AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 92

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Session 92: Fashion in Asia: Politics, Consumption, & Identity, Part 2

Organizer: Toby Slade, University of Tokyo, Japan

Chair: Sheila Cliffe, Jumonji Gakuen Women's University, Japan

Fashion studies is a field that continues to grow in importance and complexity. Analogous to film studies in the 1970s it is establishing itself as an intellectually worthy and rigorous discipline recognized by the academy and it is an exciting time to be working in it as it advances and matures. Contributing to this new field these papers examine various aspects of recent and contemporary fashion in Asia through the perspectives of politics, consumption and identity. They include examinations of fashion and trade between Australia and New Zealand, Chinese fashion and identity, the complex identity of kawaii (cute) in Japanese fashion and the varied creation of identity using kimonos, the Asian-Australia aesthetic legacy and fashion and authoritarianism at the centres and peripheries of Asia. Despite the multifarious flows of information in our globalizing world, the homogenizing corporate and advertising imperatives, and the more universal lifestyles and appropriateness of certain sartorial forms to fit those lifestyles, Asian fashion remains fascinatingly idiosyncratic. While often a subject that is studied from the perspective of its fragment components, the scope of this panel is deliberately broad in an attempt to identify the continuities and major themes of Asian fashion at the present moment.

Whose Kimono?
Sheila Cliffe, Jumonji Gakuen Women's University, Japan

In this ethnographic, or material culture study, I examine the relationship between contemporary kimono wearers and their kimono. Through extensive open-ended interviews in Japanese, with kimono wearers in Tokyo, conducted for my ongoing PhD, I found that wearing kimono had multiple meanings, beyond those that I had envisaged as a kimono wearer myself. Whilst being material objects, the wearing of kimono embodies far deeper meanings than just a preference for a particular kind of material or shape of clothing. Clothing is always embodied and these interviews demonstrate that fashion or clothing choices are not only about surfaces, but have deep and powerful meanings, which are anything but superficial, the responses show an incredible multi-dimensionality. They are deeply connected with identity and positioning oneself in place, space and time. They also support the position proposed by Daniel Miller (2008), that those who have abundant material possessions are not necessarily more materialistic, in the sense of having more “stuff”, but less deep personal relationships, but that clothing can both mediate relationships, and forge connections over space and time. Finally, I interviewed some non-Japanese kimono wearers, to try to account for any similarities or differences in their approach to kimono. This leads one to the question, “Whose kimono is it anyway?” Whilst being representative of Japan or seen as a national costume, it is neither necessarily made there or worn there, which may mean that far from being a dying presence, the kimono is actually increasing its range of meanings today.

Fashion, Factor Prices and Trade: New Zealand Fashion in Australia
Sally Weller, Victoria University, Australia

In the first five years of the 21st century, New Zealand-made fashion brands rapidly increased their exports into the Australian market. This expansion was associated with and supported by the New Zealand government’s national branding strategy that promotes New Zealand’s creativity and fashion consciousness. Some academic analyses have taken the success of New Zealand fashion exports as evidence of the potential of peripheral nations to prosper in a globalising world by harnessing their creative difference. Yet differences in exchange rates, wage rates and import duties on fabrics - as well as the effects of the ANZCERTA common market and the collapse of Fiji-based offshore assembly provision - have provided New Zealand producers with a comparative advantage in production that may have been more influential in the apparent success of NZ fashion than fashion creativity effects. This paper unpacks these influences and assesses them in the light of the Global Financial Crisis. It concludes that ANZCERTA has enabled Australian mass (chain store) brands that stock garments produced in China to penetrate the New Zealand market while at the same time enabling middle range (boutique) New Zealand brands made in New Zealand to expand into the Australian market. The collapse of this arrangement after 2008 suggests that factor prices rather than fashion were the key drivers of New Zealand’s export success.