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The Future is in the Freedom

It’s 7.30 in the morning, and the sunlight is blazing in through the window. Outside, the wind chill lowers the temperature to just above freezing, while freshly steamed strapless jumpsuits and minidresses hang in a storage closet indoors. There is fresh coffee in the pot and makeup is strewn everywhere; it is the epitome of creative chaos as sluggish models and dreary stylists trickle in to prepare for the day’s 11 hour shoot schedule. The first model in the hair and makeup chair is Jakob Pollack, a junior Film Studies and Physics double major with cheekbones so sharp they could cut glass. I’ve known Jakob for a little while now, and I think it’s fair to say that he is inexplicably fearless, simultaneously curating his image flawlessly. What you see with him is deliberate; it is what he wants you to see. As he very bluntly puts it, “fashion is less a representation of my identity than a construction of a fake identity I want to portray.” 

The next recipient of our makeup team’s magic touch is Julia Aurelia Glass, a senior double majoring in Engineering Mechanics and Economics, a trans woman, and unfortunately, the soon-to-be victim of the summer dress. At 6’ 2” she towers over me, radiating confidence in her effortless demeanor. Not one for beating around the bush, Aurelia tells it like it is. She states, “my style is totally honest. Whatever I’m wearing, whether it’s a turtleneck and leather jacket, or a sorority tank and leggings, it’s never a costume, it’s always a reflection of how I feel about myself.” 

An hour of eyeshadow blending, six scrambled eggs, and a stack of pancakes later, we begin styling the first outfits of the day. Though we went through a fitting as usual, and so have a set of clothes ready to put on, we know that this is likely to end up on the cover of our inaugural issue (as it turns out, we are right!), and the pressure to achieve some semblance of perfection is definitely on. Just as Aurelia finishes getting the blue and red striped silk dress on, our final model for the morning, a nineteen year old Africana Studies and Sociology double major from Auburn, Georgia by the name of Adelle Thompson, comes in. Our second makeup artist of the morning, Monika, immediately gets started on what is to be an intense blue lid and lip combination. Adelle holds her style slightly closer to her heart than the others, sharing, “every stylistic choice that I make is showing the world a little more of my truth.” 

What differentiates the models of our cover shoot from the others cast in the magazine, is that they were chosen not solely based on the look of the shoot, or an image that we were trying to portray, but because of who they are and what communities they belonged to. The shoot is built around them; their personalities, attitudes and personal style. I knew very early on that I wanted the culmination of our reflection on the last century to be a genderfluid cover shoot, showcasing the positive direction that the fashion industry is (hopefully) moving in. I learnt a lot through the research process- I learnt that normalizing genderfluidity in fashion does not mean putting women in tuxedos and men in ball gowns; it means giving people of every gender the freedom and opportunity to wear ball gowns, tuxedos, basketball shorts, hoop skirts, stockings, and anything else they might want to, without the fear of retaliation or judgement. In essence, it is the complete removal of gender from style, and the redefinition of menswear and womenswear to just ‘clothes’.

Perhaps Adelle puts into words most elegantly, “we, as a community, can do more to normalize the abnormal. We need to show everyone that there is no one way to be gay, there is no one way to be beautiful, and that there is no one way to be a human being.” As the clock strikes nine, and we’re all piling into cars on our way to the American Visionary Art Museum, this is the exact thought rumbling around in my head. There’s a lot that needs to be done to make real strides in the field, and one group that is absolutely pivotal in this conversation, is the transgender community. “I’m very fond of reinterpreting masculine visual cues in a feminine way. I think it reflects an important part of my transition, learning how to reconcile my masculine history with my feminine self,” says Aurelia, and it’s this exact personal reasoning that needs to be both heard and respected. 

The minutes trickle on, and as we move from a tree of mirrors to a reflective, collaged egg, the magical direction of our photographers for the morning, Mary and Joanna, is truly coming to life. We move from Adelle and Jakob manspreading back to back on the concrete steps, to Aurelia striking a power pose with both hands on her hips in a silk gown with thigh high slits, staring straight into the camera; all three of them poised, elegant and defiant in the thirty-two degree weather. As our stylists Phoebe, William and Mia adjust lapels and re-tuck shirts, I’m reminded that change, just like everything worthwhile, is a team effort. It’s going to take millions of individuals making tiny adjustments, just like the two-millimeter-to-the-left shift of a scarf that William is so intricately performing, to achieve the real change in mindset that is required. 

The bottom line is that, as a society, it’s time to reassess what we value. There has to come a point where we accept that the past is unchangeable, but the future very much is. As a generation our legacy can be to rectify these injustices. The first step is really as simple as not judging someone for being exactly who they are.

– Saniya Ramchandani

The Sickness of Love: A Disease We’ve Learned to Live With – Jade Robinson

“For when I look at you for a moment, then it is no longer possible for me to speak; my tongue has snapped, at once a subtle fire had stolen beneath my flesh, I see nothing with my eyes, my ears hum, sweat pours from me, a trembling seizes me all over, I am greener than grass, and it seems to be that I am little short of dying.” Sappho 31

Love is complex and convoluted. In the English language, love is a scant four letters packed with nuances that still seem to fall short of portraying its true intricacies. On the other hand, Classical Greek has no shortage of words that relate to love and affection, all of which are distinct in their meanings and usage. Erôs is the Ancient Greek word that signifies passionate sexual attraction, while the love of parents for their children is denoted by the term storgê. Agapê represents fondness or likeness, and can sometimes be translated as brotherly love. Philia is most often translated as “friendship,” and is the most widely used word for general loving emotions. It seems foolish, by contrast, that the English language attempts to use one word to encompass such a wide scope of feelings. With such diversity of terms, , the Ancient Greeks seem to have a deeper understanding of what love is than we might today –– reflecting on their works can show us a perspective about love unburdened by the reductive rose-colored glasses our modern society sports. 

Despite the litany of words used for it, the Ancient Greeks constantly regarded love, of any type, as an antagonist. However, it runs deeper than just portrayal as a villain; love was viewed as an affliction, a disease of the mind and body. Sappho, one of the most widely-celebrated lyrical poets of Ancient Greece, wrote one of her most famous poems about her experience falling in love with a woman. While fragments of the poem have been lost since 6th Century BCE, it continues to be highly regarded. She writes:

For when I look at you for a moment, then it is no longer possible for me to speak; my tongue has snapped, at once a subtle fire had stolen beneath my flesh, I see nothing with my eyes, my ears hum, sweat pours from me, a trembling seizes me all over, I am greener than grass, and it seems to be that I am little short of dying

Out of context, it would seem obvious that this poem is about an illness.  The poet is plagued by a myriad of physical symptoms –– chills, a green complexion, sudden blindness, and buzzing in the ears would all be cause for a frantic call to the doctor. And yet, for Sappho, who experiences these symptoms each time she sees the woman she loves, it’s simply recounted as a normal occurrence.

In the 3rd century BCE, Apollonius of Rhodes wrote an epic entitled “Argonautica”, which details a complex story of cunning wit, betrayal, and—of course—love. Medea, a princess, is made to fall in love with a man named Jason, with one well-aimed arrow from Eros, the Ancient Greek equivalent of the entity we now know of as Cupid ––“[Eros] strung his bow, as selected from his quiver a new arrow destined to bring much grief…Eros darted back out of the high-roofed palace with a mocking laugh, but his arrow burned deep in the girl’s heart like a flame”. It is eerily macabre that we have rebranded this image of Cupid in the contemporary lexicon, portraying him as an innocent and whimsical cherub, while in this story he is consciously making a woman fall in love with a man who will go on to treat her terribly. As a society, we plaster his likeness on cards, balloons, and chocolates; we celebrate his quiver of arrows that bind people together, willingly or not. While this early version of love was used as a weapon, we choose to celebrate and idolize it. 

