I'm getting interesting comments on my blog. I hope you'll take some time to read them and learn about other fiber people's journeys. In response to my last post, Cathy & Stephanie have told stories of textiles that have meaning for them, and in response to my earlier posts, several text-textile people (e.g., Linda, Laura, Ozweaver, Neki desu, et al.) have explained how they have come to enjoy the text-textile connection.
I originally was going to write about ribbons because yesterday I worked at a conference at which the speakers & volunteers had ribbons attached to their nametags with the words "Speaker" & "Volunteer" printed on the ribbons. I was thinking about how ribbons have come to be mass-produced items, and that there still is a certain status attached to ribbons, no matter how un-hand-made & nonprecious the ribbons are.
What made me change my mind is an e-mail I received this morning. A friend of mine told me that during her recent trip to Japan, she was dismayed because her co-travellers spent a lot of time focussing on the authenticity or lack thereof of designer goods that they saw. Fortunately, my friend was able to bring some of her weaving with her and to have a cross-cultural dialogue with weavers she met. She also was able to see living weaving and dyeing museums & participate in other fiber activities, so she was able to occupy herself while her friends were occupying themselves.
This situation reminded me of two similar situations I experienced in my young adulthood. The first time was in 1982 when somone on my college dorm floor announced to everyone that my Ralph Lauren Polo shirt was a forgery. I knew that the shirt was a fake; I had bought it at a flea market. I felt exposed, though. The second incident occurred during a trip to Amsterdam in 1986, during which my friend seemed intent on announcing in front of vendors that their Delft ceramicwares were forgeries. I know that I'm not supposed to be embarrassed by other people's behavior, but I felt embarrassed to be an American and felt guilty by association.
So, what is it about American culture that undervalues the effort of hand-produced textiles, yet glorifies mass-produced textiles with designer names on them? It seems that people should be glorifying the hand-made items in homage to the time, effort, and love that went into making them. What is it about the culture that makes people point out if a designer good is a fake? Is it a power/social class thing, i.e., a way for people who have the means to put the people who buy the fakes in their place? Does the fashion industry create impossible expectations for people to be au courant, thus fueling the industry for lower-priced fakes for lower-income consumers?
Why do people insist on paying lots of money for these designer goods with the names of the designers readily visible? I must admit that I was guilty of this in my youth with my Polo shirts and Jordasche jeans; most recently I purchased a plaid Polo shirt on discount from Macy's. This most recent purchase was in homage to my fascination with Polo of my youth and also because the colors; however, was I still in the consumerism mode of my youth?
On a related topic, when Doug and I moved last year, I actually found my Penn sweatshirt from my college days. When I was 22, my Penn sweatshirt was more than just a sweatshirt; it was a symbol announcing to the world that I have arrived as an Ivy League student. (My bragging was restrained, though -- I thought it was tacky to wear a Wharton sweatshirt.) Whenever I wore the shirt, I felt better and more confident. I now realize that during those days I was getting my validation from external sources, rather than from within. The sweatshirt was so worn during those days that I actually tore off the worn hood and called the shirt my Flashdance sweatshirt because of its resemblance to Jennifer Beals' sweatshirt from Flashdance. (I probably even saw Flashdance in the theater while wearing this sweatshirt.) When I found this sweatshirt last year, I was taking Linda MacDonald's surface design course at San Francisco State University, and I decided to make the sweatshirt into a strait jacket as a reminder that I felt tortured during my undergraduate days not only as a person seeking validation through external sources, but also as a closeted gay man. On the back of the strait jacket I decided to applique images of my secret college lovers and me and to embroider lines showing how my lovers were connected not only through me, but sometimes through each other. There's a legend on the back explaining the connections, e.g., gold = sex partners, dark green = love triangle, etc. It was interesting contacting these ex-lovers to get permission to use their images. One person, who was in Navy ROTC during college and is now married with a child, refused permission. Here are images of the front & back:
Here's a detail of the back (The legend's in the white box):
Would you write comments & tell me your thoughts about labels, status, or whatever you feel like?