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katiela macraft designp ortfolio an essay discussing the way fear and desire within fashion can be framed with a psychoanalytic viewpoint 2013, see references page 19


ssay two

Sex and the City: The Movie, Dir. Michael Patrick King (2008)

Carrie: Oh you just said a mouthful there sister!

Miranda: The only two choices for women, witch and sexy kitten.

[picking a halloween costume]

fear and desire w i t h i n f a s h i o n

ps y c h o a n a l y s i s

This essay combines two, usually separate, fields

Fashion and Psychoanalysis: Styling the Self (2012)

attempt to psychoanalyse the individual by what

in recent fashion through psychoanalysis thinking,

of scholarship by examining fashion through a

frame of psychoanalysis, but it does not, however, he or she wears day to day. Psychoanalysis has two facets, where it can, firstly, be understood in clinical terms, as a form treatment of mental distress. On

the other hand it has spread out into the wider academic world where it examines what it means to be human, through cross-examination of creative

practices. Fashion’s primary concern is invention

and modernization of the surface decoration of the body, and relies on the wearer and the act of

being worn to operate successfully. Other cultural

forms are generally gendered toward the masculine,

where as fashion defaults as feminine, meaning one cannot discuss fashion without also talking about the construction of femininity.

is British cultural critic Alison Bancroft’s first book

and is very unique in its examination of instances based heavily in the works of the influential and

controversial French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan

(1901-1981). I am most interested in “Chapter 1: Fashion Photography and the Myth of the Unified

Subject” and “Chapter 2: Inspiring Desire: The Case for Haute Couture” for my research, and comparing

Bancroft’s contemporary findings with two chapters from Rebecca Arnold’s 2001 work Fashion, Desire

and Anxiety: Image and Morality in the Twentieth Century, as desire, especially, is hugely central

to Lacan’s deconstruction of the human psyche. Arnold’s work is from a historic cultural studies point of view, as she is an Oak Foundation Lecturer

in History of Dress and Textiles at the Courtauld

Institute of Art. This essay references these two

contingent, disorganized, because there is no position

psychoanalytic concepts, such as the constitution

Breaking this down, Lacan is referring to the

I d e n t i f i c a t i o n

body experience, but the mirror stage provides the

authors to examine the internal conflict and impossibilities existing in fashion as a paradigm of of the self, desire in relation to the coupure and

notions of artificiality and falseness.

Identification is one of the two psychic processes through







psychoanalysis. The other, being desire, will be

discussed in the following chapter. These two processes work in parallel in constituting the self,

but differ in relation to the objects. To identify with the object is to wish to be the object, where desire is the wish to have the object. Lacan argues that

identification sets up the basis for three specific constitutive activities: the formation of the ego, the recognition and subsequent realization of the object and the consequent libidinal object choice.

These create the basis for what Lacan calls the ‘mirror stage’. The mirror stage refers to the first time an infant, aged around six months, recognizes

its own reflection in a mirror, Lacan identifies this as the moment in which the self is constituted.

Lacan emphasizes the disjuncture between Gestalt, the

child’s ability to perceive a sense of wholeness as a means of understanding exteriority, and the conflict between this visual Gestalt and actual experience. Before this visual recognition, the self is experienced as fragmented,

external to the ongoing lived experience from which a unified subjectivity can be ordered.(Bancroft, 2012, p.24)

impossibility of being able to step outside of ones life and see ones self as a whole, in a literal out of

closest thing. When an infant looks in the mirror

and has the complete vision of him or herself, it is an image in contrast with his or her actual

experience of the world and the self as fragmented.

The difference between the ideal image and the

fragmented (le corps morcelé: the body in pieces) experience of the infant is what constitutes lack. What is constituted is not the actual self but a

representation of the self, which results in ongoing tension between fragmentation and unity. This is

why the possibility of any ‘mirror’ identification between viewers and fashion images has not yet been academically recognized.

