Andres Jaque & Nina Power on GENDER

On the 12th of February I attended a talk at the Royal Academy of Arts Geological Society as part of the aesthetics and architecture series. It was lead by architect Andres Jaque, founder of the Office for Political Innovation, alongside philosopher and cultural critic Nina Power, author of One-Dimensional Woman.

The main theme of the talk was the discussion between architecture, politics, the environment and gender. Jaque introduced gender as a concept and explored many of his own research projects and others to express the framework for his own complex equation.

– Is there a difference between male and female architecture? and if this is the case then does it contribute to our social construction of gender? Both speakers explored the fluid concept of gender through a series of different projects, importantly, Andres Jaque raised the concept of gender construction within fertility clinics. He talked about how all the nurses and workers inside the clinic ( a place where couples could determine the sexuality of their babies) were female and all the management were men.

Interestingly, Nina Power posed the question of if the aesthetics of architecture are gendered in the same way that society associates gender with certain objects, for example; how toy dolls are often associated with femininity. This is a concept that intrigues me as a female designer because it makes me think what could I do differently? what could I do in order to make my designers gender fluid and stop allowing architecture to shape the roles of men and woman in everyday society especially in the home in relation to domestication, the man out at work and the woman in the kitchen. I strive to look at my spaces from a multidisciplinary approach taking into account architecture, politics and society.

In relation to gender construction, I want to be able to design spaces that are genderless in order to eliminate the possibly of a polarised society. I want to design spaces appealing to any gender and stop the liberal construction that is already clearly evident through the use of everyday objects in society to this day such as blue baby grows for boys and pink baby grows for girls.  Architecturally in London especially, we are living in an outdated society that still unnecessarily encourages gender construction which is clearly evident in many major boroughs, such as gendered toilets at train stations.

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How is Vivienne Westwood influenced by the 1970’s punk subculture movement?

“There was a chaos of quiffs and leather jackets, brothel creepers and winkle pickers, plimsolls and parka macs, moddy crops and skinhead strides, drainpipes and vivid socks, bum freezers and bovver boots – all kept ‘in place’ and ‘out of time’ by the spectacular adhesives: the safety pins and plastic clothes pegs, the bondage straps and bits of string which attracted so much horrified and fascinated attention.”

  • (Hebdige, 1979, pg. 29)

“Through the masks of worldliness, today the clothed body is more than just an automaton, more than just a body in the age of technical reproduction. It has become a mutant body, a body that changes its appearance in virtue of relational values and a category of otherness implicit in the term ‘worldly’. These values produce lifestyles that lead to aesthetic choices, patterns of behaviour, aspirations and projects which otherwise would not be ‘with the times’ except in the most conventional sense.”

  • (Calefato, 2004)

Do clothes speak? Semiotics in fashion refers to how a person’s status, class, and gender can be interpreted through the study and interpretation of signs and symbols.

It is the study of the unspoken language that reveals the ideologies broadcasted through dress. By looking at fashion through a multidisciplinary approach, it can be understood how much of what someone wears publicises their social identity and their consumerist pattern. This essay will explore how punks used fashion to communicate anti-political, anti-establishment views, the promotion of one’s individual freedom and to what extent fashion designer Vivienne Westwood’s work has been influenced by the punk subculture movement.

The punk movement emerged into the UK in the mid-70s as a counterculture in response to the commercialisation of the ‘hippie’ lifestyle. Bands such as The Stooges and MC5 began to play in a lounder and more aggressive form of rock and roll which is allegedly how the first punk scene was formed. In November 1976, the world had their first taste of punk with ‘Anarchy in the UK’ by British band the Sex Pistols. It would be later featured on their debut album, ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, but not before the Sex Pistols shot from underground musicians, to international fame. (Penguin, 2017). The band referenced the political and social issues happening in the UK, particularly in London, alongside other bands such as The Clash. Music had been a catalyst for youth subculture since the counterculture of the 1960s, with, for example, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s anti-war protest songs, leading teenagers to question convention throughout every part of society, from elitist class divisions to clothing. And with punk’s anarchist core, this subculture was no different. As a response to the music, punks took an anti-consumerist DIY approach to their clothing, ripping, painting and pinning second hand clothes together.

