labeled under mainline or FÊTE. Since then the march towards innovation has never faltered, while at the same time maintaining the playful spirit, embodiment of space and freedom of movement. This 1995 show was the epitome of fusion of art, architecture, tradition and technology for many years to come.


(one comment)

An Interview with Me

July 31, 2016

by Gracia Ventus


Margiela Tabis, now available on ROSEN

Some weeks ago I answered a series of questions for The Voyager store, who has kindly taken the time to read through my blog in order to come up with insightful queries.

On the reason for creating the blog:
My fashion journey started when I was working in a fashion magazine. I made The Rosenrot to write about vintage fashion. [...] The focus of my writing shifted from vintage to conceptual fashion as I started collecting designer pieces.

On my buying process for ROSEN:
My buying process is rather straightforward - bringing beautiful items to people who appreciate them. When I sell something it’s my way of saying, hey this is really nice, I think you’d enjoy wearing it.

On the possibility of opening a physical store:
I would like to bring the joy of second hand shopping and conceptual designs into China. I might do a physical store one day, but probably centred around second hand thrifting rather than specific designer goods.

On the confidence to wear conceptual clothes:
Fake it til you make it. Also strangers care about you way less than you think, which is a comforting thought.

On uniforms:
My uniform can be a black suit or a black dress, as long as they are roomy and have pockets. Got to have the pockets for my phone and passport whenever I travel

Full interview can be found here.

( Leave a Comment )

(one comment)

By The Grace of Miyake

July 24, 2016

by Gracia Ventus

Issey Miyake APOC Inside Cardigan SS2011
Issey Miyake cardigan, dress and trousers; Jil Sander shoes

The alleys of Hong Kong provided the perfect backdrop to take photographs of pristine Issey Miyake garments, some time before the world went (slightly) tits up, what with the Republican nomination, Brexit, rising racial tensions and refugee crisis. In times like this, I keep reminding myself of Steven Pinker's book - The Better Angels of Our Nature. One of my favourite books of all time, Pinker is a prolific writer who spins humour with statistics. The book argues that this is the most peaceful period we've lived in regardless of the illusion of regression that the media is portraying. Most of us live in a world where we can argue over our belief system without getting beheaded. Domestic violence - most of which are targeted at women and children - is no longer tolerated by law in most countries, and that number is increasing. Despite the growing far-right movements in the west, and possibly Japan, the majority of the world condemns them with words and Facebook posts instead of arming themselves. We may be a generation or two away from world peace, but statistical evidence points towards a downward trend in violence while pluralism, feminism and humanism are on the rise.

Issey Miyake APOC Inside Cardigan SS2011
I too, have my version of Pitti pose, i.e. checking the phone for nonexistent emails. Except I was trying to control the camera shutter.

Humans are strange creatures. We pin our self-esteem on our beliefs. When our beliefs are validated, we feel good about ourselves. When they're being contradicted, we often take it as a personal attack. The same holds true about our choice of dress and how other people view it. We feel terrible when we receive comments that disparage the way we dress, because it feels like an attack on the entirety of our existence and life choices, made by a person who most likely cannot relate to your thought processes or has no knowledge of your life experience nor reality.

I am of the opinion that we should be able to give and take criticisms in our clothing choices. As the recipient, no matter how hurt we feel we should be able to disassociate our choices from our esteem. As difficult as it sounds, it would help us in taking criticisms like a champ by assessing them objectively, and we would not retaliate defensively like a cornered bear. As a critic we should avoid using sweeping statements and ad hominem attacks, while bearing in mind that our aesthetics preferences are no more superior than those of others. This is why Saint Laurent has done so well despite the scathing remarks Hedi had received during his tenure.

Someone else's choice in dress, and any other life choices for that matter, is only the tip of their existential iceberg, certainly no grounds for dismissive insults. We're the total sum of genetics, life experience and education. Exercising a little empathy in any argument would foster a more inclusive environment for discourse, even when debating the most controversial subjects, rather than shutting out dissenting opinions that would eventually burst like an infuriating zit in the most unexpected places (e.g. the rise of Trump). Unfortunately this ability and patience to argue logically against the 'other side' may be at peril when Facebook algorithm and our Internet space increasingly shows opinions that only align with ours (e.g. Brexit). People who resort to name-calling to make up for their inability in providing any forms of logical reasoning are as guilty as smug pseudo-intellects who are not aware of their own biases while dismissing other people's realities.

The Internet has given most of us a voice. It's a pretty splendid place in general, but as with life we're going to meet people who disagree with us. The question is, how do we engage in a productive manner that does not exhaust our patience and mental capacity? I have yet to find the answer.

Issey Miyake APOC Inside Cardigan SS2011