Fashion As Mask

In Bangkok’s stunning Nai Lert Park Heritage Home, Ng Yi Lian gets up close with Gucci’s provocative Fall/Winter 2019 collection.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
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Alessandro Michele’s Gucci Fall/Winter 2019 collection claims inspiration from the theory of late philosopher Hannah Arendt’s book, The Human Condition. It is not unusual for high fashion to link itself to high theory, as it provides a conceptual cover for fashion designers who, as most artists do, walk a fine line between expression and explanation, art and politics.

Gucci’s task turns to redefi ning masks as more than “a concealment tool”, according to its show notes. “Playing with the magic ambiguity of masks represents an occasion to recover the creative roots of our being alive.”

The collection offers a provocative gender-fluid eclecticism in showing how diversity is valued. Interestingly, its discourse on masks seems to reveal, in a way, who we are or what we desire to be.

However, there is a romantic notion of recovering creative roots in order to be alive, summoning an emergent awareness of the Internet’s claim on culture and art. It is plausible if we consider that the Internet remains, for many, a mask that conceals the authentic and necessary potency of an offline life.

Just as the Internet collapses distances between cultures, races, ethnicities and nations, humans have the incredible ability to empathise with and understand one another by imagining others as well as themselves. Michele’s collection celebrates the expression of human magic – not only its capacity to extract itself but to transform itself by more natural means.

One specific illustration is the collection’s gold-coloured ear mask which, to me, symbolises a concealment of listening, literally the ability to empathise with one another, if not the variations of ourselves. Conversely, it may be thought to approach an idealisation of the ear in which listening itself has been transformed and deepened, if not enlightened, or diminished, or forgotten.

In other words, do humans want – in the challenging times we face – to remain human? This collection provides a glimpse of the triumph of human imagination which shall, as Arendt reminds us in The Human Condition, always fall short of an ideal. In other words, to “demask… divine conceptualisations of [the] human” does not mean to diminish our sense of wonder or ambiguity, but rather, to understand “the conditions of human existence – life itself, natality and mortality, worldliness, plurality”. – NYL 

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