I recently read an article by Richard Godwin about the comeback of astrology as a legitimate way of understanding ourselves and the world around us (Vogue Australia, October 2016, pgs.72-74). The accompanying imagery comprises dresses, shoes, accessories, and beauty products of a celestial theme and illustrates a wider trend of incorporating symbolic imagery into fashion products. Things like circles, stars, water, books, keys, eyes, and animals such as swallows, snakes, and unicorns to name a few. This is evident at both high and low ends of fashion, as can be seen by comparing ads for Prada and Myers out of the same magazine.
For Prada, the three models are superimposed over two different ocean horizons, one of which is a night sky, the other a cloudy sunset. Already the backgrounds function as powerful symbols of life potential (water), primordial chaos (darkness), cosmic creation (sunlight), divinity (stars), and the celestial (clouds). The garments themselves are packed with overt symbolic imagery, including cacti (protection, endurance); eyes (omniscience, strength, power); roses (heavenly perfection and earthly passion; life and death; fertility and virginity); and a locked book (secret wisdom).
A product tableau in the Myers spring races advert depicts various accessories bringing
together a number of symbols. Among these are eyes painted onto the front a clutch, cacti earrings, a flower fascinator (flowers represent the feminine, passive principle), and a “Scattered Dreams long necklace” adorned with circle charms (totality; wholeness).
With the exception of the eyes, the Myers advertisement is far less explicit in its use of symbolism than that portrayed by Prada, and it draws on a much softer, uniform colour palette that’s probably a safer choice for the company’s market demographic. Because of this, it looks like Myers is trying to capitalise on the bolder choices made by leading fashion houses without making too meaningful or strong a statement.
The reason that the use of symbols in fashion appealed to me as a blog post is that I’ve been wondering, why? Nothing is ever included in an advertising text or market product by accident, which means that designers and marketing departments are sure that running with symbolism will bring a high return from consumers. So why is it suddenly so in?
This fixation with symbols reminds me a little of the current tattoo craze that began with mid-90s mania for ‘tribal’ tattoos – it’s a desire for some kind of meaning in life. The age we live in has been increasingly governed by humanism and science, which has led to many excellent initiatives but which has also seen a gradual decrease in activities related to spirituality and satisfaction on a transcendent level. Once upon a time, when we believed in fairies, gods, and ghosts, we felt we had answers to big questions like ‘What is the purpose of existence?’; ‘Why have locusts selected our crops?’; ‘Why is my body lopsided and bulbous?’; or ‘Why was my sister driven forth from my mother’s womb, if only to drive me to insanity?’
A lot of ‘why’ questions that science can’t answer (scientists often mistake ‘how’ for ‘why’). Of course, the answers found in the Bible or in stories put together by the Grimm brothers were never true in the scientific sense, but they fulfilled a purpose when people believed in them. It also filled human lives with purpose and ritual, something that advances in science and rational thought have not been able to achieve on a widespread scale. I mean, we try with our endless consumption of ‘things’ – the staggering pace of advancements and updates of Instagram alone is testament to how reliant our notion of happiness has become on acquiring something new at every turn. (For a more thorough discussion of these ideas, read the article The Demoralized Mind by John F. Schumaker.)
So I’m happy to see high profile celebrities and professionals consulting astrologists and young trendsetters adorning themselves with evil eyes and skeleton keys in an attempt to experience more meaning in their lives. It’s a tiny, intuitive step towards rekindling our faith, a type of trust or confidence in the universe that has been driven into exile in our progress-driven, status-obsessed, hyper-consumer society that is killing so many things, from plants and animals to our own individuality.
Link to article The Demoralized Mind, which originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of the New Internationalist: https://newint.org/columns/essays/2016/04/01/psycho-spiritual-crisis/
This website, http://the-numinous.com/libra-season/ gives fashion and lifestyle advice in accordance with the stars. According to founder Ruby Warrington: “the site has become part of a movement towards a global shift in consciousness that’s about experiencing life – and each other – on a whole more meaningful level. The word numinous means ‘that which is unknown, or unknowable’ – and in a world where our smartphones have become our talismans of choice, I am committed to exploring ways to reconnect to this undefinable part of being human”. (Of course, she is selling stuff too.)
The Meaning of Life, video clip by Monty Python: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buqtdpuZxvk
The Humanist Manifesto: http://americanhumanist.org/humanism/humanist_manifesto_iii
Conde Nast International. 2016. Vogue Australia. Surrey Hills, N.S.W.: NewsLifeMedia Pty. Ltd., October.
Cooper, J. C. 1978. An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols. London: Thames & Hudson.
Godwin, Richard. 2016. “Written in the Stars.” Vogue Australia 72-74.
Schumaker, John F. 2016. New Internationalist Magazine. April. Accessed September 28, 2016. https://newint.org/columns/essays/2016/04/01/psycho-spiritual-crisis/.