Sixteen centuries later, the ideas of the Ancient Greeks maintain their prevalence. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 147, “My love is a fever longing still,” details his inner monologue as he contemplates his tangled emotions surrounding the newfound object of his affections. The fourteen lines are filled with pointed and intense word choices summoning a clear picture of illness, –– , “My reason, the physician to my love, Angry that his prescriptions are not kept, Hath left me”. The conflict between “love” and “reason” is severe. The personification of these two concepts, as physician versus disease, bring us right to the core of Shakespeare’s internal conflict. In this scenario, reason chooses to consciously leave the speaker, because his “prescriptions” are being ignored. Isn’t that how it goes? Our reason—our belabored voice of common sense—may tell us one thing, and yet we choose to be swept away by love all the same, thus making an enemy of the only entity that can save us from the ailments love brings. 

In more contemporary works, love continues to be portrayed as a debilitating disease, albeit the vitriol of this characterization is  diluted by our society’s idolization of romantic love. In the original “The Little Mermaid,” written in 1837, a young mermaid makes a series of radical decisions that indelibly alter the course of her life. After becoming enamored with a young prince, the girl becomes obsessed with the idea of living among humans, with two legs and an “immortal soul”. She makes a deal with a sea witch to get a pair of legs, despite the excruciating pain this transformation will cause, in exchange for everything she held dear ––  her life under the sea, her family, her tongue, and her precious voice, her prized possession, are all surrendered in the name of devotion. The only stipulation is that the teenage prince must reciprocate her love, or she will perish, and unfortunately, he fails to return the sentiments. In an effort to save her life, the other mermaids make another deal with the conniving sea witch to forge a weapon, with which she can save her own life by killing the prince. When faced with a choice between returning to family, and facing her inevitable death, she chooses to walk into the sea. Reason fell to love’s sword.. In spite of the boy’s indifference, as she stood above him sleeping with his betrothed, she could not bring herself to enact harm against him. From an outsider’s perspective, free from the falsehoods of love, the young girl had ample reason to harbor a grudge against the prince ––s he sacrificed everything she loved for the possibility of love, only to be rebuffed as hiss “Dear little foundling.” And still, she chose to die rather than hurt him. Her behavior can only be described in the words of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 147 yet again:“Past cure I am, now reason is past care, And frantic-mad with evermore unrest; My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are, At random from the truth vainly expressed”.

This exploration of love poses the question: Why? Why do we continue to ache for love? Why do we step into the battlefield of reason and love, while knowing the odds are not in our favor? How is it that the effects of heartbreak and the messiness of love are well documented, and yet the cautionary tales fail to keep us from repeating the cycle? Far more sensible would be to shy away from love, to protect ourselves from this unrelenting ailment.  Nevertheless, most seem to invite it into their lives.   Could it be that love is actually worth it? That the aches, the pains, and the trembling pale in comparison to the elation that love brings? After ten lines detailing the physical symptoms that have arisen as a result of this newfound affection, the recovered portion of Sappho’s poem ends with “But all can be endured…” before the remaining stanzas are lost. Perhaps the answer will always be unclear. Love seems to be a force that we cannot explain, predict, or conquer, not in any substantial way. Above all else, perhaps we have simply chosen to accept that sometimes the love is short-lived, but sometimes it is not. It can be beautiful, ugly, horrific, and remarkable, all at once or in stages that bleed together. The cycles will continue; the joys of love will continue to intersect with its tribulations, just as they have for over two-thousand years. Based on the patterns of human behavior, it seems as though the ancient proverb rings true: It is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.

Sources 

Andersen, Hans Christian. “The Little Mermaid.” Short Stories and Classic Literature. Accessed September 10, 2022. https://americanliterature.com/author/hans-christian-andersen/short-story/the-little-mermaid. 

Konstan, David. The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks Studies in Aristotle and Classical Literature. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014.

Rodas, Apolonio de, and Richard Lawrence Hunter. Jason and the Golden Fleece: (the Argonautica). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. 

Sanders, Ed, Chiara Thumiger, Christopher Carey, and N. J. Lowe. Erôs in Ancient Greece. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2013. 

Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet 147: My Love Is as a Fever, Longing Still…” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. Accessed September 14, 2022. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/56227/sonnet-147-my-love-is-as-a-fever-longing-still.

Stop Accepting the Bare Minimum – Nikki Ucheya

“Hold boys to the same standards as girls throughout their upbringing. That alone shows them that they are not above behavioral and domestic responsibility by virtue of their gender.”

Standards. We all have them. Some hold certain people to higher standards than others, but the standard is there nonetheless. It’s how we determine what to expect and accept from the people in our lives. Standards can be found within the context of many relationship dynamics—friendships, workplaces, and family units alike—but more often than not when someone is told to raise their standards, they’re talking about standards within the context of romantic relationships.

In recent years, phrases such as “The bar is on the floor,” “All men are trash,” and their many iterations have become very popular online with regards to dating discourse. It all stems from the idea that men have been getting away with doing the bare minimum for far too long. One Twitter user says, “Can we stop praising men for doing stuff they’re supposed to do?” and goes on to list examples—holding the door open, watching the kids, doing the dishes. They end their Tweet with, “The bar is low enough for Satan to step over it. Ridiculous” (@Snow_Blacck 2020). A different online comment states that “the bar for straight men is the literal ground and they will still tunnel underneath it” (Ng 2022).

Chances are that everyone’s idea of the bare minimum is slightly different, and dependent on their past experiences. One of Marriage.com’s expert bloggers describes it as the very least you need from a relationship and goes on to list twenty examples of what the bare minimum looks like in a relationship. Some of her examples include giving compliments without being asked, respecting boundaries, asking about their partner’s day, being sensitive about how their partner feels, and finding time to be with their partner (Blog 1). These are all attributes of a healthy relationship—attributes, as the blogger intends, that you shouldn’t have to fight for.

According to a different blogger, “The bare minimum man is the type of guy who doesn’t exhibit outwardly ‘bad’ behavior that calls for a breakup such as cheating. But he also doesn’t treat you in a way that makes you feel necessarily loved or cared for.” To them, it’s the type of person who responds but doesn’t initiate, hears you but isn’t actively listening, shows up but never on time (Blog 2). Depending on who you are, a lot of these actions could be considered below the bare minimum.

Other examples of what some consider to be bare minimum actions with regards to men in relationships include wearing a condom without complaining about it, validating their partner’s emotions, planning date nights, texting back in a timely fashion, changing diapers, not taking advantage of their partner, expressing emotions healthily, and putting noticeable effort into the relationship. “These are basic relationship skills that every person, no matter their gender, should possess,” says Jeff Guenther, a licensed professional counselor with over 2 million followers on TikTok.

Based on a Psychology Today article that made waves on the internet in August 2022, it seems like many women have taken the idea of accepting more than the bare minimum to heart. According to the article’s author Greg Matos, a board-certified couple and family psychologist, “Younger and middle-aged men are the loneliest they’ve been in generations, and it’s probably going to get worse” (Matos 2022). The statement was partially based on a study that was done to evaluate loneliness based on age, gender, and cultural differences around the world. One of the main findings was that young men living in individualistic cultures were the most vulnerable to loneliness, and Matos suggests three main reasons as to why this may be the case within romantic contexts (Barreto et. al 2021). First, he notes that men currently make up 62% of users on dating apps across the board, meaning there’s more competition among straight men when it comes to matching with women. Second, he notes that women can afford to be increasingly selective as a result and that most young women prefer men who are emotionally available, good communicators, and hold similar values to them. This leads to the third reason: many men currently lack the skills needed to fulfill those simple standards, largely because of the way they were raised.

Everyone is raised under the overarching construct of gender, which enforces ideas of femininity in opposition to masculinity. Traits that are often deemed as feminine include gentleness, kindness, nurturance, supportiveness, understanding, and empathy, all of which are characteristics that everyone should possess to some degree. Yet from birth, anyone who’s perceived as male is taught about the importance of being a “real man,” which essentially means to avoid feminine traits and actions at all costs since anything aligned with femininity is often deemed “weak” or “inferior.” This means that in many circles, men can’t talk about their feelings freely, explore their sexuality, or be particularly gentle or kind without being looked at sideways. Instead, they’re told to strive for masculine traits such as strength, dominance, assertiveness, and independence.

