The Velvet Touch: Fashion, Furniture, and the Fabric of the Interior
Author: Hartzell, Freyja
Source: Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, Volume 13, Number 1, March 2009 , pp. 51-82(32)
Publisher: Bloomsbury Journals (formerly Berg Journals)
Abstract:This article engages with Walter Benjamin’s critical readings of velvet linings in nineteenth-century domestic interiors and fashions in The Arcades Project, as well as Jacques Derrida’s more recent etymological and symbolic excavation of the hymen as textile, to argue for sensuous textiles as literal and figurative mediators of the nineteenth-century bourgeois desire to possess, articulated in the act of touching. Through an examination of velvet’s “softening” of the domestic interior over the course of the nineteenth century and significant parallels between domestic furnishings and women’s fashions, it explores an age in which sensuality was subsumed within the fabric of everyday life, but palpably present in the lining’s “velvet touch.” Within the cultural landscape of an increasingly modern Paris, marked by Haussmannization, industrialization, and a burgeoning consumer economy, velvet gowns and linings functioned not simply as protection from modernity, but also as facilitators of a new consumerist paradigm of suspended gratification. The article employs evidence ranging from period costumes and upholstery to the writings of Emile Zola and Marcel Proust, as well as the decorative paintings of Édouard Vuillard and the Art Nouveau furniture of Eugène Gaillard, in support of the ultimate claim that fin-de-siècle design reformers attempted to overturn the sexual politics of drapery by fusing surface with substance.
Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Publication date: March 1, 2009
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.