Activism and fashion in punk was acknowledged by large numbers of people and subsequently this style became commercialized and filtered into mass-market fashion. An example of this is Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McLaren’s boutique on 430 Kings Road, particularly the collections tilted SEX and Seditionaries’. It has been claimed that this was the centre of commercialized punk fashion for bands such as the Sex Pistols. “In 1974, newly christened Sex, the store featured rubber S&M clothing and pieces with intentional rips, oversize zippers and slogan t-shirts. By 1976, Seditionaries—Clothes for Heroes, as the store was then named, had become an important source for punk looks. The notorious punk group the Sex Pistols played their first music gig in 1975 in clothes from Seditionaries.” (Deihl, 2009) Seditionaries transformed the straps and zips of sexual fetishism, intertwining bondage with images of suffering to shock and create empathy in order to provoke the viewer. The subculture as a collective was promoting a violation against any social and conventional norms, practically within youth-ism.

Vivienne Westwood has been at the centre of British fashion, alongside other designers including “Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani, Emmanuel Ungaro, Karl Lagerfeld and Christian Lacroix ‘who are true twinkling stars… from them, all fashion hangs by a golden thread.’” (Wilcox, 2004, pg. 9) Born in Derbyshire 1941, Westwood moved to London and met Malcom McLaren who “gave Westwood a focus for her restless idealism, as well as the opportunity to harness a natural flair for dressmaking.” (V&A, 2018) It is clear that Vivienne Westwood is well known world-wide for her part in the creation of punk and her contribution to referencing youth-cultures past through clothes. By the mid 70’s, Westwood and McLaren designed rock and roll clothes, specialising in fetish wear that they sold edgy, young punks that shocked people and referenced atypical sexual desires. “I did the Anarchy sign. Punk was a culmination of previous collections. We were trying to form a band of rebels who would topple the system” (Westwood, 2016, pg.1). They aimed to create a uniform that would shake the core of British convention, by taking T-shirts and collaging them with feathers, studs, and chains; slicing nipple-revealing holes conducting an anti-fashion style. Westwood took the ideologies from punk in order to create clothing that represented their identities as anti-conformist, young rebels with outfits that would stand up to the ideals. Her garments such as the ‘Bondage suit’ (fig. 1) consisted of torn up and rectified elements were a representation of an action against conformity. The bondage suit had a detachable towelling bum flap and hobble straps, and was first worn by John Rotten of the Sex Pistols in Paris. This particular garment is a classic example of how Westwood was designing clothes that were particularly menacing and almost all entirely black in order to shape punk style as an identity and shock the world. “The point of this stylistic extremism is simple: it polarizes. Through alienation it creates a sense of community. Identify through outrage.” (York, 1984, pg. 106) It is evident that Westwood was influenced by the ideologies of punk because she was responding to the political issues by creating anti-fashion in a deliberate attempt to provoke the establishment by dressing the masses.

However, it can also be argued that Vivienne Westwood was not entirely influenced by the punk subculture movement explicitly as her designs have always been inspired by rebel culture and self-expression. Since its opening of ‘SEX’ in 1970, it has released many collections Westwood used as a tool for activism in fashion. In her 1981 Pirate fashion show, Westwood’s first catwalk (fig. 2) consisted of a collection designed for World’s End (as SEX and Seditionaries is now known) signifying how Westwood believed that culture has its roots in the past, with illusions of originality. She was heavily influenced by art and history and believed that 20th century society had forgotten how culture was necessary in order for us to evolve.

Furthermore, Westwood states in her latest diaries that her work has heavily been influenced by previous designers and artist’s, and she uses her fashion as a mechanism to spark public awareness of political and climate issues: “I want to warn people of the danger we’re in from climate change; and I talk about fashion to alleviate the hard focus which nevertheless we must grapple to save the world.” (Westwood, 2016, pg. 8) By combing traditional British elements of design such as tartan and tweed in clothing, Westwood stresses the importance of classical British heritage where fashion must be “built on tradition and inspiration” (Westwood, 2016, pg. 8). Combining her individualism continually with her exploration and perception of British history within contemporary fashion, she raises awareness of social-economic and cultural climate issues within the UK. She has continually used her designs to communicate and symbolise emotions and themes in her collections, which especially come across when they are presented on the catwalk. The semiotics of the clothes is inherently provocative as she “deconstructs cliché [and] confronts prejudices” (Tredre, 2009, pg. 183), and this is emphasised by taking these ideologies onto the constraints and conventions of the mainstream catwalk.

