Fashion is rooted in the history of humankind within its seek for identity and personal development, whereby costumes are a fundamental brick of any social system. Since then, weaving and vestmentary habits followed our evolution: they played a crucial role within the transition into modernity, where textile industry was one of the major engine of the first industrial revolution, and, more recently, they have been at the very centre of mass production and globalization. Moreover, as we learnt from human sciences, fashion is a relevant social phenomenon, part of the process of semantisation of our modern societies. And as a “language” it is today one of the richest expression of contemporary culture, merging several languages such as art, cinema, photography and music.
Perhaps for this peculiar path interlaced with human civilization, fashion often played a crucial role, shaping its nature among contradictions and generating antipodal impacts.
On one hand, it embodied a powerful tool for emancipation, creating, since the 19th century, iconic images addressing, without prejudice, pivotal topics such as self expression, gender’s identity and races’ equality.
On the other hand, it has been active protagonist in the process of over exploiting homologation, accelerating the flywheel of consumerism, often empowered by irresponsible production practices, resulting in high environmental costs and social marginalisation.
We now live in an age of dramatic changes where implications of many of those reckless choices are generating domino effects, challenging not only the basis of our economical paradigms but our deeper cultural and social identity, until endangering the very idea of democracy.
Within this scenario fashion is showing positive signs of awakening, addressing issues such as job creation, social inclusion, environmental sustainability. In many circumstances the search for identity and authenticity is bringing back dignity to the work of producing fashion products, relinking local communities with their traditional cultures. Additionally, advanced technologies are giving innovative answers to environmental challenges and new form of collaboration between private and public entities are creating examples of social innovation, where design acts as powerful enabler. All these experiences are demonstrating the virtuous role of design in rebuilding those social and cultural patterns which are the fundamental components to grow equitable communities and democracy.
But this is not enough, as fashion could better enhance its unique hybrid nature of being both “product” and “media”.
On one hand it should drive a radical transition broadening its seeks for beauty as a primary need of our human condition, from products to processes, resources and people, re-weaving meaningful interconnections among them.
On the other hand, fashion should better engage in synthesizing and socializing positive symbols of diversity and inclusiveness, using its powerful media impact. It in fact incorporates the deeper meaning of communication i.e. expressing the individual identity and connecting it in a symbolic dialogue with the social environment.
Doing so, fashion can be at the forefront of an active responsible change, promoting both a material and semantic revolution, where the goal of “wealth prosperity” could be substituted by the richest concept of “cultural prosperity”.
Politecnico di Milano