The ‘Spectral Turn’ in Fashion: Re-visioning alternative fashion futures

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“’ Not in all,’ he murmured with a smile, ‘time forks perpetually towards innumerable futures. In one of them I am your enemy’”

Jorge Luis Borges The Garden of Forking Paths

Can we really say that fashion and style in clothing and culture have innumerable futures? Is the future of fashion predicated by the past or are there alternative futures that speculate authentic and original notions of fashion futures. This paper questions our ability to authentically realise speculative futures for fashion. In 1848 Marx and Engels published The Communist Manifesto with the opening statement “there is Spectre haunting Europe, the Spectre of Communism”. Marx’s thesis analysed social inequalities in the Lancashire cotton mills expressing the difference between those whose produce and those who consume foreseeing the consumer fetishism of contemporary culture. Derrida reflected on Marx’s spectral revenants in proposing a ‘hauntology’ whereby the past is never laid to rest but returns, repeatedly, to disrupt the present and continually reminds us of another possible future in what can be termed a ‘Spectral Turn’. Mark Fisher cites this always returning revenant as the condition of Capitalism where there is no alternative to the revisionism of the past that is always haunting the present in a continual reframing of nostalgia in a prescribed future.

This paper examines the ‘Spectral Turn’ in fashion culture and the fashion industry. It revaluates whether fashion is ever really unique and original or whether it is a reflection of society and culture in its revisionism. Examining key examples from contemporary fashion it aims to reveal the ghosts of the past that are forever returning in a longing for an ever turning space for fashion that no longer exists or has never existed; a sense of always returning in time when our sense of Time itself has changed. This change has created a sense of ‘dyschronia’ in which, whilst everyday life has become quicker and more responsive to change, culture and fashion in particular has slowed down. This evaluation of ‘hauntology’ within fashion culture sets out to propose alternatives to a Capital model and to express the potential for abstract and speculative futures for culture and fashion. This discourse, that is intertextual and interdisciplinary, will position the anthropological thinking of Donna Haraway alongside the philosophical approaches of Jane Bennett and Graham Harman in order to explore new materialism as a route to speculative fashion futures and rethinking post-humanism within the frame of fashion theory and fashion culture to envision speculative and alternative fashion futures.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 14 Oct 2021
EventResponsible Fashion Series 2021: Can fashion save the world? - University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium
Duration: 14 Oct 202122 Oct 2021


ConferenceResponsible Fashion Series 2021
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