One collection in particular, the 1986 Mini-Crini collection signifies Westwood’s movement towards historical referencing within her designs. The Mini-Crini Collection (fig. 3) featured ruffled skirts with extreme emphasis on the hip and waist area of women, exaggerating and distorting the female form in order to create a sexually driven garment to shock the viewer into an absurd vision of feminine forms. She was using fashion in order to communicate the power of the female body, at the time when other designers were designing shoulder pads into female suits. The collection indicates how Vivienne Westwood was going against the fashion systems at the time and using her designs as a mechanism to communicate personal propaganda, physically and mentally arousing the audience.

Additionally, it could also be argued that part of Vivienne Westwood’s extremism within provocative and shocking catwalk is driven by the motive to gain media attention. The garments themselves are not single handily enough to gain the necessary media attention towards new collections, therefore designers have recently focused more on the design of the show itself. The catwalk is no longer a display for collections, the catwalk itself has become the display, “even the traditional model came to be replaced firstly by elderly and schoolgirl models and then, in a final ironic twist, by the same celebrities that once made up their audiences.” (Khan, 2001. Pg 117) Westwood’s radical catwalk shows could be considered as a tool for provoking strong public relations to gain media attention in such a competitive field of work, especially seeing as at fashion shows there are more than 100 catwalks that take place over the 7-day period. The catwalk becomes a superficial extravagant display, almost like a performance, which consumerists feed into because they enjoy the here and now and new.

Overall, when looking at Westwood’s design from a multi-disciplinary approach, one could consider that she has always been driven by social and cultural issues within the UK, which has translated into her work throughout her entire career as a designer. “A meticulous researcher and an unashamed ‘plunderer’ of the past, Vivienne Westwood has continually raided historical fashions to create some of contemporary fashion’s most original looks.” (V&A, 2018) Throughout her career she has been driven by history, art, design, politics and social issues. It is clear to see that Vivienne Westwood was extremely influenced by the 1970’s punk subculture movement, however it could be said that her early punk days were merely a spark towards her evolvement into a political activist fashion designer; additionally, it could be said that the punk movement in relation to fashion itself was not commercialized or mass-marketed until Westwood shaped it. She carries on to this day designing collections that push for awareness upon climate change, civil liberties and nuclear disarmament. It does however need to be considered that her obvious extremism to catwalk shows and collections could be an instrument to gain global recognition through public relations in an ever-growing, evolving competitive industry.







Mcdonaldization and Disneyization: Speed vs Spectacle

Cheap. Fast. Efficient. As argued by Sociologist George Ritzer, Mcdonalization refers to the blurring of boundaries between the principles of fast food restaurants such as Mcdonalds and everyday life in “American Society as well as the rest of the world.” ( Ritzer, 1993. pg 1) Its franchising model consisting of efficiency and standardisation has been globally undertaken across a wide range of sectors including eduction, work, leisure centres, airlines, and essentially any business that is privatised. The fast food restaurant has triumphed in success since its opening in the 1940’s, serving over 69 million customers daily in over 100 countries, adopting an in- and-out routine for customers.

There is a level of predicability when a customer enters a Mcdonald’s. The space; staff are in uniform, table service is eliminated and staff are trained via a script. The business model is irresistible as it gives the user the optimum method of eliminating hunger, quickly and efficiently.  Other institutions have adopted this this method of promising quick results for the fast paced modern consumer such as quick weight loss results, or products that require minimal effort needed to complete a task. Secondly, it is good value for money, offering a “service that can be easily calculated and quantified.” ( Ritzer, 1993. pg 5) Essentially, more for your money, quantity over quality. Thirdly, Mcdonalds also offers consistency and predictability. When a user visits a Mcdonald’s abroad , they know they’ll be eating exactly the same hamburger as they would be in their hometown. Unconsciously all these factors mean that consumers eat quickly and leave, essentially engoraged the consumer to get their food and leave as quickly as possible.  This is hyper efficiency.

