Cargo Cults

Sybaryte

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Jul 19, 2008
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OK, I admit I don't know much 'bout anthropology but I've read enough to decide that I find HH's Cargo Cults theme for Fall odd and vaguely offensive. Why would a seller of apparel look to the Emperor's New Clothes for inspiration? There's a negative connotation to material goods, an element of imperialism and in the end, it may be just a facade. I am reminded of the Iskia feather charm...another example of HH's totemic BS.

At the end of the day, I'm simple. Give me some nice bags and accessories and cut the pseudo-intellectual crap.
 

jennirane

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Nov 8, 2008
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Interesting question, Syb! Although actually, I think it's the OPPOSITE of the Iskia feather charm... in terms of imperialism or colonialism. With something like the feather charm, you have the colonizER fetishizing something taken from the colonizED. With Cargo Cults, it's the opposite. "Primitive" (quotes DEEPLY intended!) groups fetishizing the detritus of "Civilized" groups (quotes ALSO deeply intended!).

I don't think it's pseudo-intellectual or crap... it's funny, and in a lot of ways self-ironic. I love that you said the emperor's new clothes... I think that's a great place for a designer to find inspiration if they don't take themselves too seriously. The stuff real "cargo cults" would pick up and fetishize was just the detritus of civilizations... the bits and pieces that held planes together or luggage... not very important stuff, certainly not things those in the civilized groups would really value. The classic example is the Coke bottle in The Gods Must be Crazy. The point, of course, is that the "primitive" groups are far more civilized...

But I know a lot more about pseudo-intellectual crap :nuts: than I do fashion... I dunno. I like that a given season or collection has a metaphor or governing idea. That's how I create when I write... I think in a lot of ways creating art (and granted, we're not really talking about art here, but handbags and I'm not sure they do/should qualify) is about solving problems. Not real-world ones, but philosophical ones. If I were deconstructing (loosely and somewhat inappropriately using the term) their use of Cargo Cults as a metaphor, I'd say that the copy about "collectors" aside, they're making a pretty interesting comment on the heart of what they do... whether fashion really has any real meaning or whether it's useless detritus.

(Sorry! Throw a question like that out there and I just salivate... no one TALKS about stuff like this any more!! Even if we disagree about it, it's a great conversation!) :hugs:
 

jennirane

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Nov 8, 2008
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Just to add... the potentially uneasy thing is when we suspect they might be mocking us even while they mock themselves... I know if I were doing what they're doing, I'd both LOVE it and QUESTION it... does what I'm doing actually add pleasure and beauty to peoples' lives, or am I adding to the noise of consumerism (by fetishizing these things that don't really have value)? I think they're doing both... but if their customers are ONLY saying "oh yes... must have... fetish... beautiful object" (as the copy in the Lookbook sort of indicates we should be) without the other side, the self-awareness and "yes, I know this is just detritus" then we're not getting it. I almost wish they'd included a real essay about all of this with the Lookbook, instead of just the tag lines and bit about collecting. They're missing your Emperor's New Clothes opportunity.

They're both intellectuals. Making handbags... but I'm sure they talk about this stuff, and really think about it. I would. And I'm not THAT weird, am I?? Am I??? :wondering: :weird:
 

Minnifer

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Jan 14, 2009
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Yowza. After a looooooooong day at work I'm apparently incapable of even following this discussion:weird:! Will attempt again tomorrow morning after a big cup o'joe and before having my brain fried by reading reams of (dense and boring) legal docs...
 

sallyca

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Aug 20, 2008
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Minnifer - I too came home from work and am facing a massive pile of catch up reports and renovation-related decisions and I tried to read this and my brain went POOF.

I'll be able to respond more coherently later on. I can respond to one thing though...

