Keeara Ofren reviews Fashion Tribes by Daniele Tamagni
The fashion world, an accessible and wearable empire is also one marred by its notoriety of appropriation and elitism. Fashion, like politics, is increasingly criticised for its disconnect with the masses and lack of an educated or ethical approach to matters of sourcing in terms of design and manufacture. But by the time fashion trickles down, it is interpreted and expressed by millions of individuals, we return to the raw expression and so the empire rules supreme. (Meryl Streep’s ‘cerulean monologue’ in The Devil Wears Prada comes to mind.) This is message explored by Daniele Tamagni in his book, Fashion Tribes.
Like Kill Bill sirens or the first snag in a new pair of tights, the title was a foreboding sign of what’s to come. One you don’t need crystal visions nor haute couture knowledge to predict. The title uses the word ‘tribe’ as a means to describe fashion subcultures and aesthetics. This co-opts the usually ethnic and political connotation of the word ‘tribe’ into a word that means ‘collective identity’, rather than what it really means to have cultural behaviour changed through social and political changes to an ethnic group. Perhaps this is too heavy handed a word to describe what Tamagni means. However, using an indigenous descriptor erroneously, already creates the view that the book’s depiction of fashion is an elitist and out of touch descriptor on the many diverse fashion subcultures.
This book portrays itself as a ‘gritty Nat Geo look meets the flair of Vogue Italia’ kinda deal but is instead: Staged. Portraiture. But this is only stated in fine print in the flap of the dust cover of the book while it presents itself as having spotted great fashion of locals.
If this is a street style book, where’s the spontaneity? The impromptu everything? The serendipitous, diverse and romantic quality of the photos becomes lost on me with the discovery that this was essentially, a heavy magazine. Indeed, the lack of presence of colour and very Western hemisphere centric styles do not seem different to styles you may already see on the high street. This to me seems to display a reflection of the writer’s own tastes than the kaleidoscopic vox pops of street style blogs and books. The audacity here is Fashion Nova in literature form. Renowned thief Kim Kardashian behind the photographic and cultural lenses.
A picture is worth a thousand words. So we’ve established that the pictures were not as authentic as they made out to be. But what about the actual thousand or more words in this book? Each subculture e.g cholita style of Bolivia was photographed in a section with paragraphs of text next to it describing the history and expression of that particular style.
The third punch in the trifecta of evil fashion, was that these paragraphs? These descriptors? They were all by professional stylists and bloggers. Subcultures and styles seen through and talked by in a condescending lens. It doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t it be that those who have the lived experience on the subculture explain in their own words? Than someone worlds away to shoehorn this subculture into their own elite vision and world?
Fashion Tribes oozes pretentiousness than authenticity, leaving a nasty crust, though unpleasant, it’s an impermanent impression.
In my view, and maybe even yours too, expression is not about perfection and completeness of a certain look, nor are subcultures exclusive in that way. And so, Fashion Tribes breaks a key rule that has toppled many an empire, don’t alienate the art you claim to represent and serve for.