In contrast, Disneyisation of society and the economy encourages the consumer to spend as much money as possible by dominating one singular space, while also providing the user with an experience, encouraging the user to stay for long periods of time. An example of this would be a theme park such as Disneyland, where there are a multitude of different activities for consumers to participate in. This is otherwise known as hybrid consumption where the lines between the different consumerist activities become so blurred they begin to ” become increasingly blurred to point that they almost collapse.” ( Bryman, 2004. pg 55) Disneyland is carved specifically to encourage consumption and drive sales, through hybrid consumption, visual merchandising, performative labour and theming. This includes themed rides, restaurants, meet and great with characters, novelty gift shops, themed hotel rooms, character performances etc. Essentially, anything that contributes to the selling of the brand; encouraging the user to stay for an extended amount of time because the longer they stay the more they spend. It all contributes to the visual spectacle, an experience,  that is throughly regulated.

Similarly to



  • Ritzer, G. (1993). The McDonaldization of society. 1st ed. California: Pine Forge Press.
  • Bryman, A. (2004). The Disneyization of Society.  London: Sage.

Fashion and performance: Screen costume


Costume design is really a matter of creating the backdrop for all of these characters to thrive and grow throughout the course of the film.”

  • (Scott, D. 2017. Pg.10)

Costume designers use governed fashion systems in film in order to represent a character’s realism, gender, status and power. This contributes to the Mise-en-scene of a film alongside other important elements such as lighting, colour, setting, props and the position of characters. It has a function before the camera, an un spoken language. They strive to sell the audience a fantasy in order to contribute to the narrative of the film. Simultaneously there are similarities and differences between the two separate languages and systems of fashion and costume design. Fashion has not always been considered as an academic subject compared with costume design, which has long been written about by film critics.

James bond is just one example of how the boundaries between fashion and costume have merged. The famous tailored black suit not only creates fashion but is fashion. The suit built into the characterisation of James Bond, symbolising power, gender and lust, therefore creating an image for the audience. This gives the audience the idea that if you wear that suit, you can gain that identity. You become powerful and sexy.

Another example of how Costume design contributes to the focalisation of a character in film is the array of elaborate Edwardian dresses that rose wore in 1997 film titanic. “The job of a costume designer is to really help the actor in that journey, to establish themselves in a time and place.” (Scott, D. 2017. Pg.10). The Director James Cameron insisted costume designer Deborah Lynn Scott that there needed to be a clear divide between the first-class passengers and the third-class passengers.

“Jim Cameron and I wanted it to be as accurate as possible, so I really studied the period and got the nuances of the styles down. When do you wear gloves? Do you wear gloves this time? Literally there are books written about how many times a day you change your clothes. We read a lot about etiquette and tried to figure out the protocol about how you behave at a table, including the manners of dress.” (Scott, D. 2017).

Scott studied the fashion of the 1910’s in order to contribute to the narrative of the story and sell to the audience that Rose was a first-class traveller who was very wealthy compared to third class traveller Jack who has to win tickets in order to get on the boat. When rose first boards the boat, the camera pans from her feet upwards, displaying her in a purple and white and an extremely large hat which was considered a big symbol of wealth because that was of the period. The Costume designer uses fashion to display Roses wealth and status.




Lee Alexander McQueen


Lee Alexander McQueen was described as ”the kind of genius that only comes around once in a generation.” (Knox, K. 2010. pg. 7). Illustrated as one of the most famous British fashion designers and couturiers of the 20th century, his work was well know for its conceptual dark and haunting approach to fashion. Adopting a radical approach to his designs and catwalk shows McQueen drastically addressed several issues in a serious and sensitive way, yet at the same time creating “visual spectacles of breath-taking theatrical quality and technical skill.” (Khan, N. 2001. pg. 118). He enjoyed a high pubic profile, frequently using his emotional catwalk shows as a medium to deliver performances that shocked and challenged the public.

McQueens Autumn/ Winter 1995 catwalk which displayed his ‘Highland Rape’ collection (see fig. 5) has been described as one of the most notorious thought provoking staged shows. ” Press response at the time was hostile to his use of violent and sexual imagery…He has since explained his catwalk show as “a statement on the eighteen-century involvement of the British in the Scottish Highlands.” (Khan, N. 118). The catwalk was Inspired by the “ethnic cleansing” of the British Forces in the Scottish Highlands, consisting of a complex series of events that continued over a hundred years. Traditional tartan print suits were sent down the runway with massive gashes down the breast and the ‘buster skirt ‘ was introduced. He wanted to make his audience react to his shows whether it be with happiness, joy, amazement or disgust, widely differing from the traditional catwalk involving a basic body of a young pretty, thin woman walking up and down a runway.

