Why Do You Do Fashion?
“Why do you do fashion’ is a question rarely asked of fashion designers or fashion design students from within the fashion world. That an answer to this question is not always readily obvious may demonstrate a lack of theoretical background, analytical context, or reflective practice within fashion design educational programmes, but it does submit fashion design as a field of cultural practice in which mindfulness could prove to useful, innovative, and beneficial on a personal, practical, and industry-wide basis.
This question of “Why Fashion?’ asked in a slightly incredulous tone by many people, but usually not asked by those teaching and working in fashion, I find difficult to answer myself in a satisfactory way. I have tried to regularly ask it of myself, eventually reaching something resembling a mumble about a creative calling to produce that I have no choice but to answer. With mindfulness, there is an approach that at the least allows for exploration of the question, which has the potential to expand the practice of fashion designers, design students, and design tutors.
Mindfulness can be described as “becoming more aware of thoughts and feelings, relating to them in a wider, decentred field of awareness, and purposefully opening fully to one’s experience’ (Bishop et al, 2004, p. 234). Although many fashion designers avoid anything resembling specified parameters, I would offer mindfulness as more of a complementary structure of practice, in thinking and in working, which allows for built-in reflection. Fashion designers are trained to critique the work of others and their own, to accept it and to give it. But the inherent step of reflection involved in mindfulness as practice goes further, allowing one to step out and observe what is happening in real time in one’s own mind, body, and emotions.
Attending “The Unconscious: Psychoanalysts in Conversation’, an event held in March 2010 at the Central Saint Martin’s Innovation Centre, I was struck by the comments made by psychoanalyst Michael Parsons, regarding the uncanny; which he described on a basic level as that which makes an artwork stand out to a viewer, an experience which I submit could also apply to something like a creative inspiration, grasping a new insight, or even developing an inquiry. One cannot anticipate or control when the uncanny will occur, but may only suffer the uncanny by submitting to the experience of the uncanny. I took this “submission’ to mean supporting a state of mind that is open to experiencing the uncanny when it makes itself known. The state of mind fully open to one’s experience of the uncanny I consider to be similar to mindfulness, as an awareness of yourself in the present that acknowledges ideas, thoughts, and feelings, including the uncanny. Personal awareness through mindfulness can encourage acceptance of difficult questions and innovative ideas, allowing for personal reflection and response rather than reaction. I am interested to explore mindfulness and reflective practice further, and the potential for a mindful approach to be applied on an open scale within fashion design to expand the range of the field as a valued cultural practice. The application as practice could range from one’s own well being and mental health as a designer, to an educational establishment’s reciprocal investment in its students, to a company’s role in the future of it’s own production.