Sunday, 17 November 2013


Fantasy is an intriguing term, particularly when used in a fashion context. We throw it around with little thought, letting it stick onto anything that might be seen as vaguely imaginative or elevated beyond ‘normal’ life. Sometimes it’s exactly the right word to use; capturing the heady delight of being transported through photography, catwalk shows, an innovative dress design or madcap use of make-up.  
Yet often it is not used to describe the fantastical, but the aspirational. Here it becomes slightly more questionable, not referring to any kind of creativity, but to an assumption based on consumer ideals. Fantasy is embodied in the expensive handbag or easily recognized logo. It partners itself with status, the two proclaiming their love for each other in all sorts of adverts. Together they suggest that all should dream about being able to afford more stuff. Pretty stuff. Pricy stuff.
I regularly wish I could fly into vintage shops and sweep out again with only the coat-hangers clacking behind me, or buy hand-made G:Lab brogues from Liberty (thanks en brogue) or waltz down Savile Row and get myself a suit fitted to my exact measurements. I’d love to know what it feels like to slip into the artistry of Haute Couture or wear impractical-but-beautiful Manolo Blahniks. I am awake to the seductive charms of style with a side order of money-no-object. 
Yet still I feel uneasy by the way in which ‘fantasy’ becomes all too easily something dictated, rather than freely chosen. A case in point is the strange relationship between fantasy and appearance. Question many fashion industry leaders on their continuing use of young, slender, for the most part Caucasian models, and they will respond with the justification of fantasy. They say that the fashion world works in the realms of the exciting and dreamy, whipping up scrumptious visions to whet the style-conscious appetite. Again, partly true. Yet a dubious message underlies this defence. It broadcasts a singular fantasy based on notions of youth, shape and ethnicity. It suggests that the prevailing mode of fantasy has already been chosen, and thus cannot be changed. No room for alternative fantasies, thank you very much.
The whole idea of fantasy is to uplift, engage or challenge the one viewing, reading, watching, responding. In fashion it’s an expression with largely positive associations. Yet for many this imposed idea of fantasy is anything but. It becomes exclusive and judgmental, much the equivalent of the ‘popular group’ at secondary school whose opinions set the tone for who is allowed ‘in’ and who pushed ‘out’.
Calling for greater representation in fashion is often framed by squirm-inducing phrases like ‘real women’ - see my response here - suggesting not only a hierarchy of ‘real’ to ‘not real’ (i.e. models and other women in the public eye), but also a need for fashion to pull itself back down to earth. Although a little grounding never goes amiss, it strikes me that in effect we should be asking for the opposite: more diversity in the fantasies that we are presented with. Beauty with wrinkles, beauty with big hips, beauty with short legs or extra-long ones, beauty in every colour of skin and style of hair. The fashion industry will never shake itself free of fantasy, and nor should it. But that doesn’t exempt it from continuing to perpetuate a 'fantasy' dreamt up by a few, then fed to the many as ideal.

These images were shot by the incredibly talented Lucy Feng. I love the rich, painterly feel of them. She
instructed me to bring anything luxurious, floral or metallic that I could lay my hands on. Each outfit is an assortment of second hand things owned by me, and family pieces provided by her. I arrived at her house to find this opulent nook of brocades, scarves and props all set up. What you can't see here is the intricate system of clips and rubber bands holding it all together. You can find a fuller explanation of her inspiration in her blog post. Take a look at the rest of it for some stunningly subversive shoots that definitely re-examine the parameters of fantasy. 


Inspiration partout said...

amazing photography!!!

Helen said...

Amazing pictures, you raise some really interesting points about the conflation of fantasy with the ability to buy more rather than to dream more and as always you're so very eloquent

Closet Fashionista said...

These shots are so much fun! I always enjoy your themed shoots. And it's so true, fantasy means so many things these days. It can mean unicorns and wizards or that super expensive bag you hope to own one day.
But I do also see what you mean about models being a fantasy that can hurt our self worth.

Ivana Džidić said...

Excellent article and you sum it up so brilliantly: "more diversity in the fantasies that we are presented with."

I completely agree with you. Fantasy will always be part of fashion and often it is its best part, its spirit, its essence...but when something is used too many times, when there is no more freshness nor daring...then that "arty" part disappears from the fashion and well "fantasy" is not much fun without the "arty" part.

I agree with what you wrote:

" Beauty with wrinkles, beauty with big hips, beauty with short legs or extra-long ones, beauty in every colour of skin and style of hair. The fashion industry will never shake itself free of fantasy, and nor should it."

Now about this last part...

" But that doesn’t exempt it from continuing to perpetuate a 'fantasy' dreamt up by a few, then fed to the many as ideal."

I don't think that it is the fact that it is a vision of the few that sets the things in motion that is the problem...The problem is that the few are all the know what I mean? the few dream the same dreams, they come from the same background or if they don't they assimilate's like having a group of writers who write in exactly the same way...usually it is a sign that it is a time for change.

The photography is simply stunning!!!