On top of this, society tends to let a lot more slide for boys than for girls. Think back to elementary school—if a boy were to behave in an aggressive manner at some point in the day, it’s not unlikely that the occurrence would ultimately be written off by authority figures with the old refrain of “boys will be boys.” If a girl were to behave in the same way, it’d be deemed unladylike. While there may be consequences for both the boy and the girl, there’s generally an underlying school of thought that boys are naturally more aggressive and deserve more leniency when it comes to their unideal behaviors. In a different Psychology Today blog post, Dr. Elizabeth Meyer, an associate professor for the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education, recalls a time that she tried to express her concerns with some of the aggressive behaviors a few of the male students in her 3-year-old son’s class had exhibited. Her concerns were met with the boys will be boys rhetoric, which she states is a dangerous phrase to fall back on because it prompts children to construct gender stereotypes and oversimplifies the reasoning for aggressive behaviors (Meyer 2014).

This rhetoric, as well as the idea that girls mature faster than boys, results in girls being raised with a higher set of standards than boys—inadvertently teaching those girls that they should tolerate boys even if they aren’t being treated right. These same boys grow up being coddled in other ways as well—such as not being asked to do domestic chores—and many internalize that their ultimate role in a family unit is to be a provider while women do all the caretaking.

Overall, men’s limited range for acceptable self-expression coupled with a lack of consequences for problematic behavior presents a big issue during the pursuit of romantic relationships with women.

Successful relationships come down to the idea of genuine partnership, which requires both parties to have a decent level of emotional intelligence and availability. And yet, as aforementioned, half the population is told to suppress their feelings and to avoid the very traits that their potential romantic partners are encouraged to possess. This contradiction forces those female partners to do the emotional labor of teaching men how to treat them equitably, and evidently many are sick of it.

Not only are they sick of it, but they can afford not to put up with it anymore. Women of the 21st century possess far more rights than those of the 20th, meaning they don’t need to rely on men for survival. This development allows women to lead fulfilling lives without a man at the center of it. In fact, according to Paul Dolan (a professor of behavioral science at the London School of Economics) the happiest and healthiest population subgroup is women who never marry or have children. This statement is ironic, given that marriage and raising children are traditionally seen as a woman’s sole purpose and marker of success in our society, but it makes sense when you consider how much work goes into upholding the duties that come with both (Oppenheim 2019).

With modern day marriage in particular, it seems like men have everything to gain while women have everything to lose. This is reflected in the fact that nearly 70% of all divorces in the US are initiated by women. This is generally due to less tolerance for physical or emotional abuse as well as the toll gender roles take on women. Even in households where the mom works as many hours as the dad, most of the domestic and child labor falls onto them (Gomes 2021). This can become incredibly draining over time and take a toll on the mom’s physical and mental health. Meanwhile, there are many health benefits to marriage for men—married men are more likely to receive regular checkups and medical care, maintain healthy diets, exercise, experience lower levels of stress, and receive better care during times of illness (PRB 2010). Additionally, married men earn 10-40% more than otherwise comparable single men and are overall in much better financial shape than unmarried male peers (Hamlet 2019).

So, whether it’s a young couple or a 20-year marriage, how can we get the men of our society to not only reach the bare minimum but exceed it?

In short, everyone needs to stop reinforcing patriarchal values and the toxic masculinity that tends to come with it. Additionally, we need to make more space for men to be vulnerable and possess more feminine traits—dare I say human traits—from a young age.

It’s worth noting that some women can be just as guilty as men when it comes to upholding the pillars of the patriarchy, and that is just as unhelpful as the men who gender police everyone. No matter who you are, normalize men expressing their feelings. Check in on the male figures in your life more often—brothers, friends, dads. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown heart to heart, but giving them the space to talk about how they’re actually doing is a small way to deconstruct the idea that they need to be strong and silent provider archetypes.

Hold boys to the same standards as girls throughout their upbringing. That alone shows them that they are not above behavioral and domestic responsibility by virtue of their gender.

All in all, more power to anyone who rejects receiving less than the bare minimum in their relationships. More power to anyone who won’t settle for only the bare minimum in their relationships. Everyone is deserving of quality love and care, and though there is room to be appreciative of someone for covering the basics, the best relationships occur when both parties are committed to going above and beyond.

Mulholland Drive: Identity Crisis and the Hollywood Dream – Henry Bergles

“Lynch contrasts the fixed cultural idea of the Hollywood Dream with the randomness and unpredictability of real dreams to create the universe of Mulholland Drive.”

One of the biggest cliches in media is ending a story with it was all a dream. While this phrasing is regularly mocked and derided, representing the unconscious via dreams in cinema and literature can be incredibly transformative. 

Mulholland Drive (2001) is a film directed by David Lynch that utilizes the dream space to tell a particularly heartbreaking story about failed love and a fruitless acting career. This mystery and psychological thriller in one is famous for being convoluted and hard to follow. Dreams can be this way, too. I often find myself waking up confused and disoriented in the aftermath of a particularly interesting dream, with its own cast of characters, locations, and interactions seemingly pieced together at random by my unconscious mind.

The other definition of a dream, apart from a creation of the subconscious, is an aspiration, wish, or goal that may or may not be achievable. This second definition carries with it its own cultural connotations, and the shared aspiration of many of the characters in Mulholland Drive is the ubiquitous “Hollywood Dream.” The idea of the “Hollywood Dream” by itself is not mysterious; it is a clear-cut goal to be a successful actor, landing film roles through talent and skill, an objective with minimal room for interpretation. The “Hollywood Dream” is the same for every actor –– whether or not they will achieve such a dream, however, is well out of their control.

Lynch contrasts the fixed cultural idea of the Hollywood Dream with the randomness and unpredictability of real dreams to create the universe of Mulholland Drive. Much of the movie takes place within the dreams of Diane, the movie’s protagonist, as she strives to achieve the elusive Hollywood Dream. Diane’s idealized dream-self is Betty, a naive, southern girl who moves to Los Angeles to audition for film roles. The style of acting and editing is extremely cheesy in these scenes, perhaps to emulate the uniformity and cliche of the Hollywood Dream. Betty stays in her rich aunt’s fancy apartment, and finds an amnesiac girl already living there, who took the name Rita. As Betty auditions for Hollywood roles, Betty and Rita fall in love as the two of them attempt to find Rita’s real identity, just like in a sappy dime-novel detective story.

Despite Diane’s attempt to fulfill her wishes in her dreams, her nightmares begin to slip in. In one infamous scene, a man named Dan (referencing an alternate dream version of Diane) is led to the back of Winkies  diner and is startled by a homeless bum, clothing torn, whose face is covered in dirt and dried blood, causing him to lose consciousness and bringing the  dream sharply to end. Dan had claimed to have seen this figure before, twice, in other dreams. The bum behind the diner represents Diane’s greatest fears about Hollywood –– his  poverty and appearance are the polar opposite of the fame and glamor that Diane hopes to achieve in Hollywood. Even in a pleasant dream, uncomfortable and exaggerated realities and fears will emerge to the surface, personified by the bum behind Winkies.

It is revealed toward the end of the film that Betty and Rita did not truly exist, and that Betty was Diane’s idealized self, and Rita was Diane’s fantasy version of Camilla, an actress that Diane had a relationship with in the past, but who now is engaged to the director Adam Kesher. Camilla decided to invite her ex-girlfriend Diane to her engagement party –– escorting Diane from her limousine, Camilla showed Diane a “shortcut” to get to her and Adam’s lavish Hollywood home. To Diane, Camilla’s way of life represents the worst way to achieve success, by marrying a rich man and getting roles via offering sexual favors to directors. At the event, she sees multiple directors she was denied roles from, with actresses accompanying them. This enrages her, and she decides to put out a hit on Camilla.

