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The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy (New French Thought Series) Paperback – July 21, 2002
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From Library Journal
Lipovetsky, who teaches philosophy in Grenoble, may be the heir apparent to Roland Barthes (e.g, Incidents, LJ 8/92). This work is an exegetical study not of aesthetics but of Western culture's development from the 14th century to this decade, a development in which the evolution of dress and sense of style seem bound with other criteria of the ages: industrialization, class systems, and economic theories. Lipovetsky writes cleanly and cogently, supplying all the necessary stage settings for the viewing of his arguments and leading the reader through his theory with a contagious eagerness. This book will entice scholars but is also readily accessible to undergraduates and of interest to many general readers. This makes it a rare find among its kind. Commendable to most collections.
Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., Cal.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Praise for the French edition: "It is no easy thing to find an intellectual who succumbs to the futile charm of fashion, who is turned on by the seduction of the ephemeral and mocks the 'beautiful souls' who crusade against rock music and channel surfing. Now, we have finally met that rare bird, that apostle of the postmodern: his name is Gilles Lipovetsky."--Le Monde
"This book makes sense of what might otherwise appear derisory, a book that permits us to understand what blinds us by being right before our eyes."--Esprit
"[Lipovetsky's] is an undifferentiated celebration of modern narcissistic freedom: a defense of bourgeois individualism without the constraints of bourgeois morality. . . . [Lipovetsky is] engaged in the contemporary predicament. He sees the sophistication of modern advertising: he is alive to the social possibilities of our cultural transformation. . . And because he embraces, rather than merely dismisses, the new age, he understands it better."--Andrew Sullivan, The New Republic
"Like all books that really count, Lipovetsky's possesses the virtue of breaking the commonplace consensus. . . . [It is a] savory analysis of the infinite detail of the meanderings in the ephemeral. His thesis is fundamentally the following: if it is clear that fashion is a mix of conformity and of individual choice, its very emergence as a historical phenomenon manifests a global and typically Western logic, that of the break with tradition."--Luc Ferry, L'Express
"This books will entice scholars but is also readily accessible . . . and of interest to many general readers. This makes it a rare find among its kind."--Library Journal
"Defining it to include not just clothing styles but also sex roles, political rhetoric, and other forms of expression, [Lipovetsky] argues that fashion promotes innovation over tradition and individuality over conformity. . . . Lipovetsky aims not to convince, but merely to sway. . . . his ideas are seductive in their audacity."--Etelka Lehoczky, The Boston Phoenix Literary Section
"By its nature, fashion is unstable, ephemeral and superficial: exactly the features of social relations in today's democratic polities. No need for concern, according to [Gilles] Lipovetsky. The less we feel or care about each other, the better we will get along. . . . An impersonal social structure is an ideal setting for mutual tolerance and the reduction of conflict. . . . A brilliantly original argument becomes dazzling when the principles of fashion--obsolescence, seduction, diversification--are extended to analyse a consumer society in which novelty is paramount, and identity shattered into fragments. Far from homogenising us, as many early writers suspected, mass culture has accelerated the process of individualization. And that can heighten the capacity for social integration."--New Statesman & Society
"Lipovetsky has written an eclectic book that moves easily from discussing Tocqueville or Kant to analyzing the impact of the length of ladies' hemlines on our political culture."--Adam Wolfson, The Public Interest
"Surveying 2,000 years of global history, [Gilles] Lipovetsky claims that fashion provides the means for stability in modern Western capitalist democracies. . . . Attempts to understand the relationships between consumer-driven desires and natural desires in modern, mass-culture democracies lead Lipovetsky to provocative conclusions. . . . [this work] offers refreshing insights into today's social structure."--Choice
"Lipovetsky argues that with the haute couture in decline, with multiculturalism and dissolving social classes, we are increasingly prompted to acquire things for our private uses, without reference to other people. We buy a VCR not to impress, since everybody has one, but to watch movies."--Diane Johnson, New York Review of Books
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Top Customer Reviews
at the world of fashion, Lipovetsky realizes the importance of
fashion - not just as a result of liberalism and/or capitalism -
but as a contributor to these structures.
Lipovetsky basically argues that modern fashion contributes
to democratization by allowing individuals more choices and also by
obscuring social classes (Does Bill Gates dress signify his social
or financial superiority in any way?).
He also gives a pretty concise and coherent history of fashion
which helps us understand where we stand today.
On top of all that, it's well written. I don't know whether to thank him
or Porter for that.
All and all, an outstanding and entertaining rejection of the tedious, reductive
Marxist explanations of fashion.
Despite the English subtitle, Lipovetsky is not just discussing clothing, although that is his starting point. He also uses fashion in a very broad sense, meaning not so much to follow a particular mode, but the ability to select and create variants for oneself. He argues that fashion in clothing is a unique development in 14th century Europe. In other places and times, styles of dress remained basically the same for centuries, reflecting a reverence for the past, which was often viewed as a better time. Styles might change as one culture conquered another and either forced its own dress on the captive peoples, or as those peoples imitated those in power.
In 14th century Europe, for reasons that are not entirely clear, the aristocrats began to experiment with novelty, aesthetic experimentation, hedonism, and individualism in clothing. This developed over time, extending to lower classes, and expanding outward into other facets of life. Lipovetsky argues that this is, on the whole, good, and a necessary part of modernism and multiculturalism. Such societies are more flexible and more tolerant, and cherish human rights because they respect individualism. Lipovetsky is not blind to the possibilities of social anomie, but he does not feel that it is occurring to a degree that offsets the advantages of fashion as he defines it. Societies which look to the past for the model of perfection often force conformity upon others. He argues that Toqueville's (and other's) fears that democracy would lead to uniformity are unlikely to be realized, because, as Tarde argues, everyone doesn't imitate one or a few people, rather individuals draw ideas from many sources and create their own unique lifestyles. Interestingly, Lipovetsky uses words like narcissistic, hedonistic, and frivolous freely, because he feels that these terms, although usually viewed negatively, in the end have positive consequences.
Among other things, Lipovetsky casts doubt upon the ability of advertising to create needs and wants, rather than ferret them out. He doesn't say so, but I have read that most product launches fail, which does argue against the power of advertising.
The English edition, published in 1994, includes an epilogue updating his thoughts. He does not consider the effects of the Internet, which were just beginning at that time. My one criticism of the book is that it is occasionally repetitious, which sometimes blurs his points, and makes the book a little longer than it needs to be, but I consider that to be a small issue weighed against the very interesting and thought-provoking insights. I found it all the more important in view of the recent attacks on Charlie Hebdo, and other terrorist attacks, domestic and international.