les presses du réel

A la modeThe Third Way of Fashion

Editorial (p. 5-6)

‘Oh la la, tu es à la mode !' This set phrase might sound flattering on the spur of the moment, but it is not necessarily meant as a compliment. Although fashion can definitely be original and express what amounts to avant-garde individuality, it is much more frequently associated with a commercial industry which in producing numerous copies increases the uniformity of society. Understood in this way, being ‘fashionable' really means having no style and just going along with things as they are. ‘Etre à la mode de quelqu'un,' to quote the whole phrase, means to dress in the manner and style of somebody else. And this always implies failure. You aspire to be a paragon of fashion but in the process you are unable to achieve the very thing you are looking for: originality.
Role-Model and imitation, originality and failure. The alternative seems clear from this contrast. Who would not cast themselves on the side of individuality, rejecting industry and commerce? Yet the paradox of fashion is that as ‘original' as it might claim to be, it is in fact ‘always already' demanding imitation. Since like every avant-garde movement, it works towards a ‘coming community,' which would be a community of ‘style' and good taste. Seen in this light it makes little sense to hold industry completely responsible for mass market products and to attempt to rescue fashion's bid for originality.
How about starting on the side of imitation instead: attempting to be ‘à la mode'? The articles in this book seek out instances of ‘fashionable' failures – in film, literature, art, fashion, television and music. What emerges is that failure need not be embarrassing and that it need not in every instance lead to the endorsement of the original model and to uniformity. On the contrary, there are instances where ‘à la mode' becomes a principle in its own right, giving rise to novel and selective alternatives which remove the dichotomy between original and copy, and introduce a ‘third way' between avant-garde and commercial industry. In the end to be ‘à la mode' might no longer mean ‘à la mode de quelqu'un,' but ‘à la mode de n'importe qui.'

Aude Lehmann & Tan Waelchli

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