Diane’s simultaneous love and hatred for Camilla can also be interpreted as her feelings towards the Hollywood Dream. In the dream realm, the real Camilla is split into two entities –– the parts of Camilla she loved (Rita), and the parts of Camilla she hated (the Blond Camilla Rhodes). Rita’s character’s complete dependence on Diane represents her jealousy of Camilla’s success. In reality, Camilla was the one to get Diane film roles in the first place. The successful actress in the dream, Camilla Rhodes, represents Diane’s jealousy toward Camilla and her resentment of her success.

Through the complex interplay of envy, sexuality, and the “splitting” of characters into their dream selves, as well as the contrast between how people really are and how they appear within one’s subconscious, David Lynch paints a complex and tragic picture of a failed personal and professional relationship between the two actresses that motivated Camilla’s murder and Diane’s eventual suicide at the end of the film. It also raises interesting questions about love itself –– Diane’s failed affair with Camilla can also be seen as her failed affair with the Hollywood Dream, her failure to live up to its standards. When she realized that this dream was not as innocent as she hoped, she felt betrayed and heartbroken. To Diane, Camilla was the Hollywood Dream she loved and was so jealous of. To Lynch, love can be motivated by idealization and obsession with an idea, not the pure romance between two individuals.

Drew Daniel on Hauntology, Rave Culture, and Electronic Music – Iris Lee

Drew Daniel, English professor and one-half of the experimental electronic duo Matmos, comments on hauntological music, queer rave culture, and making music out of liposuction

Pop culture repackages the past. In so doing, it reduces the past to a cheery vintage version. This is nothing new; trends and subcultures have been steeped in nostalgia way before speeded ABBA TikTok audios and three-month trend cycles. It’s difficult to tell the whole story, to impart the full feeling of a specific time and place, so we readily consume the sanitized edition. (It’s easier to dress up as a flapper than a polio victim!)

A group of theorists in the late 2000s, notably Mark Fisher and Simon Reynolds, were disillusioned with what they saw as the stagnation of popular music. They reimagined nostalgia in a generative light, as a way to reactivate feelings associated with a specific past context. The genre was termed “hauntology”, after Jacques Derrida’s use in Spectres of Marx: a melancholic, largely British style of electronic music fixated on activating and mourning moments lost in time. Musicians such as Burial and The Caretaker used vinyl noise, tape hiss, antique synths, and industrial drones to evoke memories of past spaces, particularly of 90’s rave culture — for many, an ecstatic, utopian collective memory.

Drew Daniel, Shakespeare scholar at Johns Hopkins and one half of the electronic duo Matmos with his partner MC Schmidt, calls the hauntological aesthetic an “instant pathos machine”. It allows us to listen back to a grainy version of what we once knew, working as a metaphor for the lossiness of memory. Matmos, with their reputation for collaging sounds from unusual, non-musical objects, is equally interested in the question of material referents for intangible emotions. They’ve sourced audio from, among others, liposuction surgery, plastic, and their household washing machine.

Daniel spent his undergraduate years at UC Berkeley, where he first encountered the rave scene up close. “I had a first boyfriend that threw illegal parties under bridges, and he had a mobile soundsystem. The idea of an illegal party that you do just because you want to do it was very inspiring to me.”

However, rave culture’s anarchistic rootlessness quickly turned into an industry. “The rave dream died essentially because capitalism turned it into expensive parties with expensive drugs and it was about ingroups and outgroups,” says Daniel. In this respect, hauntological music is especially compelling. “It’s a lot of people reflecting on a lost utopianism. There’s a thing in the past, a feeling that they want to return to, and they can’t feel it again, so they’re reflecting on pleasure at a distance.”

On Matmos’s first album, there’s a piece called “Always Three Words” that’s made out of two walkie-talkies owned by Daniel’s first boyfriend. “Doug loved gadgets and technology,” Daniel says, “he was a car mechanic, he was a real tinkerer. He died of AIDS, and after his death, I had these high-powered walkie talkies. I noticed that if I set them both to transmit at the same time and held them over a 4-track, the walkie talkies would generate this field of interference that would be picked up by the record head as noise.”

“Always Three Words” isn’t an elegy in the traditional sense. The piece, like hauntology, investigates what it means to mourn something via its lingering material traces. But it’s in a different emotional register entirely, with a pounding snare and glitchy, abrasive lines that sound like a sputtering machine. 

On Doug, and the close friends he’d lost to AIDS, Daniel says, “I want to remember that they were funny and silly and they liked songs with strong driving rhythms. I don’t want to pretend that they would have wanted me to make a drone record. Cause they wouldn’t. Nightclub culture is sort of corny and facile, and it can often be a space that’s kind of racist and marketed in ways that are really sexist, but it can also be a space of really utopian feelings, where you feel connected to other people in ways that are powerful and that stick with you your whole life.”

In the broader sense than hauntology, electronic music as a whole, as an art of sampling and processing sound, examines the preservation of materials of the past. This is especially relevant for a band like Matmos, who makes records with unusual creative constraints. For example, 2001’s A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure is composed of the sounds of medical technology. “The goal was to light, fizzy, silly pop music out of liposuctions and chin implants,” Daniel says.

They intended the extra knowledge to change the music upon the second listen. “We’ve had people tell us that they liked the record until they found out that it was made of liposuction and then they thought it was too gross.”

Indeed, it’s almost misophonic. It makes your skin crawl, to hear human fat being sucked through a tube, let alone in a dance-floor beat. Unlike hauntological music, which is interested in the somber reification of auras past, A Chance to Cut packages the noises of the immediate technological present. Daniel recalls a moment in the liposuction where the surgeon played, essentially, a “human fat solo”:

“The surgeon was like, ‘oh, you want sound right? Let’s use a bigger cannula,’ and he picked out a wider cannula to insert into the incision and suck the human fat out. He was sort of playing the wound, moving in and out of the incision because it would make a better sucking sound. I’ll never forget it.”

The record is much less reverent of the past, too. Daniel’s father and stepmother were doctors; MC Schmidt’s father was also a physician. “It was kind of Oedipal, to use a psychoanalytic framework, like the son is pretending to be the father but maybe making fun of the father, making these kind of rhythmic techno-pop instrumental dance workouts out of what our parents do for a living.”

Moments of more sober reflection come later on the record, though. The track “memento mori” is made entirely out of drawing a violin bow across the brain pan of a skull (which, incidentally, had been used by Tibetan monks in certain ritualistic contexts as vessels for wine). “for felix (and all the rats)” is made out of bowing the bars of a rat cage, which had once housed their pet rat Felix. With the extra knowledge, the sound takes on a different resonance — of the skull as a tool for learning anatomy as well as a moralistic reminder of one’s death, for example.

Compared to the hauntological aesthetic, Daniel says, “Matmos is sillier because Martin and I are just sillier. That doesn’t mean we don’t think there are serious topics, it just means when we’re artists we want a layer of humor to be present.”

Daniel calls it a “camp survival strategy”. 

“To me”, he says, “queerness implies a certain kind of camp suspicion of self-seriousness. The straight world doesn’t want queer life to survive, and I repay it in kind by refusing to take it seriously. A world that doesn’t want me in it, I don’t feel obligated to take seriously, and I refuse to.”

For the Love of the Moon – Micaela Leroux Burch

“O, swear not by the moon, th’inconsistent moon,/ That monthly changes in her circled orb,/ Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.” Romeo and Juliet, Act II Scene 2

In middle school, my best friend and I were complete opposites. I was a more boisterous, adventurous kid and enjoyed spending as much time outside as possible. She was more of a soft-spoken,reserved girl, in love with books and poetry –– an idealist with a vivid imagination, always sharing her poems and stories with me. 

