Ronald Barthes, the French pioneer literary theorist, philosopher and linguist whose work had a paramount impact on the history of structuralism, semiotics and anthropology, asks in his book The Language of Fashion the following rhetoric question: “Are not couturiers the poets who, from year to year, from strophe to strophe, write the anthem of the feminine body?”
What was succeeded with that inquiry, is for the semiology, or the symbolic capacity of clothing per se and the normative character of such a capacity, to be given the appropriate attention. That is because despite the so far tendency to first view the body and after the garment, Barthes, managed to summarize in his statement some decades ago, the reality of our age: that in order for the body to be realized, the garment becomes the precondition of attention. Every season that fashion changes, new types of bodies and womanhood are generated, and so the body becomes a canvas, a systematic space of alternating signs. The way that is proposed in order for that to be understood, is to observe some classic examples of the big screen. That is because since Barthes addresses the semiotics of symbolic representation, then the symbolic construction of standards of beauty through an important vehicle of mass culture, which is cinema, is found most relevant.
Layers as statements: 10 coats that are hard to be forgotten
The examples are countless, but the collection chosen hereafter does not aim to solely reflect stylistically strong pieces, which would necessitate for Fransoice Hardy’s famous mod-touched trench or Sean Connery’s landmark-for-costume-design Victorian coat in the “first great train robbery”, even Gene Hackman’s seemingly rudimentary raincoat in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation”, or Rita Hayworth’s lavish couture in “Cover Girl” to be mentioned, in order for the influence on the fashion design to be merely emphasized. Instead, some examples that are evaluated as highly influential both for a quick fashion-history of the big screen overview and for the actual film-plot unravelling and furtherance, are the following:
10. Sharon Stone’s white shawl neck wrap-over coat in Paul Verhoeven’s “Basic Instinct” with its obvious stylistic reference to the Hitchcockian “Vertigo”, which exposed in the most representative way the protagonist’s core element: that her intelligence can be hidden in plain sight.
The discussion regarding the effects of such a semiology of representation on the shared view of aesthetics within a culture, in consonance with Barthes theorization, could be extended and of great interest. Yet, for now, I may conclude that the powerful element of a coat contra a photograph, is that the former necessitate touch and scent to evoke memories and create impression, while the impression-ability of the later, rests on its pure dynamic of representation.
Written and curated by Marianna Serveta
Photographed by Emma Sundkvist
Featuring “Pascal” white wool lace light coat.