By using research methodologies to collect data on designers, one can discover their creative process, place in the fashion system and critical thinking. Research methodologies can include collecting both qualitative and quantitative data. Qualitative methods include interviews, case studies, ethnography and psychogeography, whereas quantitative methods can include laboratory experiments, tests, prototyping and sampling.

McQueens savage beauty exhibition at the V&A is an example of how avant-garde fashion designers manipulate space in order to create a show rather than focusing on the garments being presented. ” For avant-garde fashion designers, the museum or gallery appears to be a necessary component of their fashion brands strategy; the world of the brand is complete and show to best advantage when it appears in a museum or gallery in all its manifestations.” (Tenissen, J. 2014. Pg. unknown.)

Factors such as conceptualisation of fashion as a system, storytelling and experimental design all contribute to setting a scene for understanding avant-garde fashion though the museum. Similarly, to the world of art, contemporary museums are the ideal environment to understand avant-garde fashion though how it is presented in contrast to more traditional museums such as the V&A where it is simply just the garment displayed. There is a strong relationship between the space and the garments that represent the themes and ideologies behind the collections, therefore making it easy for the audience to understand the concept.


  • Knox, K (2010). Alexander McQueen Genius of a generation. Great Britain: A&C Black Publishers Limited.
  • Nathalie, K (2001). Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explorations and Analysis, Taylor and Francis, Florence. Great Britain: Routledge.
  • Tenissen, J (2014). Fashion and Museums (Dress, Body, Culture. Great Britain: Bloomsbury academic.


  • Claire, W. (2015). Alexander McQueen. London: V&A publishing.
  • Knox, K (2010). Alexander McQueen Genius of a generation. Great Britain: A&C Black Publishers Limited.
  • Nathalie, K (2001). Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explorations and Analysis, Taylor and Francis, Florence. Great Britain: Routledge.
  • Tenissen, J (2014). Fashion and Museums (Dress, Body, Culture. Great Britain: Bloomsbury academic.

Fashion as communication

TS61E56LRED_Zoom_F_1“The sociological understanding of fashion involves an analysis of consumers who adopt fashion and their consumption behaviour because the consumers participate indirectly in the production of fashion. When fashion reaches the stages of adoption and consumption, it is converted into something more concreate and visible, that is clothing-fashion.” (Kawamura, 2004, pg. 89)

Consciously or unconsciously, consumers in modern and post-modern societies across the globe chose the garments they wear and products they buy in order to non-verbally communicate a certain image. This is influenced by a number of factors including sexuality, media, art, music, environment, society, culture & money. Why do we wear the clothes that we wear? And where do clothes come from? Theoretically, this looks at the semiotics of fashion, the signs and symbols created in fashion, what ideologies are transmitted through dress.

Unconsciously, I buy clothes that are similar to my peers and others around me in order to conform, however I consciously believe my clothes differentiate myself from others such as my red tassel earrings (see fig. 6). This refers to symbolic affiliation & differenation. Fashion has two sides to it, one where consumers generally conform to what is being produced and anti-fashion. “On the one hand, it is institutional, spectacular and consumer orientated – haute coture, the catwalk, the top model- while, on the other, it is eccentric and linked to alternative forms of culture and incipient ideologies- street styles and anti-fashions.” (Calefato, 2004, pg. 45.)

By shopping at the same retailers as my peers in London, I am affiliating and conforming to the group, however by buying my earrings I am also differentiating myself from my peers because they are unique. I chose eccentric red tassel earrings because to me, they represent my creativity and my quirkiness. This could be seen as anti-fashion because I am not matching what my peers around me are wearing to a full extent. An extreme case of anti-fashion would be punk fashion that was “almost entirely black and consciously menacing; it was often home-made or brought from second hand thrift shops.” (Kawamura, 2004, pg. 101) Punk fashion, made in the late 1970’s was developed as a reaction to unemployment and the anger of the youths. They used their clothing, hair and make-up in order to non-verbally communicate their wish not to affiliate themselves with any norms, conventions and rules that society forced upon them. To me, my earrings represent a slight form of anti-fashion. My wardrobe consists of a lot of second hand clothing, where I have eliminated the manipulative producer in the process of buying.


  • Calefato, P. (2004) The Clothed Body. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Kawamura, Y. (2004) Fashionology: An Introduction to fashion studies. Oxford: Berg Publishers.