The year before I moved out of state, we reflected on how we balanced each other, comparing ourselves to the sun and the moon. Like the sun, I was a warm presence, encouraging her to share and be confident in her talents and artistic pursuits. Like the moon, she inspired me to be vulnerable and explore my inner world. Never before I met her had I felt so inclined to take my daydreams and run with them. She had such a calming presence, and I felt the most comfortable when I was around her. Despite the calm, my imagination was teeming with life, sharing my most fantastical dreams, fantasies, and stories with her.

Though she’s a ghost from my past now, I’m reminded of her every time I gaze at the night sky and feel the moon’s pale light embrace me and instill me with serenity. It is in this state of serenity, in gazing at the moon, that I feel the most attuned to the dreams, ideas, and musings that have accumulated in my subconscious. Perhaps this feeling explains why throughout recorded history people have associated the moon with deep,  fluctuating emotions, especially romance, in creative works. 

It is still up for speculation why the moon evokes this feeling.  Perhaps the moon itself, not just its image in the sky, has a literal tug on our emotions due to its gravitational pull, given that we are mostly water. Though this is likely not the case, the thought that the moon is to blame for erratic behavior is still commonly agreed upon and well-represented in art. Take Shakespeare’s “Othello” –– in act V, scene 2, Othello shifts the attention away from his murderous misdeeds by stating:

“It is the very error of the moon;/ She comes nearer earth than she was wont,/ And makes men mad.”

Astrologers also claim that the ethereal bodies determine our personalities and predict significant life events, both within us and in our relationships. They view the moon sign as a representation of our inner workings, and different stages in lunar cycles coincide with different occurrences in our love lives.

The main reason could simply be its beauty. Nothing else shines as long or as bright as the moon. The moon is a sight worth admiring in any phase and weather—waxing, waning, pale white and shrouded in thin clouds, or as a bright orange eclipse against a clear, starry night. I truly miss the moon on new moons and fully overcast nights. This beauty that withstands its ever-changing nature may remind us of the beauty of our loved ones or of the bittersweet variability of romance:

“O, swear not by the moon, th’inconsistent moon,/ That monthly changes in her circled orb,/ Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.”

         William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II Scene 2

For these reasons and more, artists and poets have perpetually related the moon and emotion in their works. In songs and laments, the moon often serves as a representation of melancholy romance.

It’s not just me who thinks of special people in my life when I gaze at the moon. From the Foster the People album “In The Darkest Of Nights, Let The Birds Sing”, the song “Under the Moon” is an expression of longing. The narrator copes with the fear and anxiety of a long-distance relationship by remembering that they at least both see the same moon and sky. This way, when he looks at the moon, it feels the way it did when they were once sleeping together under the moon. He asks that they look at the moon too in hopes they meet in their dreams. He also compares their complementary hearts to the ethereal bodies:

         “Your heart’s made of gold, mine is silver like the moon.”

The moon acts as a beacon of their love. The song “Somewhere Out There” by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram also shares this same sentiment.

Take further, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” — Jimmy Webb. Since Webb appropriated the title from the 1966 Robert Heinlein science-fiction novel of the same name, it has been argued that this song is inspired by, even based on the book about a lunar colony revolution that communicates libertarian politics . The moon, symbolic here of land property, and her people are personified collectively as a woman that rejects ownership like a partner that has fallen out of love, despite the person’s attempts to reach her.

“I fell out of her eyes/ Fell out of her heart/  Fell down on my face/ I tripped and missed my star/ God, I fell and I fell alone/ The moon’s a harsh mistress /And the sky is made of stone.”

The combination of piano chords and Judy Collins’s soft voice create a dreamy lullaby that embodies the soft intensity of the moon. Aside from the material that inspired it, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” can also be interpreted as a tribute to this force of nature and a solemn recognition of our insignificance in the face of her presence. Further, the moon could represent the intense emotional ups and downs some claim are caused by the moon. In an interview for Uncut magazine, Webb stated that the song is about the intense range of emotions and events he experienced in life at the time. The moon becomes a symbol of life’s unforgiving nature. The moon is portrayed as a warm presence, then is quickly contrasted with other portrayals:

“Close enough to touch/ But careful if you try/ Though she looks as warm as gold/ The moon’s a harsh mistress/ The moon can be so cold”

In “Moon River”, sung by Audrey Hepburn from the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the moon is a metaphor for a lover, a “dream maker”, a “heartbreaker” that the singer wants to follow, regardless of the possibility of pain.

Each song uses the moon as a symbol of love in a different way. To me, this illustrates our astonishing ability to feel some sort of individual connection with the moon, despite the fact that we all are indeed looking at the same natural satellite. At night, we are often alone with our thoughts, leading us to look to the moon as a way to ponder our inner selves. What draws our emotions to this ethereal body, many will never know. As writer Joseph Conrad states, “There is something haunting in the light of the Moon. It has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul and something of its inconceivable mystery.” The nature of our love for others with its different types and intensities is similarly difficult to define. So, tonight I gaze on and confide in this mysterious figure in the night sky, reflecting on my love for the moon and its many forms.

With Love, From My Body To Yours – Skye Neulight

Sure, you could fill a ring with quartz. Or, you could build it around a kidney stone, minerals compacted and shaped in your own body, of your own body—a different look, sure, but still striking.

Two molars found in Turkey; extracted postmortem; holes delicately drilled through the center, once looped through with cord; smoothed and worn, a piece of the body weathered against another. These are different from the animal teeth placed at burial sites, say the archaeologists, trying to reconstruct some meaning in 8,500 year old pendants. They are more symbolic, maybe intimate, memorabilia to commemorate a loved one—they’re human. 

Two amulets, unearthed in Switzerland; made of cranial bone collected postmortem; round and ovalled at the edges, holes through the center; 5,500 years old and grey like stone, not bleached or yellowed like I picture bones to be. Imagine it around a Neolithic neck, bringing the power and protection of the deceased back into the bodies of the living. Or maybe the fragments belonged to trephinated patients; they were supposed to have remarkable power and strength if they survived the procedure. These are more macabre, perhaps. After all, what could be more precious than the human skull? 

–But they’re everywhere, so to speak: archaeologists unearth similar cranial amulets in nearby digs, pointing to a local tradition. In Denmark, they name a pendant “Odin’s Skull”; runes inscribed on the back of the bone invoke the healing powers of the gods. In Tibet, a strand of 18th century prayer beads intersperse cranial beads with rounds of red agate; another strand weaves in bodhi seed, glass, and pink coral; another with slivers of finger bone, turquoise, and lapis lazuli. More perforated teeth, too, are uncovered around Greece and Anatolia. 

Even in our semi-recent past, it seems human jewelry—that is, jewelry made of the human—was the fashion. To some, it was a memory of a lost loved one, a source of protection, or a wish for strength and health. In Victorian Era England, milk tooth rings were an acknowledgement of the life process. The high infant mortality rates of the time meant that making it into toddler years, let alone tooth-losing age, was a milestone. Queen Victoria was the first to adorn a broach with her daughter’s first lost tooth, in celebration of her life. 

The trendy material of the Victorian Era was actually hair: plaited, woven, set in enamel, shaped into flowers around wreaths, ground into pigment and painted. Queen Victoria wore a lock of her deceased husband’s hair around her neck, and in time hair work became an entire industry of its own, catering not only to spouses and parents coping with loss, but also friends wanting to show their platonic commitment and love. Locks were gifted freely among living lovers, traded like friendship bracelets to be worn in pendants around the neck, bent into hairbows, and sealed in rings. 

And then somewhere along the line, human materials fell out of fashion. There’s been some resurgence lately of pseudo-human jewelry: realistic plastic cast teeth, miniature bone charms here and there. But it seems like a different thing entirely to use real people! When InStore Magazine interviewed jewelers about the weirdest questions they had ever been asked, a shocking number responded with inquiries about jewelry from human materials: “Can you make a ring out of my kidney stones?” and “What can you do with my husband’s gallbladder?”. Plenty can be done with a gallbladder, but today’s consensus settles more on the side of disgust, horror, and hesitance than creative embrace.

