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On why we like modernist chairs and houses, but classical clothes.

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by radicaldog, Jan 28, 2013.

  1. Sander

    Sander Senior member

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    This was just an example, probably a badly chosen one. I think the point was clear though; one can easily imagine clothes that are more 'functional' (in the narrow definition of the term) than a suit.


    There still is the question why we abandoned the old language of architecture but not the language of clothes. Yes, obviously they work differently, so a side-by-side comparison is not really an option; but still I think there are enough similarities to warrant closer inspection. What makes the meaning traditional dress conveys so much stronger than the meaning traditional architecture conveys?
     
  2. LA Guy

    LA Guy Opposite Santa Staff Member Admin Moderator

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    I would argue that the central hypothesis of the OP is incorrect.
    We don't "dump old norms and their communicative value." It's just that the language has evolved, absorbed the lexicon of other clothing traditions, and become much richer than it once was. I'm not even sure if you could separate out the "old language", but if you did, you'd find yourself with a poverty of words.
     
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  3. The Thin Man

    The Thin Man Senior member

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    I think that premodern buildings are more beautiful than modern buildings. However, the vast economic advantages of modern construction render questions of aesthetics moot.

    If we ever live in a world where energy is expensive again, my guess is that elite standards of beauty will revert to appreciate premodern forms.
     
  4. Septimus

    Septimus Senior member

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    Great topic!

    I find it odd that anyone here is contending that simply because (some) modernists put form before function that it would ever be possible to have a skyscraper or suit that was purely functional and not at all formal/decorative/culturally-loaded. Obviously, every piece of clothing has signifying/cultural value and communicates something, including overalls. And even the most modernist of buildings is doing a lot of signifying work,including declaring "look how modern I am."

    I think there is a lot to be said for the point that modernism in art and (what we call) classicism in menswear are rough contemporaries. The contemporary ("classic") suit is essentially from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. (Beau Brummel--credited with the first modern suit--was from the first half of the nineteenth, but his "suits" did not look much like the ones we wear today.) Look at (good) period films: details aside, the suits from the turn of the century are recognizable and even wearable (think Downton Abbey), whereas those from earlier in the 19th century (think Pride and Prejudice) would clearly be considered costume now.

    Which leads me to my hypothesis: the impetus between much modernist art - to be "new," to be "clean," to be "refined" - is much the same as that behind "classic" menswear. The "classic" suit is already a very stripped-down, sleek version of what came before. It exudes the modernist ideal, at least in comparison to what came before. And, like modern art/architecture/literature, it too now looks (to some) old-fashioned.
     
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  5. Ich_Dien

    Ich_Dien Senior member

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    Artwork is a collective action, not purely resembling the weltanschauung of the artist. There was for the vast majority of artistic history always a client, who asked for the work, paid for it, and reckoned on using it in some way or other afterward. The idea that this client was or is today benevolent is false. The second party is always an active member in this dynamic process and ultimately the artwork was designed for his benefit - not the artist's. It is only with Romanticism that the idea the artist should be in control gains any credence, indeed the notion of the "artist" is a relatively modern figure. It is too blinkered to see artwork as purely ideological from the basis of the artist.

    However, your second point here is certainly interesting when it comes to the discussion. Like before in this thread I have said it is too simplistic to discuss clothing from an art historical theoretical perspective and it should be considered more so from an anthropological/sociological/art historical viewpoint with the development of style largely based on the theory of iconography and semiotics. To borrow from Saussure - clothing can be analysed from a semiotic viewpoint as signifier and signified. Yet, theories on art collecting and patronage in the history of art do certainly have relevance in a more modern era as ultimately in this transitional period of classical menswear the market (or client) is deciding the styles not the artist and could lead to an interesting note to the discussion;

    Like art collecting, commissioning bespoke clothing is the desire to acquire culture, however seen as this process is a largely ostentatious and lucrative activity many simply wish to express their love of "art/clothing" rather than the fact of ownership (Sartre - Bourgeois "I am what I have"). Like art collectors, we can find many passionate clothing fans who feel the need to explain their choices in cultural or pseudo cultural terms - the patrons see themselves and others in terms of taste - and from this gain a sense accomplishment at what they have "created". The triumphant capitalist bourgeoisie remains fascinated by the symbols of the defunct aristocracy or those previously in power, and such classical menswear fills a big void here, however unlike the largely unproductive expenditure on luxury items by the old aristocracy for the new bourgeoisie it is an investment in social prestige - and we're back to the iconology entailed - a visible sign of social rank. Much like art collections, the proper bourgeois buys nothing in clothing that is not "as it should be", the strict adherence to classical menswear styles is reflective on such taste.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2013
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  6. recondite

    recondite Senior member

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    But when there is a patron, is not the patron the artist, since the original idea is created by him, and the artist a mere technical adviser, as the interpreter of the idea?

