Fashion At The Edge
Yale University Press
In Fashion At The Edge, Caroline Evans looks at the experimental and the transgressive in fashion design, presentation, and photography in the 90s with a heavy dose of London. It’s a neat trick to knit together considerations of fads in fashion photography for violence, dissolution, and transgression (Corinne Day doing Nan Goldin in The Face plus loads of photos from Dazed & Confused…oh, and remember “heroin chic”) with chapters considering the deeply intellectual work of Martin Margiela and Hussein Chalayan.
From rags and armour to cruelty and haunted imagery, Evans excavates the perimeter of fashion. The tome is peppered with provocative, taboo-busting, and avant-garde work that is sometimes profound, sometimes exploitative and base and grotesque. The book drives home what a rarity Martin Margiela is, with his idea-based work that like good conceptual art critiques fashion itself, the methods of presentation, construction, commerce. Hussein Chalayan, while less subtle, engages in the same rigorous performative critique. In comparison, a lot of McQueen looks like cheap provocation.
And this is where the book might have better been two or perhaps three volumes rather than one. Besides sharing the time frame considered by the author, and besides making work that often doesn’t look like what you’ll find in your favorite boutique, some of the figures in the book have little in common.
Evans, who, at the time of publishing was Reader in Fashion Studies at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, creates delicious texts that intertwine wish-you-were-there reportage and crisp description with insightful analysis into which she brings references as diverse as Michel Foucault, Walter Benjamin, Guy Debord (comparing a Margiela show in which the models mill around on the sidewalk outside to a derive) in considering both fashion and the world it inhabits. This is the kind of serious consideration that serious fashion not destined for a shopping mall requires, more akin to art criticism than fashion reportage, and a great example of what a smart fashion book can be.