Geoff Dyer Finds the Timeless in Fashion


“Thin as legend claims, the models streamed into view. […] There was a bit of everything going on. The models appeared, variously, as flappers, can-can dancers, sprites, zombies — you name it. A seasoned fashion writer said to me later that this show had actually been comparatively tame: ‘There were things in it that you might even wear,’ he said. Nothing brought home to me my ignorance of couture more clearly than this crestfallen lament.

“To my untutored eye what was on offer here had nothing to do with clothing as traditionally understood. Looking at the coats — which seemed capable of almost anything except keeping you warm or dry — I was reminded of Frank Lloyd Wright’s response to clients who grumbled about the roof leaking: that’s how you can tell it’s a roof. And so it was here: it was primarily by their extravagant refusal of the function for which they had been nominally intended that they could be defined as clothes.”

The incomparable Geoff Dyer, reviewing Paris fashion shows in Issue 8 of Five Dials. Beginning there, he ends up discovering the “primal” and timeless qualities of an art I also know nothing about.

Nietzsche pointed out that beneath the grace of Greek tragedy lay a primitive force that had earlier found uninhibited expression in singing and dancing rituals. In the same way this fabulous extravaganza had about it something instinctual, primeval. Could it be that the couture show is an immensely sophisticated and commercialized residue of an arcane rite or fertility ceremony?

In this light the models and their outfits really might be an offering to some kind of god. Not, as I had joked earlier, the old god of the Incas but the great modern god of the camera, waiting at the end of the runway like the rising or setting sun, except this sun is not just the source of life but its meaning and content too.

The full issue is here; Dyer’s piece begins on page 20.

Jeremy Hatch is a writer, musician, and professional bookseller leading a cheerful, aimless life in San Francisco. He is the Junior Literary Editor of the Rumpus and has a blog which he updates once in a while. More from this author →