I understand the aversion; there’s something admittedly unsettling about wearing a piece of your people. Maybe at a surface level, it seems unclean, or unhygienic. Though you can always ask a doctor for organs, stones, screws, staples, or whatever else they pull out during an operation, they’re allowed to say no—and often do, saying they have no way to ensure your proper, safe handling of biomaterials. When they do allow you to reclaim your parts, outside companies can offer help with storage and safety. One woman sent her amputated leg to be de-fleshed by beetles, and was thrilled to receive just the cleaned skeletal structure in the mail a few weeks later. For things that fall out at home, there are plenty of preservation and disinfection methods doable with common supplies and a bit of research: diluted bleach baths, rubbing alcohol, sun bleaching. 

But even solving the problem of cleanliness, as professionals working with human materials today do, something about it still feels weird or creepy. I couldn’t find much on the psychological or cultural reasons behind this aversion, but here’s my running hypothesis: 

Val Plumwood wrote The Eye of the Crocodile after a saltwater crocodile dragged her from a canoe, sparking the sudden realization that she, a human, was made of meat. It seems obvious said out loud—obviously we bleed and tear, and are made of stuff just like every other fleshy animal on the planet. “Juicy, nourishing” stuff. And yet, Plumwood writes, “in some very important way, I did not know it, absolutely rejected it.” She links her experience to some latent belief in human exceptionalism: much of her shock was not about actually being eaten, but that she was being eaten, and that her “special status” of human invulnerability was violated. 

At the core of her argument is that the “dominant story about human identity,” at least in Western culture, is one of “human hyper-separation from nature.” It is a narrative that fails to see humans in ecological terms, as an impermanent part of a world “where everything flows, where we live the other’s death, die the other’s life.” Plumwood talks about how even in death, the burial practice of sequestering the body in a coffin six feet underground—well below the reach of larger decomposers—is a way of denying that our bodies are usable, and reusable. 

This denial of our body’s material, as material, extends to our aversion to human jewelry (or so I propose). Something about it seems predatory and limiting—like a grossly misled choice, like someone should have used a shark tooth instead. In the same way that Plumwood thought, “As a human being, I was so much more than food,” so we think that as humans, we are irreducible to memorabilia, art, and adornment. 

This is where I make the disclaimer that obviously, human jewelry can be taken to absolutely violent and inhumane extremes. Despite all of the historical instances of ethical sourcing, and symbolism of love and memory, the idea carries legitimate negative connotations. It’s true—the Gauls of the Iron Age would adorn their horses’ necks with the heads of slain enemies. Finding trophies in a serial killer’s den is a standard plot point for shows like Criminal Minds. Fashion can especially turn exploitative and violent when valuable materials come on the market—just look at poaching, and the bloody mass harvests of hides, tusks, and bones. This is not about being egalitarian in our violence, and making some statement that because it can happen to animals it should also happen to us. It should go without saying that there is nothing beautiful or loving about an exploitative parts-for-jewelry trade, or in any valuation of human material derived from the taking of life. This should also go without saying but: don’t go get your teeth extracted to make earrings.

Disclaimers done, a lot of modern day revivals of human jewelry work against this negative image, creating at responsibly small scales to bring people personal meaning. Everyone can attribute their own interpretation, but one refrain among those who chose human jewelry is that it symbolizes an attention to the growth process. It is a manifestation of love for the human, physical self. Plumwood talks about how we have come to understand humans as made of “mind-stuff,” instead of the meat-stuff of other beings. With conversations about “what makes a human” centering around consciousness, morality, free will, or any number of other elusive intangibles, human jewelry can be a powerful affirmation of the self as an organism. It can be refreshing to pause and recognize the way the body functions, produces, and changes. Sure, you could fill a ring with quartz. Or, you could build it around a kidney stone, minerals compacted and shaped in your own body, of your own body—a different look, sure, but still striking.

Rather than discard the intricately assembled pieces of ourselves, what statement does it make to preserve them, highlight their innate beauty, complexity, and intrigue—to put them on a wearable pedestal? Lucie Majerus is the designer behind Human Ivory, a jewelry service that transforms a client’s sent-in teeth into round dentine pearls, then sets them on earrings, cufflinks, rings, and pins. The project is a “suggestion to cherish our own ‘Material’ instead of other species teeth and reconsider conventional preciousness.” What makes a pearl plucked from a pearl farm more valuable than the pearl you nursed and grew for years, cleaned twice a day, flossed around, played with when it was loose, rinsed and tucked away when it fell out? Most of her designs leave room to add more pearls; as the wearer loses teeth with age, their string of pearls grows to keep pace with the life process. Teeth are records of identity, age, trauma, disease and deficiency, health and care. To wear them is to wear a story of your self. 

I found my belly button a few years ago when it fell out of an envelope labeled “Olivia’s Bellybutton.” It was round, red-brown, totally harmless; siloed for too long in a baby box. I imagine it on a pendant, set in a round of silver—a small memory of the moment I became a separate body, and a reminder of life’s interconnectedness. To use Plumwood’s words, it could be a wearable nod to “understanding life as in circulation, as a gift from a community of ancestors,” beginning and ending far before and beyond I was cut away from my mother’s nourishing life force.  

So the Van Gogh ear story was a myth, but unconventional romantic gestures aren’t. There are still those who see body jewelry as a way to “give yourself” to a lover—like my ex, who wore a pendant of her new girlfriend’s blood. As with the traded locks of the Victorian Era, there is something uniquely committing and profound about giving a piece of yourself to another, for them to value and continue seeing beauty in. Maybe it can be a practice in guarding our individual selves less, opening instead to the interdependencies and relationships that become as much a part of us as “our own” skin, bone, and blood. 

There’s no one way to do body jewelry. Though teeth and hair have been popular throughout history, our bodies have their own histories, producing and shedding differently. In some ways, teeth and hair are probably on the more palatable side of the spectrum; they’re exposed and visible whether set in tissue and pore or silver and resin. But people also have gallstones, scabs, and lost nails, pieces that can be tastefully refashioned into wearable appreciations of the human body. The magic of human jewelry is the way you can take whatever you have and love it far beyond its usefulness, bringing value to it just by choosing to. 

Bibliography

Colm. “Odin’s Skull: A Macabre Amulet from Denmark.” Irish Archaeology, May 31, 2017. http://irisharchaeology.ie/2015/09/odins-skull-a-macabre-amulet-from-denmark/.

“Finger Bone Prayer Beads.” – Works – Rubin Museum of Art. Rubin Museum. Accessed October 14, 2022. https://collection.rubinmuseum.org/objects/2983/finger-bone-prayer-beads.

Formichella, Janice. “Victorian Hair Jewelry: Yay or Nay?” Recollections Blog, September 26, 2020. https://recollections.biz/blog/victorian-hair-jewelry-yay-or-nay/.

Little, Becky. “Trendy Victorian-Era Jewelry Was Made from Hair.” Culture. National Geographic, May 4, 2021. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/160211-victorian-hair-art-work-jewelry-death-history.

Majerus, Lucie. “HUMANIVORY.” Accessed October 15, 2022. 

https://majeruslucie.eu/H-U-M-A-N-I-V-O-R-Y.

Plumwood, Val. The Eye of the Crocodile. Australian National University, 2012.

Stein, Alison J. “On Jewelry Made from Human Remains.” Very Curious Mind, October 29, 2014. https://verycuriousmind.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/jewelry-human-remains/.

Stolze, Dolly. “Four Practical Posthumous Uses for Human Bones.” Atlas Obscura, March 17, 2014. https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/morbid-monday-uses-for-human-bones.

University of Copenhagen – Faculty of Humanities. “Human teeth used as jewellery in Turkey 8,500 years ago.” ScienceDaily. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191213115408.htm (accessed October 14, 2022).

The End of Fashion: Ryan Aghamohammadi

Let us not deny it: fashion as we know it is dying, as it should be.

As of September, independent fashion businesses were predicted to decrease by 35%, and 50% of Italian fashion companies were enduring enough financial stress to be at risk for complete shutdown. The fashion industry cannot survive much longer as it currently stands. Why is this the case?