Jenni - you're not weird. Only your fingers:roflmfao:
 

jennirane

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Nov 8, 2008
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:weird:

Waaah?
Yes, okay. I AM aware I'm a nerd. When my friends and I get completely and totally blotto, we often argue the finer points of postcolonial theory. We're not very coherent when we do, but we're VERY passionate ;)
 

fafnir

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Jul 25, 2008
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Wow, what a fabulous discussion! Jenni, I so admire your ability to make a point elegantly. (I guess that's why you're teaching writing and I'm not, lol.) I like that HH lets us know what really inspires a collection, and it's generally an odd assortment of bits and pieces from here and there. It's what a lot of people in the arts do, whether they cop to it or not. I thought the bit about "young women shutting themselves in their apartment and only venturing out for junk food" was a bit silly, and something I didn't get. But I don't expect to "get" everything anyway. I do think HH has a tongue-in-cheek attitude and don't take themselves all that seriously. One of the reasons why I like them so much. It must be a very, very hard line to follow in that industry, where everyone seems to take themselves (and fashion) much, much too seriously.

And thank you, Syb, for starting the discussion.
 
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missangelina

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Jul 22, 2009
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Yesyes, thanks Syb! Very interesting and certainly nothing I'd ever expected in a purse forum. :biggrin:

Well I myself am deep into my first glass of wine, and I'll admit to having a degree in Lit, but HELL, Jenni, my writing and analytical muscles are so out of shape I'm not sure I can tackle this with you ;) But I'll give it a shot:

HH mentions Diane Arbus' photography in the lookbook as part of their inspiration. Have you ever looked at her work? I'm fascinated with it, and believe that what one might perceive as being borderline crazy, still others will find beautiful. Maybe that's the theme to apply to both the Emperor and the cargo cult; we're all looking for something beautiful, regardless of what others think.
 

jennirane

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Nov 8, 2008
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Hmmmm... yeah, Angie. You're probably closer to right than I am. I'm over-complicating it, looking for an implicit critique of fashion as "merely" fetish. Yours is the more pure and generous reading. SIMPLY look for beauty (even if it's a Coke bottle) and hang the rest of them!

Your photos (your two avatar pics, are they yours?) are really interesting too, BTW. My sis is a photographer in Chicago... is that something you do seriously? I LOVE Arbus, too! And Sally Mann, although I know she's even more controversial.
 

Suzzeee

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Jul 9, 2007
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Okay - I have a splitting headache and a long drive home from my office ahead of me, but I had to check in here before I left. Interesting topic Syb -- I'm sure the discussion will be lively! So, here's my one thought about indie designers in general -- I wasn't always the cool, hip person I am today (lol) and sometimes I think these designers are "too hip for the room" if you get what I'm saying. I also do wonder if they are secretly laughing at their poor, unaware, unsophisticated (referring to only myself here) customers;) I love that they can be inspired by something completely random and esoteric, but sometimes I do not get the connection!

Jenni - you are so not wierd at all!
 

kate83675

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Nov 24, 2008
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I've only glanced at the Lookbook and haven't read the other stuff they have written in there but I did fleetingly think every time I saw it that "Cargo Cult" was a very odd theme for a company that sells stuff that is, when it comes right down to it, unnecessary as far as the materials, designs, expense etc that go into them. A paper bag or a hankerchief will serve the same purpose as a handbag, not as elegantly nor will those things make us sit at our computers hour after hour as we do, but they will get our stuff in a transportable state. We could go to K-Mart or Walmart to dress ourselves :wtf: But maybe that's their point??


But that leads to Jenni's point, is HH having fun at their customer's expense with Cargo Cult juxtaposed with the things in their catalog? The $500 shorts? Not to mention the odd details on them? Some of their clothing is definitely more "designer" than not (which is fine, I don't mean to be criticizing it) but to put it under the caption of "Cargo Cult" is interesting to say the least.

When it comes down to it most people don't know what a Cargo Cult is other than the glancing description in the Lookbook and most people won't be looking it up to find more information about it. Nor will there be much wondering of how do these things mesh?? I think most people will just say 'whatever' and see if there's anything they like. And honestly that's what I've done so far instead of considering the theme and what are they saying? A lot of the time I just ignore what appear to be intellectual pretensions and silliness around selling things.

