The following essay was written by New School Chair of Philosophy Simon Critchley and published in Belgian fashion periodical “A Magazine” (Issue #9).
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The one true philosophy of clothes
“America is here or nowhere” – Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus (1834)
What is the human being? Twenty five centuries ago, Plato gave a lecture in the Academy in Athens where he defined the human being as an animal, a biped and featherless. He was warmly applauded. Upon hearing this definition, Diogenes the Cynic – once described as a ‘Socrates gone mad’ – left the lecture room, found a chicken, plucked it clean and brought it back into the lecture theatre, declaring ‘Here is Plato’s man’.
Here’s another, better definition of the human being from the great 18th century satirist, Jonathan Swift. In A Tale of a Tub, he writes ‘What is Man himself, but a Micro-Coat or rather a compleat Suit of Cloths with all its trimmings (sic)’. Without clothes, human beings are hideous. We’re simply forked animals with bandy legs. Thus, clothes are necessary. But I’d like to go further and argue that clothes are essential and we might learn much from pondering their meaning.
“If you don’t ask yourself, you’ll never get the answer. In the 70’s for example, I was worried about pollution, so I dressed my models in capes and motorcycle helmets as a reaction. Once I tried taping pieces of fabric together instead of sewing them. I always thought design is more about interesting ideas than functionality. Everything is everything. And when you get it, there are no boundaries- it just goes and goes.”—Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi, Apartamento #7