    In that case we agree that art is a collaborative process and that the weltanschauung of the artist [patron] is blended with that of the technician, who while, no doubt, using some artistic license to promote their singular worldview, is strictly limited by the desire of the artist [patron] for the completed work to have some, if not perfect, fidelity to the original idea.

    Hence, the origin of the frustration of all artists who at first willingly accept the role of technician at the expense of their political freedom or freedom to express themselves, who later have second thoughts and chafe at the idea of political oppression by a rival artist bereft of technique but blessed with financial wealth.

    Of course the patron is never benevolent, he is a rival artist, but with far less talent and skill.

    As indicated earlier, there is a third party to this conspiracy of political expression; the one that ultimately promotes the art. How and when the art is displayed can be yet another form of political oppression or instead, a shill like aggrandizement of the political statement.

    The viewer of the art also plays his part, although he is usually far less informed than artist, technician [if present], and the promoter, often mistaking pure political propaganda for entertainment. And in the case of one that might view the clothing of others, possibly an unwilling participant in this conspiracy.

    With bespoke clothing, the offices of artist and promoter are combined in the patron, and if the patron has any tendency towards narcissism, he may also the viewer in a what might be viewed as a very closely held circle jerk. The only restraint preventing a full expression of the patron's political views is the lack of ability to find a tailor/technician/rival artist who would share a similar one that would work on a commission that the patron is capable of providing.

    Again, the "artist" or tailor is rendered a mere technician, and a possible source of contention for the patron.

    The "love of clothing" is really a form of narcissism, since it is an attempt by the patron to promote his weltanschauung to a largely unwilling audience of the public.

    So, there is unlikely to be anything more likely to express one's weltanschauung or world view, than how one dresses, lacking an ability to communicate with the public on a mass scale. Even houses, furnishings, and automobiles are limited to a fraction of the dwell time for a political statement or weltanschauung put on display by clothing that is universally present wherever the patron as promoter attends.

    So, the way people dress is pure politics restrained only by their ability to find a proper expression of their weltanschauung to wear. This is why discussions about clothing and other political displays such as houses, automobiles, etc, are so passionate and likely to raise ire or worse. And probably none more so than clothing which is by definition personal and artistic or political expression.

    Cheers!
     
  7. comrade

    comrade Senior member

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    Ineresting. Ours were purchased in Quito, Ecuador in the late 60s. At the time they were probably 60+ years old.
    Shortly after we returned to the US we found them in a Thonet catalog from around 1900.
     
  8. Miekka

    Miekka Member

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    It's interesting to me that there isn't more discussion here about aesthetic.
    Obviously function is the decisive factor both in interior design and in classic menswear (nobody wants something that doesn't work) but aesthetic is the driving factor; it's like choosing a woman: personality is most important, but without the initial physical attraction a man will look elsewhere.
    When we start to analyze the function of classic menswear this entire discussion becomes moot. Even a man who wears classic clothing probably sports a pair of jeans from time to time, probably wears sweatpants at the gym, probably owns a piece of vintage furniture, and would probably wear overalls if they were to mow a plot of land on a vintage tractor; none of this though has much to do with why he also likes modernist furniture..
    In my opinion, a man who wears classic clothing chooses to do so because it makes him feels more elegant, more sophisted, more decisive, more successful, cleaner, possibly even more intelligent... when it comes to furniture that same man will probably look for the same qualities, finding that same elegant, refined, clean look in modernist furniture.
     
  9. Holdfast

    Holdfast Senior member

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    Just to dial back a moment and address the concept, largely mentioned by mafoofan, but implicitly accepted by some others that Modernism as a concept is consistent with a broad cost-benefit assessment of adopting a change or not (in other words, accepting that the cost of implementing the change should be taken into account when determining whether the change should take place, rather than simply analysing whether the end point is "better" than the status quo or not):

    I think this is certainly a practical compromise that makes Modernism more useful in daily life. However, I'm not convinced it's entirely consistent with the ideological ethos of the movement itself (or at least, of how it is perceived in hindsight). My - admittedly limited - understanding of it was that it was essentially radical, revolutionary & progressive in outlook. Thus, if the endpoint was deemed better (as in more rational or whatever specific frame of reference was adopted) than the status quo, then the new version should be implemented, regardless of temporary transitional costs. As such, the cost-benefit analysis shouldn't take the transition into account.

    Using a pre-existing, non-rational cultural frame of reference as a "cost" to weigh against the change runs somewhat contrary to that. So a truly modernist suit would get rid of lapels or extra unused buttons or whatever, as they have no impact on the functionality of the item and detract from its pure suit state. In fact, I think some designers did indeed experiment with such looks. As has rightly been said, this disrupts its function as a cultural signifier/social lubricant signficantly, but to a purely modernist perspective, this is equivalent to the example being given above of getting rid of the columns in a building if they're not needed. Screw the pre-existing language; implement the better one and so society will progress towards a more rational state. The transitional costs of doing so, be damned.