In the study of identification with fashion images

there is a prevailing opinion that viewing such

idealized images is harmful to the psyche of female viewers. This is a view held by Jean Kilbourne EdD,

which she discusses in the 2011 documentary Miss Representation, “girls are being encouraged to achieve that ideal…they end up measuring

themselves against an impossible standard and feeling themselves wanting as a result of it.”

Bancroft opposes this with a feminist criticism of this view,

…women are in fact not passive cultural dupes whose

feeble minds are overrun whenever they open a magazine by the malevolent intent of patriarchal capitalism, but instead make active choices regarding their responses to images and gain considerable pleasure from an

Red Coat, Naomi Campbell, Nick Knight, 1986 FIG.1

engagement with fashion, and may even be empowered in some way by it. (Bancroft, 2012, p. 34)

She continues with further argument that there

desire woman, what he desires is her substitute

images. Neither have taken into account the innate

desire caused by objet a is always male, by Lacan’s

is, in fact, a common flaw at the heart of both of

these positions on identification with fashion instability of the subject. Both assume that there is a

‘core identity’ that is either diminished or enhanced by visually engaging with fashion photography.

British photographer Nick Knight’s (b.1958) images

present the fragmented body and the alienated self “within a single unified image, as a paradigm

of the ongoing conflicts of the self, with which the viewer can identify only too well.” Knight’s work is particularly well suited to the examination of

subjectivity, because of his concern with expressing

the surface of the image. (See Fig. 1). This leads to the elimination of three-dimensional depth and perspective, resulting in images that well lend themselves to a narcissistic form of identification.







Desire, in Lacanian terms, is the parallel process

to identification in the constitution of the self. As

previously mentioned, desire is a wish to have the object, it is also a constant search fed by perpetual

dissatisfaction. According to Lacan, man can never

objet petit a, which stands for the object cause of desire. The only object of desire is desire itself. The definition, reiterated by Bancroft. Where







dissatisfaction, Arnold writes on desire as being linked to conflicting feelings of fear and anxiety

when viewing the eroticized body and gender subversion within fashion. The first example we can examine is the 1920s New York flapper girl.

She was the post-World War I emerging modern

woman who was becoming increasingly present in the public sphere which had previously been a

dominantly male domain. Women sought to imitate

the startling new dress styles of the women of Hollywood, styles that had previously been reserved only for these public female figures, as they broke out of the seclusion of the home. “So, by embracing

fashion as a force for liberation, women were also linking themselves to the quest for pleasure and

seduction.” These modern women felt their new found public allure bring them an independence

and a power through beauty, one which they had

not had before, “…but also exposed to the conflicting anxieties surrounding this appeal to the senses, this need to create and perfect a modern physique.”

The flapper was an early example of fashion and

Golden Age of Couture, John Galliano, 2004-5, FIG. 2

style threatening the dominance of masculinity

because femininity was viewed as “willful act of treachery, that women don a mask in order to deliberately mislead men.” Fear of the feminine as

deceitful can be seen as early as biblical myths such

as Adam and Eve, where it is Eve who first asserts the need for clothing to cover the symbolic lack at the heart of human subjectivity. Lacan saw the

feminine masquerade as serving “to demonstrate how the woman’s lack (of a penis) leads to her instead becoming the phallus.” Woman is made

enchanting and immediately denounced for using

Different perspectives of desire can be argued

Beauvoir discusses the result of conflicting feelings

and Alexander McQueen (1969-2010) are both

open sexuality as a weapon against masculinity,

whether this was her intent or not. Simone de of lust and threat towards the sexualized women,

in 1949 she writes: “Man pompously thunders forth his code of virtue and honour, but in secret

he invites her to disobey it, and even counts on this disobedience.” Sex was far less explicit in

fashion images and magazines in the first half of the twentieth century, than what is commonplace today,

but it was, nevertheless, delicately addressed, which shows that “fear of real women is displaced on to the models who inhabit the visual representation of popular culture…”.

through examining two particular high-profile Haute Couture designers. John Galliano (b. 1960)

English couturiers who moved to Paris, and both

question the very notion of femininity in their work, yet they represent the head and the tail of the coin. Galliano graduated from Central St Martin’s

School of Art in London with a first class honours

degree in fashion in 1984. He moved to Paris in the

early 1990s, and in 1995 was made head designer at LVMH’s company Givenchy. McQueen trained

as a tailor after leaving school, and spent time working in Milan for the designer Romeo Gigli.