Firstly, what fantastic images, so well done. I most certainly agree, that the proposed fantasy seems to be one that is already chosen, although society tends to deem it something that cannot be changed, I think it can.
I would also be able to get Savile Row regular threads. Great post! :)/M

Helen Le Caplain said...

Gorgeous pics!

Emalina said...

Hello you enchanting fantastical oriental beauty! These shots are utterly divine - you made the most perfect muse for Lucy's fantasy photography and thanks so much for introducing me to her, such talent to see here. I adore the 1910s oriental feel to them.

As for your words about fantasy, you're spot on in acknowledging how frequently the fashion world trys to control and limit our ideals of fantasy - that it needs to be purveyed by a slender teenager rather than the wealth of beautiful different women in the world. I'm reminded of the scene in that recent c4 doc fabulous fashionistas, when the gorgeous 80 something asked a fashion editor why they don't use older models, and the editor answered without any apology that they are selling a fantasy, as if their readers aspire to literally becoming younger again, rather than celebrating their increasing age with inspirational grace. The short sightedness infuriated me!

Sacramento Amate said...

Fantasy, inspiration and YOU ARE FOOD FOR THE SOUL.

Citizen Rosebud said...

This is why I adore you: But that doesn’t exempt it from continuing to perpetuate a 'fantasy' dreamt up by a few, then fed to the many as ideal.

Love the pics- and if I were a millionaire I'd make you the spokesmodel for my #shopsecondhandfirst. You really do live it!

Francesca Edesia said...

Stunning photographs!

sonia said...

Your mention of the lack of women of color in fantastical fashion shoots is really interesting and relevant. I also have noticed the lack of women of color in YA novels that deal with the paranormal or dystopia and those books are the ones that are so popular these days. Same goes for TV shows. Unfortunately, people are still marginalized and stereotyped...

Vanessa, Take only Memories said...

I had never really thought about the word fantasy before. I usually associate it with movies or books, or even photos.
But I feel like the meaning of words changes constantly. Especially in a society where we are all so connected. Words may be the same in different languages but have ever so slightly different meanings. Like love, for example is Liebe in German, but it is really only used for your partner, rarely even for your parents. But in English you can use the word love to describe anything.
I've strayed off topics, sorry. Wonderful photos! You look beautiful, as always!

Afina blog said...

Lovely post! Grate look! I followed

Izzy DM said...

The sentence about you sweeping into a thriftshop to leave behind only clacking hangers made me giggle. I loved your point about the light fantasy of fashion becoming something heavier through being dictated to us. Having lived in NY for years, I've been friendly with a couple girls who were very wealthy-- one of my acquaintances went so far as to actually quote Carrie and told me she had to wear Manolo Blahniks because they made her ankles happy. They all seemed almost more owned by their possessions than the other way around-- as in they HAD to wear the latest fashion in order to signal a certain status instead of wearing the fashion out of a sense of fun or actual desire. I loved how this reminded me a little of Moran's point in "How To Be a Woman" about how sexual fantasy too has been pre-empted and become boring through being dictated to us. So this piece felt like an expansion on that, almost another facet of what she was saying-- that it's important our fantasy worlds remain playful and label free. And finally, having worked as a model, it is really heartbreaking seeing how few models of color (like several of my friends who were ten times more exquisite than me) were able to find jobs. Well, it broke my heart, because my little sisters are half-black, and I know how damaging that is not see themselves represented.

On a lighter note: again perfectly matched pictures and theme. These should be a series of paintings! Gorgeous silks and gorgeous you!

Fashionistable said...

Beautiful images and thought provoking piece of writing. A small word with huge scope and connotations. Xxxx

OrigamiGirl said...

It's been too long since I sat down to read your blog. It always takes more time than a few others and I like to have my brain on not a sleepy face to think about fashion with.

I actually think you are spot on here about fantasy, about more diversity in our imagination. I hate that fashion can seem to elitist when it should and is to me, about creating art and beauty in what you wear. And imagining yourself as anyone you want to be through them.

Although to me fantasy is firstly my favourite genre of books. And fantasy clothing is usually cosplay, or catching something of the magic of your favourite story in clothes.

vintagevixenarts said...

Once again beautiful shot's and prop's!And yet again how much your mind amazes me! Clever girl!:)

AVY said...

Love the richness of the pictures too, fantastic. I have to imagine life as a fantasy, otherwise I'd kill myself.


milliemetres said...

The photographs are enchanting, and your writing is so good! I'm just wondering; do you have any favourite essayists? I'd really like to start reading some good essays! :)

Van said...

GORGEOUS photos, love how they're a mix of second-hand finds yet so luxurious combined. :)

Melanie said...

Dreamy photos. They remind me of my trip to Borogovia in 1912 when the prince gave me a 200 carat ruby, which I laughingly declined. So many images conjured with this shoot.
Fantasy slogged at attainable and fantasy as fairytale are so different in my mind - I like your perspective on this. I was thinking about this for days.

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