    As I mentioned above, I have little sympathy with that outlook, conceptually, and actually find the variant being suggested a much more pragmatic iteration. But I'm not convinced it really is Modernism anymore (it seems like more straightforward utilitarianism, lacking the radical associations Modernism acquired as a movement). All a bit semantic I guess, but that's what all these discussions inevitably tend towards anyway, so... :)

    My reading of modernism is limited by my disinterest in many of its goals, so I welcome correction of misapprehensions I have about it from those more steeped in its politics.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2013
  10. mafoofan

    mafoofan Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Thanks for tackling my argument, Holdfast!

    Perhaps the question of "what is modernism?" is a much broader question than we really need to answer. After all, the original question is: how is it possible to prefer so-called modernist design in some contexts, yet not others, in a coherent way? To answer that question, we don't really need to all agree on what is "modernism." The definition I proffered (which I'm glad to see someone else understands!) can be called practical modernism, or merely pragmatism, whatever you like. The important issue is not what we call it, but whether its logic makes i possible to have a coherent taste for both "modern" design and classic menswear.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2013
  11. SkinnyGoomba

    SkinnyGoomba Senior member

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    Anyone who has admired the work of Mies Van Der Rohe might disagree with the idea of cost/benefit of modern architecture. His work was extraordinarily expensive, combining new techniques and building materials with exotic facades such as Macassar ebony, zebrawood, onyx and marble.

    There are certainly architects who worked to achieve a good balance of cost to benefit but IMO modernism has much more to do with application of new material and building techniques that required new form to be used appropriately.

    Much like in today where we would cringe at the thought of someone putting aluminum siding on a queen anne house, and while the thought of using it may still be cringeworthy, we don't really find it inappropriate for use with newly constructed homes of the quickly constructed fashion.
     
  12. mafoofan

    mafoofan Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    You are applying cost-benefit too narrowly. First of all, I'm not sure one of Mies's buildings cost any more to build than the classical, marble and column festooned equivalent. But more importantly, there is the huge functional gain. Mies understood the importance of maximizing usable space. The spaces he created are not possible with classical methods and materials.
     
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  13. SkinnyGoomba

    SkinnyGoomba Senior member

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    Foo, I really dont believe it to be until the mid-century that cost/benefit was a strong consideration. This is the argument of the chicken and the egg, but the roots of modernism are the search for a more appropriate use of new building materials.

    One of the goal's of the Eames was to design a chair that would sit the most for the least. Along those lines were the case study houses which were specifically goaled toward providing inexpensive but efficient homes. That was a challenge shared by many of the mid century architects.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2013
  14. mafoofan

    mafoofan Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Whether a building material is "more appropriate" is part and parcel to cost-benefit analysis.

    I'm not sure what you mean by cost-benefit not being considered until mid-century. Whether someone identifies their thinking that way or not, we can nonetheless interpret decision from a cost-benefit perspective.
     
  15. SkinnyGoomba

    SkinnyGoomba Senior member

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    OK Foo, you're correct.
     
  16. Holdfast

    Holdfast Senior member

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    I thought it was an interesting & novel interpretation of the movement's values, so I couldn't resist discussing it.

    I certainly have broad sympathy to rising above the epistemological need to pigeon-hole an outlook into a philosophical box, so once we take it out of the Modernism box, I certainly won't argue with your variant of it being labelled practical modernism, pragmatism, broad utilitarianism, or even, dare one suggest, fooisim... Addressing the core question of whether it squares the circle of having an intellectually coherent preference for both modern(ist) design & classic menswear, yes, it does. It is a very broad justification, though, and leaves a couple of hostages to intellectual fortune, most obviously based on who gets to judge what is pragmatic or not. For all its faults, Modernism was quite specific on this: there was a putative objective best state (the most rational/functional form of an object). Once more pragmatic/"fuzzy" considerations are introduced, judgements about what is better are much less easy to justify. Cost-benefit analyses that incorporate sociocultural "fudge factors" are tricky beasts to interpret entirely objectively.

    I don't think that's a bad thing at all (I like fuzzy value judgements, being essentially relativist in my outlook), but it moves your position a fair bit closer to relativism than the more objectivist/rationalist space I previously expected you to prefer to occupy. Having said that, I do have a lazy tendency to zone out of threads when they become very long, so I have probably misinterpreted your position and my apologies if so.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2013
  17. mcbrown

    mcbrown Senior member

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    Question for anyone who thinks there is an incoherence here: is it possible to simultaneously have a taste for modern design and pre-modern design? Or is it incoherent for me to like both 20th century and 18th century furniture?

    If that is possible, how is this even a topic we are discussing?
     
  18. Holdfast

    Holdfast Senior member

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    Last edited: Jan 29, 2013
  19. SkinnyGoomba

    SkinnyGoomba Senior member

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  20. SkinnyGoomba

    SkinnyGoomba Senior member

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