He returned to London and studied for a Master of Arts in Fashion Design at Central St Martin’s,

forced itself through them, consequently restricting

her ability to articulate speech, producing a “…

sexuality that is both horrific and terrifying.” Bancroft suggests that “McQueen is foregrounding the impossibility of articulating femininity in the symbolic” through the use of primitive aesthetic

and influences in the collection. Galliano positions woman as objet a, McQueen resists and protests

this positioning: …their






irreconcilable contradictions in their work, precisely the impossibilities and contradictions upon which not just couture but human desire is founded. Where they differ is the extent to which they obey or resist the structural logic of sexuation and desire, particularly as it pertains

graduating in 1992. Galliano “offers an allegory of the constitution of woman as objet a, the object of

to the feminine. (Bancroft, 2012, p. 90)

desire for man,” where McQueen is working with

The mid twentieth Century saw conflicting

of human subjectivity, and concurrently turns the

Feminists began to struggle with fashion choices,

the function of fashion on the body and “the way in which it at once conceals the lack at the heart

body into the coupure, the gap, that marks the aim

of desire.” The ‘gap’ is discussed in more detail in the next chapter of this essay. Galliano’s Autumn/

Winter 2004-5 Golden Age of Couture collection

parodiesmonarchal allusions, in which there is one specific dress that is equally restrictive and elaborate, with embellishments to emphasise the model’s hips and breasts. It simultaneously tugs

in her waist and squeezes her thighs together, forcefully restricting her movement. Bancroft sees

the garment as following couture tradition “of imposing itself on the female body. It quite literally

fashions the physical form of woman, and in doing so constitutes itself as the visual manifestation of her femininity.” (See Fig. 2)

In contrast, McQueen’s 2000/2001 Eshu, African tribe-inspired collection displays explicit savagery

in a spiked mouthpiece, reminiscent of traditional

tribal facial piercing. (See Fig. 4) Even though the mouthpiece is attached by being held between the teeth and not actually piercing the skin, it still presses so far into the plump pout of the model, curling her lips upward, that it does appear to have

perspectives of men viewing the feminine, but there were also internal conflicts among female groups.

some felt that dressing overtly masculine was not

an effective way to assert female power, you do not acquire the attributes of something, just because you reject its exact opposite. Arnold explains that

some feminists found it liberating to throw off

femininity’s paraphernalia, which they felt had always been thrust upon them by men, yet some were still dissatisfied.

The conflict for feminists, was between the desire to wear functional, non-restricting clothing that was neither

manufactured in an exploitative way nor designed to

Eshu, Alexander McQueen, 1997, FIG.4

turn women into sexual objects, and the continuing allure of fashionable dress as pleasurable and desirable. The power of fashion remained undiminished. (Arnold, 2001, p. 104)

In 1986 Katherine Hamnett unleashed her iconic

collection Power Dressing, which was composed of office wear for women, as a bold statement of occupational feminine control. The collection contained






trousered ones, and oversized shoulder-padded blazers. “The phallic power of the streamlined,

tailored silhouette and the perfectly groomed hair and make up were at once alluring and

threatening…” according to Arnold. There is also a

case to be made for underwear worn as outerwear being as empowering as a padded blazer, especially during the eighty’s and ninety’s. Female celebrity


which translates to sexual confidence. Madonna, for example, wore a pointed corset by Jean Paul

to McQueen’s couture creations, but we first must look back to Lacan’s original ideas of the coupure,







figures promoted power through body confidence,

The term coupure was mentioned above in reference

Gaultier in a music video and on stage, which

which refers to a cut, or gap. It is important to not

was viewed by conservatives as too explicit and confrontational for public wearing, but Bancroft

calls the corset “a feminine suit of armour.” The aim was to simultaneously entice and intimidate the onlooker. Arnold describes the way the “ambiguity

of underwear as outerwear, caught forever between dress and undress, has a disturbing yet fascinating

erotic effect, playing upon our fear of the uncertain.”

