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The Fascist Silhouette

A dark, elusive spirit that pervades the stalest aspects of human society; Fascism is a figure that dwells on the borderline between emotional repression and violent expression. Its dark lines and sharp cuts fall from neck to foot, with the exposure of flesh only as a mark of power or practicality. The restriction of uniformity is unforgiving. The tailors of fascism separate wear from wearer, turning sapiens into structures.

Arguably the bleakest of reference points, fascism is one that feels intrinsically linked to fashion. The sadistic leather trench coats adorned by Hitler’s Gestapo are forever engraved into villainous history. The morbid marching boots of the Nazi SS, designed to sound like crushing under-foot, are now referenced by the ‘it’ brands such as Bottega Venetta. Even a broad, razor-sharp lapel can be said to be reminiscent of known dictators’ garb. Fashion presents a fantasy of what the individual and the world they inhabit can be. It inspires and moves with illusions conveyed through material. It reflects human desire, history and our nature to both create and speculate.

Demna Gvsalia’s Balenciaga Winter 2020 collection presents a gaunt, puritanical vision of a flooded earth. The garments swamp the models, elongating and widening them with rigidity and precision. It is undoubtedly Gvsalia’s darkest collection to date. Nightmarish in its apocalyptic vision of an eco-fascist future, the clothes do not stray from luxury. They move exceptionally. The catwalk is flooded with water and the initial front rows submerged; luxe figures standing above a populous that is left to drown. It is a modern retelling of the fascist aesthetic with cold, harsh outlines and a foreboding sense of technological progression. The techno-fascist silhouette, perhaps.

In Susan Sontag’s 1975 essay ‘Fascinating Fascism’, she notes the depiction of ‘utopian aesthetics—that of physical perfection’ in fascist art. Sontag argues that this art differs from the usual ‘utopian morality’ of authoritarian propaganda found. It is an obsession with control and sleekness, largely devoid of authenticity and individuality. It is a value system that does not feel far-flung from the corporatised current day. Glorious nation and glorious industry. As the powers of tech giants and corporations continue to grow, our privacy and power diminishes, somewhat willingly; this is the so-called ‘digital revolution.’

Prada’s Spring Summer 2021 womenswear show has a somewhat Kubrickian feel to its staging; minimal yet imposing. An abundance of cameras, hardly out of place in the modern world, are placed strategically throughout the space. These are constantly shifting, capturing every angle. Beside them, twenty screens all displaying the name of the current model. The garments have a clear sense of uniformity about them. They are sleek, clutching tightly around the arms. The cuts are conservative and professional, neither fantastical nor grandiose. Once again, we find a dystopian vision on the catwalk. The wearer is watched universally, no aspect unseen, with their name on display. It is thematically reminiscent of Alexander McQueen’s final show, ‘Plato’s Atlantis’, in its presentation of a mechanised world. Robotic arms loom over reptilian models in a world where the land is no longer inhabitable, scoping out these now demi-humans. Big Brother is watching!

We see these clothes and we want them. They are beautiful. Yet, they channel an essence that is dark and brooding. Once garments are placed into context, fashion can become elevated to a unique place that captures and warps desire in bizarre ways. Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s shop ‘SEX’ became a haven for daring dressers; where fashion, fetish and fascism met. Here, they produced infamous pieces emboldened with swastikas, defining the dress of the punk movement. Nazi symbolism was explored in a way that was subversive and rebellious in Thatcher’s Britain. The legacy of such remains, with designers like Raf Simons and items such as the stomper boot. The deep, murky stains of fascism are perhaps what make it such a captivating reference point in our culture. It romanticises violence and extreme power. It is terrifying and theatrical. It is a cruel, unhinged perfectionist, and it remains unsettlingly relevant.

The fascist silhouette is a looking glass. Through it, you see the uniform of subjugation and the tragedy of hindsight.

- Written by Oliver Chard

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