During the Age of Exploration, early orientalism started to take shape in fashion. Since, the East has remained an inspiration and influence to Western culture. In spite of this, oriental dress does not symbolise cultural flexibility and acceptance, but rather imperialism. It is a metaphor whereby the West establishes a dominant role over the East by studying and reproducing oriental culture. As Edward W. Said put it, “Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly exclusively…Oriental” . Moreover, this essay will explore the tumultuous relationship between the East and the West, as well as discuss the impact and progress of Orientalism in fashion.
Paul Poiret was the first couturier to embrace draping, thus moving away from the more traditional techniques of tailoring and corsetry. This launched the transformation of couture traditions of the Belle Époque. To many, Poiret had dethroned the paradigm of Western fashion when he employed the art of Orientalism into clothing. Today, Marc Jacobs also illustrates the contribution of Orientalism in contemporary fashion through his cheongsam-infused 2011 Spring collection for Louis Vuitton. A direct and modern take on Orientalism, the collection highlights the feeling of ‘otherness’, in that the Orient represents an exotic fantasy as opposed to being an equal: “Present-day orientalism is a ‘series of imaginary mirrorings’ in which the white Westerner enacts a level of otherness that eclipses the circumstances of the ‘true’ other” . Essentially, Marc Jacobs embodies a colonialist who explores and exploits the Orient, therefore reinforcing the idea that Orientalism constitutes a concept created by the West.
The Orient was well under the hegemony of the West. The latter had claimed a hierarchal status over the East, implementing power and authority that soon led to racist propaganda: “the Orientals' bodies are lazy, the Orient has no conception of history, of the nation, or of patrie, the Orient is essentially mystical-and so on.” Ironically however, the West was reliant on the East despite its dominant position. How so? Orientalism contributed to defining Europe’s image and continues to do so today. For instance, in 17th century France, members of the French courts adopted the turban and Persian vest to symbolise power, status and rank. Furthermore, by segregating oneself from the ‘others’ one can create self-identity in every age and in every society: “the development and maintenance of every culture require the existence of another different and competing alter ego” . It is therefore possible to affirm that without Orientalism the Western culture remains incomplete, so the West uses it to see itself as whole.
This Western domination can however be masked by capitalist ideology. By applying this idea, defined by John Storey, the Orient constitutes “the subordinate...