picture scissors working on a piece of paper, or an

injury to the body; the word cut here is not used in its literal sense. Lacan refers to the perimeter of

the body with these terms, in places of corporeal discontinuity. He believes these are the points where erotogeneity is developed:

…a cut that takes advantage of the anatomical characteristics of a margin or border…Let us note that this characteristic of the cut is no less obviously prevalent in the object described by analytic theory… For isn’t it

plain to see that the characteristics of being partial, rightly emphasized in objects, is applicable not because these objects are part of a total object, which the body is assumed to be, but because they only partially represent the function that produces them? ( Bancroft, 2012, p. 65)

Therefore, it is partly what marks the cut, not just the cut itself that denotes the point where desire is

generated. For Lacan, fashion emphasizes the gap, beyond the symbolic, and turns the whole female

form into a gap, where the perimeter of her shape

is a rim which is not complete or closed until she is concealed with clothing.

La Poupee, Alexander McQueen, 1997, FIG.3

McQueen turns the body into the focus of desire

The way these painful-looking mouthpieces appear

collection La Poupée there is a controversial piece

femininity within the symbolic, as mentioned above.

with reference to the gap, though not in a traditional

Lacanian sense. In his spring/summer 1997 which is a square metal frame that attaches to the

wearers arms and thighs with manacles. (See Fig.

3) Without watching the model try to walk, one

can easily imagine the impossibility of smooth or graceful movement this piece would create. The

most important function of this piece is that it does

not cover the body, instead it frames the centre of it (wearing a chainmail dress), therefore Bancroft notes, “the body appears in the gap, the gap that

is created by the garments themselves.” McQueen

removes his work from the same page as Galliano’s by invoking explicit notions of cruelty in the

exposure of the body. McQueen, in this piece, stages a “brutality of feminine experience.” Where couture

usually constitutes woman as objet a, McQueen

shows the very structure of this constitution is threatened by a violent corporeality. In his lip spikes

from the Eshu collection, Bancroft identifies the way

“they draw attention to one of the body’s margins or

borders; they indicate in clear visual terms the cut... that provokes desire by making the body erotic.”

to limit the speech of the wearer is McQueen’s effort to foreground the impossibility of articulating

This has been mistaken for misogyny by several

of his critics in the past. Galliano’s dress from The Golden Age of Couture, imposes itself on the body

of the female wearer; it constitutes itself as a visual manifestation of her femininity. Therefore, she herself does not exist as woman, she is revealed

only through said garment, as it articulates her, through an approximation of naturalness, which is in fact artificial. By mediating her subjectivity, the

dress suggests a limitation or failure in her own

subjectivity; the woman herself is incomplete, she is a “gap to be filled or, more accurately, covered.

She then becomes, in Lacanian terms, objet a, the cause of desire.” The foundation of woman as objet

a is founded on the replacing of her original form by couture creations. McQueen acknowledges that

woman does not exist in the symbolic order, and he calculates this impossibility into his creations,

where Galliano avoids this and constitutes her as objet a instead.














It is a widely popular view of the fashion and beauty

industries that they provide only false images of reality and impossible aesthetic standards. As with

fantasy world created by the fashion industry.

