Fashion / orientalism / the body (New Formations 1, Spring 1987)

Author: Peter Wollen

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Publication date: May 18, 7600

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Peter Wollen

In the early decades of the twentieth century, decoration and ornamentation in fashion came to be seen as signs of decadence. A new modernist body emerged, functionally attired and desexualised; simultaneously, a ‘less is more’ approach was seen in the world of the visual arts. Then came Orientalism, popularised by Paul Poiret’s famous Arabian Nights-themed party and Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet production of Scheherazade. This Oriental approach lent itself to Freudian interpretations and had despotic and sado-masochistic undertones, although Poiret claimed that he was the ‘slave’ to those who wore his designs, not their master.