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Open Access New materialism: A theoretical framework for fashion in the age of technological innovation

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Working from the case study of Dutch designer Iris van Herpen, this article proposes a new-materialist framework for fashion studies. The ‘material turn’ has gained substantial recognition in social and cultural research in the past decade but has received less attention in fashion studies. At the same time, fashion hardly ever figures in scholarship on new materialism. This article connects the two fields, surveys the literature, foregrounds key concepts and points to possible directions for fashion studies. The interdisciplinary field of new materialism highlights the role of non-human factors in the field of fashion, ranging from raw materials (cotton) to smart materials (solar cells) and from the textility of the garment to the tactility of the human body. New materialists work from a dynamic notion of life in which human bodies, fibres, fabrics, garments and technologies are inextricably entangled. The context of new materialism is posthumanism, which entails both a decentring of the human subject and an understanding of things and nature as having agency. The key concept is thus material agency, involving a shift from human agency to the intelligent matter of the human body as well as the materiality of fabrics, clothes and technology. The insight of material agency is important for acknowledging the pivotal role of technology in fashion design today, allowing greater attention for the material aspects of high-performance fibres and smart fabrics. From a new-materialist perspective, Iris van Herpen’s designs can be understood as hybrid assemblages of fibres, materials, fabrics and skin that open up engaged and meaningful interconnections with the human body.
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Keywords: Deleuze; Iris van Herpen; material agency; new materialism; wearable technology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Radboud University, the Netherlands

Publication date: 01 April 2018

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