The Synthetic Ideal: the Fashion Model and Photographic Manipulation

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On the catwalk and in life, fashion has always been restricted by the human body in a way that has not been the case in representation. However, with the advent of computer manipulation of the image, the boundary between garment and skin is dissolved, not as in the practices of tattooing and piercing, in order to regain some lost site of authenticity but rather to assert the supreme authority of artifice. Fashion, ever at battle with nature, finds itself released from the limitations of the human form and revels in the freedom to invent a humanity where any trace of the organic has been eliminated. In the images of fashion photographers who have embraced the extremes of digital manipulation, Baudelaire's description of fashion as 'a sublime deformation of Nature, or rather, as a permanent and repeated attempt at her renewed reformation' is taken to its extreme. At one level, the newly manipulated form directly imitates sartorial fashion. However, on a more fundamental level, the reconstruction of the fashionable ideal is a culmination of Fashion's attempts to represent its essential mode of being. In the synthetic ideal, fashion gives full reign to its obsession with artifice and fantasy and finally resolves, on the body of the model, its ongoing dialectic between mortality and immortality.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2005

More about this publication?
  • Fashion Theory takes as its starting point a definition of “fashion” as the cultural construction of the embodied identity. The importance of studying the body as a site for the deployment of discourses has been well established in a number of disciplines. Until Fashion Theorys launch in 1997 the dressed body had suffered from a lack of critical analysis. Increasingly scholars have recognized the cultural significance of self-fashioning, including not only clothing but also such body alterations as tattooing and piercing.

    Fashion Theory provides an international and interdisciplinary forum for the rigorous analysis of cultural phenomena. Its peer-reviewed articles range from foot-binding to fashion advertising.
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