Like many industries, the fashion industry has metamorphosed into a profit-first model. And, given the economic pressures of the coronavirus pandemic on the general populace, there is no incentive to purchase more clothing, much less designer clothing, and the whole apparatus is falling apart. This is not simply a matter of financial hardship, but a multi-faceted issue. The fashion industry is, in a word, poisoned.   

Acclaimed American fashion designer Marc Jacobs admitted in a recent interview that the current state of the fashion industry was stifling free creative expression and risk-taking due to its privileging of mass production. 

“We’ve done everything to excess [so] that there is no consumer for all of it, and everybody is exhausted by it. It’s all become a chore that’s just a waste of time and energy, and money and materials. I just think that the whole waste is taking the luxury out of fashion, as well as the creativity out of it, because when you’re on such a tight calendar and you’re just told to ‘produce, produce, produce.’”

Fast-fashion is meant for consumption in excess, a fact made all the more damning when noted alongside the proliferation of labor abuse in the industry. The U.S Department of Labor has found that 85% of garment factories in Los Angeles commit wage violations. Bangladesh’s 2013 Rana Plaza factory explosion killed 1,100 people, injuring another 2,500, and this is only one of many examples of dangerous working environments. In terms of environmental impact, 85% of the United States’s textile waste goes to landfills. 

Simply put, the current state of the fashion industry is directly harming human lives. It is this focus on excess, this preoccupation with profit, that has perpetuated so much harm. 

In Ways of Seeing, art critic John Berger claims, referring to the image of art itself, that  “the uniqueness of the original now lies in it being the original of a reproduction. It is no longer what its image shows that strikes one as unique; its first meaning is no longer to be found in what it says, but in what it is.” That is to say, the original is no longer special because of any quality other than that of it being the first. Comparatively, the original statement of the piece has been replicated to be mass consumed. 

The current state of commodification and branding of the fashion industry has replicated this parabole. Major brands like Gucci, Comme Des Garcons, Louis Vuitton, etc. are recognizable by their gaudy and extravagant labels — whether with their name or simply a stark red heart with eyes. A basic shirt can be priced over $100. 

We know, of course, that presentation is power, it generates status. The fashion elite of the world co-opt this to not only sell their clothing, but to sell a projection of power. When someone wears a plain black t-shirt with nothing else but “GUCCI” in big block letters across their chest, is it really the aesthetic and statement of the article of clothing they were drawn to, or the projection of status? Are we buying clothes, or are we buying brands? What type of aesthetic are we purchasing — opulence, or the performance of opulence?

The great American philosopher and writer Susan Sontag notes in The Aesthetics of Silence that “it is in the nature of all spiritual projects to tend to consume themselves — exhausting their own sense, the very meaning of the terms in which they are couched. (Which is why “spirituality” must be continually reinvented.)” 

The spirit of fashion has cannibalized itself, leaving us with an industry that is killing the planet, violating human rights, and privileges vapid accumulation of capital over real creative risk. Every purchase one makes is tied to a string of misfortunes afflicted onto another.

Of course, this is not an indictment of any one specific designer, but an indictment of the industry itself. There are plenty of designers and fashion houses committed to equity and sustainability, as well as a commitment to creativity and art. As a holistic organism, though, the industry is at a critical moment, one in desperate need of redefining.  

And we can see this decline already, from elaborate shows of wealth to the closing of retail shopping malls, which leave the empty corpse of what was once a thriving hub of fashion consumption. Online video essayist Natalie Wynn argues that “There is a new aesthetic sensibility emerging….a gothic aesthetic for the 21st century — [a] decaying opulence that is the carcass of 20th century consumerism.” 

But this does not mean there is nowhere to go from here. Instead, both the fashion industry and lovers of fashion are being presented with an opportune chance to direct its future. We can make something out of this detritus.

So, where should we go from here? 

Above all, the industry must reckon with its past mistakes and move toward equitable production. It is paramount to pay laborers fair wages, provide safe working environments, rectify systemic racism, and limit the waste of textile factories through recycling and upcycling. Only when the industry considers the rights of its workers will it be able to transcend into a new aesthetic domain.

Let us push the boundaries of what fashion can be. We should look to independent and up-and-coming designers to pave the way toward a new future, while also holding major fashion brands accountable. Let us encourage artistic risk and innovation, combining opulent aesthetic (or lack thereof) with functionality. And, above all, let us embrace a new spirit of fashion, a spirit that respects and honors both those who make our clothing and those who wear it.

Let us leave what is dead, dead.

Works Cited

Ahmed, Osman. “What Will the Fashion Industry Look like Post-Covid 19.” I-d, 25 Sept. 2020, i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/z3eaz4/what-will-the-fashion-industry-look-like-post-covid-19. 

Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” Living with Contradictions, 2018, pp. 189–198., doi:10.4324/9780429499142-27. 

Hobbs, Julia. “Anna Wintour, Marc Jacobs and Stella McCartney on Hope, Creativity and the Future of Fashion.” Vogue, 18 Apr. 2020, http://www.vogue.com/article/15-memorable-moments-vogue-global-conversations-anna-wintour. 

Meagher, Syama. “The Not-So-Hidden Ethical Cost Of Fast Fashion: Sneaky Sweatshops In Our Own Backyard.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 6 Apr. 2020, http://www.forbes.com/sites/syamameagher/2020/02/05/the-not-so-hidden-ethical-cost-of-fast-fashion-sneaky-sweatshops-in-our-own-backyard/. 

Schlossberg, Tatiana. “How Fast Fashion Is Destroying the Planet.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Sept. 2019, http://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/03/books/review/how-fast-fashion-is-destroying-the-planet.html. 

Sontag, Susan. Essays of the 1960s & 70s. The Library of America, 2013. 

Wynn, Natalie, director. Opulence. Youtube, 2019. 

A Short Reflection on Beauty – Audrey Hepburn: Will Rong

This time around, I wanted to write a short reflection on beauty by examining beauty as personified by a fashion icon — and one of my personal role models — Audrey Hepburn.

I love all things film-related, and I wouldn’t be able to really call myself a movie buff without understanding Miss Hepburn’s influence on the big screen. The first movie that I watched in which she had a starring role was Roman Holiday. I remember as I watched the movie that I was absolutely mesmerized by her. Her acting was phenomenal, and the grace and poise by which she carried herself were extraordinary. On top of that, the costume design in the film is unforgettable. Hepburn’s when-in-Rome ensemble, complete with a white shirt, scarf, and circle skirt, is quite arguably one of the most memorable outfits in cinematic history.

Hepburn was stunning both on and off the screen. Her natural beauty and impeccable taste garnered her attention from moviegoers and the fashion world alike, leading to her status as one of the most prominent cultural icons of the 20th century.

And while she was undoubtedly physically beautiful, there was something about her beauty that could not be explained purely in physical terms. An invisible aura surrounded her that made you really say, “Wow,” when she graced the screen. It was in part the way she spoke with eloquence. It was also the way she stood and walked with ease and confidence. There were so many facets to the marvelous jewel that was her character.

Hepburn consistently emphasized the importance of inner beauty at all stages of life. Commenting on the relationship between age and beauty, she claimed, “And the beauty of a woman, with passing years only grows!” Indeed, she aged gracefully, growing with dignity, generosity, and compassion as she became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador towards the end of her life.

To close, I’d like to share a remark on beauty by American humorist Sam Levenson that Hepburn loved to recite:

“For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.

For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.

For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.

For beautiful hair, let a child run their fingers through it once a day.

For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.

People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.

As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others.”

Now go out and live your most beautiful lives you beautiful people. As always, much love and many blessings to you all.