The fantasy created in fashion photographs emphasizes that you need to continually maintain your body in line

fashion photography - where a paradox exists in

with the ideal model silhouette, as the only means to wear

unattainable standards relate more often to the body

only ever an illusion. (Arnold. 2001, p. 90)

the general lack of focus on representing garments

the latest, most desirable fashions. An illusion of choice is

of the potential wearer than the actual clothes being

In the 1920’s and 30’s the ideal modernist body

emerges from the private sphere into public domain

modernist body of today has become an utter

- there also lies a paradox in the fact that fashion’s sold to the consumer. Returning to the previous

example of the post-war 1920’s flapper, as she

she engages more in the pleasures of modern fashions, which claimed to value an authentic, natural female figure. The modern body had then “to

be toned and revealed in fashionably short skirts and

figure-skimming bias-cuts,” producing a naturalness

which Arnold refers to as a “fallacy.” Instead, the fashionable body symbolizes discipline, eternal youth and wealth, while it perpetually maintains and streamlines exclusivity within the impossible

maintained by the constant shifting of styles…but this is

was sleek and fragile, and exposed to scrutiny in

silky, figure-skimming bias-cut gowns. The post-

pastiche of the rejected natural form, from which

it becomes further and further removed, due to computer retouching of mass media images. Jean Kilbourne EdD claims the “ideal image of beauty is

more extreme and impossible than ever” (2011).

She believes that for the most part we are not aware of the harmful subconscious effect of viewing

retouched images, “which is why we need to pay conscious attention to these images” (2011).

Parallel to the discussion of the falseness of ideal

physical body, is the identification of gender, particularly femininity, as a construction or a performance, as proposed by Simone de Beauvior in 1949 with her book The Second Sex. Chapter 5

of Nick Mansfield’s book Subjectivity, “Femininity:

From Female Imaginary to Performativity” looks at the psychoanalysis problems and exclusions in

the approach to gender, and how Feminist thinkers

have dealt with these. The chapter focuses on Judith Butler and Luce Irigaray’s responses to Lacan and Sigmund Freud, and Michel Foucault’s

treatment of the ‘feminine’ and their discussion of the gender/sex distinction. Irigaray’s recognition

of the feminine being treated as subordinate to the masculine because it must separate itself from masculine identity and reveal its own distinguished

identity, is contrasted with Butler’s view of gender as a regulated but artificial system of performances.

Artificial, in the sense that on occasion we fail to repeat them perfectly, demonstrating that they

are not ‘natural’ or spontaneous, but learned and

choreographed. Butler also recognizes our need to

repeat these behaviours, costume and fashion could

be considered a behaviour, is rooted in the fear of rejection and isolation from society. The artificiality

of femininity is most evident in its imitation within Drag culture, where details of traditional

femininity are obsessively re-created, which Arnold believes “highlights the contradictory nature of fashion. While it allows for new moralities, for the

formulation of new identities, it is also conservative,

reinforcing ideas of femininity at the same time as highlighting their fakery.” Drag and Gay subculture,

recognizes the essence of fashion as fantasy and escape, with space for experimentation and revolt.

“ t h e m o d el s became the sum of

Arnold also identifies trends in fashion of hyper-

their airbrushed par ts...”

femininity or ‘same-sex drag’. She specifically

references a 1991 collection by Galliano. The collection






combined with elements of drag: the models were dressed in marabou-trimmed bras and lacy knickers with heavy make-up and large false lashes weighing

their eyelids down. Femininity had been cartooned, and

…seemed to exclude the possibility of any female pleasure

from the performance. The models become the sum of their airbrushed parts: the bruised glitter of eyeshadow eyes, juicy red doll mouths, and flowing hair... the artificiality of their glamour became repressive out of their control, (Arnold, 2001, p. 110).

The description of the way these models were made-up for this show, brings to mind another archetype of hyper-femininity: the ‘vamp’. The

vamp, similar to the femme fatale or siren, relates back to the conflicting feelings of lust and threat,

discussed above, surrounding the flapper. She can be recognized by a typically full, luscious, red pout, usually with a matching scarlet nail, paired with

long lashes with cold eyes glaring out beneath them. The vamp is generally a more curvaceous version of

the supermodel skeleton, as she is assumed to be of vicious intent towards the men she is trying to

seduce and, therefore, is lacking in moral integrity; she has a fuller bust and a curve to her hip, which

references the hyper-sexualized shape of women starring in pornographic films. Arnold suggests that

the long lasting allure and iconic status held by the vamp, both in film and in fashion images, proves

