On New Beauty: a Dialog between Lev Manovich and Margarita Kuleva
Image credits: a design from fashion collections by Pierre Cardin, 1960s.
NSX World, issue 6 (2022).
Dr. Margarita Kuleva (www.margaritakuleva.com) a sociologist of culture, artist, and curator. She is Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology,HSE University in Petersburg, Petersburg. In 2018-2022 she was also a Chair of the Department of Design and Contemporary Art.
From the interview:
Lev: Every few years someone comes and says: “New architecture, new photography, new art, new body.” I really wonder what that is. How does it go further than what we had hundreds of years ago? Compared to societal diversity and bodily practices, in the sense of fashion we live in the most boring period, which can be traced back to the 19th century. During this time, industrialization and urbanization took place, and as a result, gender roles as well as dress styles for both women and men began to shift and change. While in the 18th century men dressed up in richly decorated camisoles and wigs, starting from the 19th century, men's costumes suggested austerity and modesty and were executed in dark colours. This completely opposes the way women tended to dress: they were expected to wear large corseted dresses in richly decorated fabrics and fashionings to express their socio-economic rank. Despite exceptions, mass fashion still reproduces the stereotypes of male and female. Just compare the colours of women's and men's sneakers. Rita: After all, there is nothing ‘new’ to our relation to newness. The fashion institutes - fashion weeks, brands, magazines - should present novelty on a regular basis. I would like to suggest contextualising this and focus on the following question: Who gains most from us continuously pursuing newness? For a large part, being at the vanguard of progress depends on a difference in speed and attention economy. For example, a glossy magazine, as an established institution, may signal trends, especially micro-trends, comparably later than TikTok or Instagram platforms and users. Lev: Yes, you could say that this is often associated with Modernism - or to use the words from poet Ezra Pound: “Make it new”. Artists were expected to come up with something completely new. Therefore, the art of the twentieth century is considered to be a series of ‘isms’. Fashion was being guided by similar principles for a while, with brands pushing for innovative styles each season. For instance, this year the mini skirt is in fashion, next year it is the maxi - and everyone is purchasing new items. Every season there are new trends being dictated to consumers.
However, in the 1990s, this started to break down: people in fashion capitals started to combine expensive clothes with mass-produced and second-hand items. There are still fashion shows and seasons, but there is no single dominant style for the season anymore. Fashion magazines are switching from being dictators towards experienced observers: out of numerous design shows they highlight dozens of trends. Though, many designers refuse seasonal fashion shows and release items beyond the logic of the seasons. For example, Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani and Marc Jacobs do not participate in fashion weeks and organize shows according to their own schedule. Rita: The speed of fashion production has indeed increased incredibly, and collections are presented much in advance of the moment they will actually become available for purchase. I could never really understand what the point is of these delays. We are being told what will be fashionable in the future, but...