Necessity to Accessory: Mahalia Munalem

Cloth mask, Doc mask, Red mask, Blue mask. Living in a post-pandemic world would be much simpler if we were in a Dr. Seuss book. Though that is not our reality, wearing a mask is. They serve as our shields: personal protection from the plague that has put most aspects of society on “pause”. But, we remember a world without masks right? When the pandemic is eventually over, will masks be just as obsolete as they were before? I think otherwise and my analysis of the adaptation of accessories from function to fashion will show you exactly why I believe that masks will be retained as an item of fashion in the years to come. 

Already, masks are becoming a fashion statement. Many clothing companies are capitalizing on the opportunity to brand the public with their logos, from Off-white to Louis Vuitton. Even independent creators on Etsy are repurposing materials from popular brands like Gucci and turning them into masks. If high-end fashion isn’t your thing, there are plenty of YouTube tutorials for if you want to support your favorite football team or match your mask color to your outfit. Masks have changed from a necessity into a fashionable accessory, and this is not the first time this has happened.

Before we look at examples of functional things becoming accessories, what exactly are accessories? Though it isn’t spelt the same way, I like to think of accessories in context of a word similar to it: “excess” as in extra or additional. Fashion accessories are additional items, secondary to the wearer’s outfit, that amplify and complement the look. Since they are secondary, accessories are loosely classified and aren’t really a piece of clothing in their own rights. With that being said, could it expand to encompass face masks?

Many times has fashion turned a necessity into an accessory. Take belts and jewelry for example. They both are worn around parts of our bodies, but function in different ways. A belt typically holds up the wearer’s pants, but what does jewelry hold up? Our social status? Beyond aesthetic or tradition, there is no true functionality or utility in wearing jewelry yet we do so for the sake of fashion. The same can be said for belts worn improperly. Back when sagging your pants was a trend, some individuals would still wear a belt so their bottoms didn’t fall entirely past their butt, but those belts were definitely not being completely useful. This is where fashion can sometimes overcome function. Did you ever know someone who wore glasses that didn’t have a prescription? Ever wear a snapback backwards and end up with sun in your eyes and a burnt forehead? How about buying a nice pair of Nikes or Adidas with no intent of using them for fitness and athletics? The loss-of-function effect of fashion accessories is an ever-present trend that could include face masks in the near future. 

In light of many accessories’ devolution into merely aesthetic detail, we should caution against this consequence for face masks, in particular in the midst of a global pandemic. A few months ago, the internet was raving over how beautiful these specific masks on Etsy were: the problem was that they were lace. The sheer fabric of black lace, though beautiful and breathable, would do anything but protect us against the spread of germs. Such an example of prioritizing fashionable appeal over functional advantages, perfectly demonstrates what face masks should not become in the realm of fashion. This, however, does not mean that there isn’t any room for masks to be fashionable or immortalized as accessories. Many East Asian countries had already adopted face masks as socially acceptable accessories prior to 2020. Because they are worn by the general public mostly as a courtesy if you have a cold, or because of air quality, wearing a face mask is as normal as wearing a belt or carrying a purse. Hopefully when quarantine protocols are over and the pandemic is behind us, it’ll be acceptable to wear a face mask to conceal my makeupless appearance, or simply because I want to coordinate it with whatever hat or bag I decide to accessorize with that day. 

Telfar – Revolutionizing What it Means to Be a Luxury Brand: Samiha Abd-Elazem

Photo: Justin French

Acquired from: https://www.thecut.com/2020/01/how-telfars-shopping-bag-became-the-bushwick-birkin.html

In a matter of minutes after the restock, the signature Telfar bags—embossed with the “TC” label—were sold out once again. The Telfar bags are comprised of 100% vegan leather, come in different sizes, ranging from small to large, as well as various colors; additionally, the long straps and handles allow the bag to be versatile and functional for everyday use. Celebrities–Bella Hadid, Solange, Selena Gomez, Dua Lipa, A$AP Ferg and even AOC— have been spotted carrying the Telfar bags, also known as the “Bushwick Birkin.”

Although the bags have been embraced by top celebrities, Telfar Clemens, the founder of Telfar, envisions his bags carried by everyone and not just prominent figures, as embodied by their slogan “Not for You—For Everyone”. Telfar Clemens, who was born to Liberian parents in Queens, started his label in 2005. In an interview with The Cut, Clemens described his brand as “genderless, democratic, and transformative.” His vision for his brand was to make high fashion accessible and inclusive and he has been doing just that. When the Telfar bags continued to sell out within minutes of each restock, there were some concerns that bots and people were buying the bags to resell them at a higher price. The cost of Telfar bags are intentionally set to be affordable, for a high end brand, with bags retailing from $150 to $257. However, resale sites were listing Telfar bags for up to $700. In an effort to live out the brand’s motto, Telfar announced a “Bag Security Program”, a 24 hour online special starting on August 19th where people could pre-order any bag with guaranteed delivery between December 15 and January 15, 2021. 

The “Bag Security Program” is a unique decision for a luxury brand. Telfar’s commitment to accessibility can be seen at odds with the general strategies utilized by luxury brands. Luca Solca, Head of Luxury Goods Research at Bernstein, stated that “luxury goods resolve people’s insecurities about who they are and their place in society… Luxury products help to set us apart from the crowd and make us special in our eyes and in the eyes of our peers.” The description of the impact of luxury products Is fundamentally different to Clemens’ vision of making Telfar a way to connect rather than alienate. Solca also explains how luxury brands advertise the idea of “exclusivity” while selling millions of products. In comparison, Telfar goes against the idea of exclusivity as evident from the slogan, “Not for You—For Everyone”. 

As for the specific strategies utilized by luxury brands, three common strategies are price discipline, volume restraint and “exponential price- quality trade-off”.   The price discipline strategy revolves around the notion that luxury brands convince consumers that goods are “precious” but not expensive. Generally, price and value are not the same, especially since gross margin can be “close to 90 percent.”  The rationale behind this strategy is that if the brand never offers a discount, then consumers do not recognize the difference between price and value. If a brand offers discounts then consumers will recognize that when products are full price, they are overpaying. Consequently, most luxury brands never go on sale. In comparison, Telfar offers affordable pricing for a luxury brand, so consumers are not purchasing items at an exorbitant price. 

The volume restraint strategy revolves around the limited edition tactic where brands purposely sell “lower volumes” of their products. The purpose of this tactic is to push the narrative that luxury brands are exclusive, so only a select number of consumers can have access to such luxury goods. Consequently, this can result in products being resold at higher prices which makes products even more exclusive and unattainable. Telfar specifically denounced this tactic and instead implemented the “Bag Security Program” to increase access to the Telfar bags. Although traditionally luxury brands are worried about oversaturation, this is not a concern for Clemens who values making luxury products accessible. 

The “exponential price-quality trade off” strategy is based upon providing a better quality product but at an exponentially higher price. Therefore, consumers are more likely to justify spending unreasonable amounts of money on a “better quality” product even if the product quality is not significantly better. Again, this strategy revolves around increasing profits by making products more expensive and exclusive. Clemens focuses on providing quality items to consumers without charging exorbitant amounts for Telfar bags.

The differences between the strategic tactics used generally by luxury brands and Telfar represents how Telfar is revolutionizing what it means to be a luxury brand. Clemens has been making notable strides to make Telfar accessible, affordable, and inclusive. Telfar’s strategy has also been beneficial from an economic viewpoint. During the 24 hour “Bag Security Program” window, “the label says it generated 10 times the sales it has in the entirety of 2019.” Furthermore, Telfar is expected to “generate a comfortable eight figures in revenue this year.” 

 After the success of the “Bag Security Program”, Telfar has already moved forward with expanding their product selection by releasing a line of luxury durags. In a recent interview, Clemens stated that “we set out to make a durag that is meant to be seen. This durag is meant to be a kind of luxury, and our goal, as always, is even more accessibility and ubiquity.” The release of luxury durags is especially significant considering how Black people are discriminated against for wearing a durag. Telfar has truly redefined what it means to be a luxury brand by taking pride in inclusivity while denouncing exclusivity. From the “Bag Security Program” to the release of luxury durags, it is clear that Telfar is not interested in following any set of “conventional” rules.