“that this particular variety of same-sex drag has

a very significant power, precisely because of the conflicting responses of desire and anxiety that it

provokes.” Caroline Heldman PhD warns us against

threatened by such blatant acknowledgement of

having female protagonists in action films:

The couture garments by Galliano and McQueen,

the viewing of sexualized female characters as powerful, she speaks in reference to a new trend of

We also see a new incarnation of this where women appear to be empowered, they are carrying the story, they’re the action hero, but again, when you peel back a layer or two, you discover that its not really about their agency. I call this archetype ‘the Fighting FuckToy’, because even though she is supposedly doing things on her own terms, she is still very much objectified and exists for the male viewer. (2011)

Both the vamp and Heldman’s ‘Fighting-Fuck Toy’

are suggested to be archetypes objectified for the viewing of a male audience, though there is less

of a threat or suspicion associated with the film character. Even though she is skillfully involved

in violence and fight scenes, and usually has a fit,

toned physique, topped with a sharp tongue, she generally has a love interest of some sort that

weakens her, or she must enlist the help of many male characters to achieve her goal. And this will

all unfold while she is wearing a bikini, short shorts

or a see-through tank top with her toned midriff exposed, as demonstrated by Tomb Raider’s Lara

Croft on the opposite page. Images of the vamp, how

ever she may be embodied, reflect a deep seeded Western societal fear of and fascination with women

who flaunt hyper-femininity, who show no desire

to conform to ideals of modesty or naturalness, as they appear to be masquerading for their own sake, not to attract men, many of whom would feel

female sexual power.

discussed above, also make reference to the artificiality within fashion relating to the definition

of the feminine. Galliano’s dress from The Golden Age of Couture makes a caricature of the female body while trying to highlight a ‘presumed

naturalness’. Bancroft critiques the way the dress “artificially emphasizes the physical aspects of a

woman’s body that are different to a man’s (hips,

breasts, etc.) in order to suggest that difference is both inevitable and anatomically defined,” which relates to Irigaray’s writing about the feminine

needing to distinguish itself from any masculine identity to reveal its own separate identity.

McQueen’s work does not look at the artificiality

of fashion’s ideal body as a canvas for fashion; the artificiality referenced by the metal square frame

from La Poupée is one of movement. The jerky movements made by the (unfortunate) wearer are not far from “the artificiality of movement provoked

by other, more pedestrian, items like, stiletto-

heeled shoes, capes, and so on. What the piece does, though, is foreground the artificiality.” While

women the world over have found solutions to the challenges of walking in high heels, or wearing

poncho capes without limiting their own movement

beyond practicality, one could never find any way to comfortably wear a metal frame attached to their elbows and knees, and one would never want to.

Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft

In conclusion, it is apparent that fashion can offer

insights to the conflicts of subjectivity as they exist within psychoanalytic theory. Also, in reverse, we

can use these conflicts to explain aspects of fashion. The contradictory nature of fashion relates to the

way we are fascinated, and yet, unsettled by the

responses dress provokes. The fragmented self is evident in fashion photography, as an inescapable

result of being a self at all. Couture dissects the

asymmetry of desire, and the resistance of the feminine against its own smothering within the symbolic. The feminine denotes a particular psychic

structure, and the experience of femininity is one of paradoxes and conflicts. Lacan links the notion of

femininity to the challenging and the contradictory, which relates to the connection between fashion

and its wearer. It is vital to approach the study of culture from a psychoanalytic view because it

focuses on human experience, without which there is no culture.

By Katie Lamacraft


Arnold, R. (2001) Three: The Eroticised Body. Fashion, Desire and Anxiety: Image and Morality in the Twentieth Century. New Jersey, Rutgers University Press.

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Bancroft, A. (2012) Chapter 1: Fashion Photography and the Myth of the Unified Subject. Fashion and Psychoanalysis: Styling the Self. London, I. B. Tauris.

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Psychoanalysis: Styling the Self. London, I. B. Tauris.

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Miss Representation. Dir. Jennifer Siebel Newsom. Girls’ Club Entertainment (2011) Film.



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