I'm not getting the Emperor's New Clothes reference tonight but I'm getting tired and think I've come to the end of the line for now. Interesting ideas Syb, you're absolutely right that you're Not Shallow!

ETA ~ so much of the time 'fashion' is it's own world and designers are indeed way more cool than the norm (or least like to see themselves that way).
 
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jennirane

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Nov 8, 2008
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I guess I meant, too, that they're possibly having fun with themselves as well as us. IF they're making the connection between "real" cargo cults (i.e. the groups that sprang up around fetishized bits of other civilizations) and fashion.

But I think Angie's probably right, that it's a much simpler connection and all they're saying is "hey... pretty shiny objects. I'll take them and make them mine and love them and I don't care what anyone else thinks".

Either way, though, I really don't think it's pretensions or crap. (Sorry :smile: saw SO many students roll their eyes at me today!) Ideas, metaphors, symbolism, etc., have value in and of themselves. If nothing else, because they make us question and think about connections and context and such (like we're doing now). Most of the time, an artist who explains her paintings, for example, isn't trying to make her readers feel stupid or pull the wool over their eyes. Occasionally, sure, but most of the time, she's really trying to communicate something. And I'd MUCH rather read a statement like that in the Lookbook (even as short as it was) over an introduction to a line that simply pointed out which celebs were carrying the bags. But we've established that I'm an odd duck :P
 

sallyca

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Aug 20, 2008
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I like what Jenni said about how a collection (of any kind of art IMO) has a metaphor or governing idea. To me the idea is a starting point. One that triggers some kind of creative flow that can move in many different directions. I also like having a governing idea to provide creative restrictions e.g. to rein in the wild crazy impulses and bring them back into coherence.

Even if I don't sometimes love or "get" a particular idea or style initially, I admire the bravery of designers or artists in moving fashion forward. The shorts and the patchwork stuff this season seem strange to me. They may not sell well this year. Or next. But it will be interesting to see how they use references to these earlier images in the bags of the future.

Maybe HH is having fun with us. Maybe they're tipping their hat to the "new normal". Does fashion have any real meaning in an economy like this one? Should we question our passion for material goods? What value do we attach to smooshiness or bling?

Or (DEAR GOD!!!) maybe they're pushing us to have discussions just like this one!
 

missangelina

jonesing
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Jul 22, 2009
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I don't know if we can say they're laughing at consumers more than they're laughing at themselves. To call their work "detritus" is at their expense. Our obsession with this detritus is a little more understandable, if we extend that metaphor; our innocence excuses us from being complete idiots.

Maybe. :biggrin:

--and yes, Jenni, I do a little photography - still a beginner, though. Thanks for the compliment - that means a lot to me!
 

kate83675

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Nov 24, 2008
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I didn't mean to say that the Cargo Cult reference is pretencious (I can't spell that tonight!), I mean it seems that sometimes people in the fashion industry want to make fashion more important and meaningful than it is. Fashion is more a reflection than it is reality, it reflects the times and tastes but although it is said to set trends I don't think it does to the degree some people in the industry say it does.

Not that making something fun to look at or wear or something that's only reason for being is it's prettiness or to make us feel good is wrong, bad or wasteful or useless - those are all absolutely legitimate and wonderflu reasons for fashion. But it's not brokering world peace or solving the current financial problems or finding a cure for a disease.

I think the reference to Cargo Cult was intended in a light-hearted way w/ no other meaning than "oh look! pretty, I want" comment. I don't think HH is making fun of their customers nor of the cultures that originated the authentic Cargo Cults nor are they being culturally snobbish. I also don't think it's meant as a culturally oblivious/ignorant reference.

This is completely garbled especially compared to Jenni's well crafted posts but I don't have a problem with the Cargo Cult reference. It's fun and light-hearted and that's refreshing to see a company that isn't taking itself seriously in an industry that sometimes does way too much.