September 16, 2011

The Ontology of a Used Blouse

Outfit Deconstruction: Part 1

A categorical "real" or "fake" is an impossible distinction when it comes to clothing. Forget what the design council of whatever says about copyright and intellectual property and ownership and loss of profits. Set those well-worn point/counterpoint crossfire-style argumentation strategies aside.

Consider instead: The silk worm whose purpose from birth to death is to feed on mulberry leaves and emit the raw material for luxury garments, the technology of digital printing, the forever nameless and faceless garment worker covering tiny buttons in fabric, the physical space of a pattern archive and of endless reference libraries and visits to vintage showrooms for "inspiration." Consider the limitations: shirt, dress, pant, shoe, the body. But from these constraints the Great and Notable Designers of All Times provide infinite beauty through creation and creativity.

It's no secret that one designer I consider worthy of the title is Dries Van Noten. So you can imagine my excitement to stumble across a blouse "by" Mr. Van Noten on humble

The label sewn into the neck is akin to a signature, a form of authorship. At a vintage store, a dress might be labeled "handmade by [insert your grandma's name here]." This seems special to many of us. Likewise, a "designer" garment. We feel connected the the cult of the designer, her or his brand, often closely linked to a persona. But what of the garment itself? What makes it real?

This is a question I asked myself about this blouse.
photo via etsy listing

Scenario: A box arrives, taped in hot pink and filled with more than enough tissue paper, a handwritten thank you note. She opens the box, promptly tries on blouse, feels excitement over the intricacies of a print, unlike anything she's theretofore possessed. Marveling at its feather-like weight, she is content.

She inspects the inside of the blouse, out of habit. All seams are covered and finished, the construction a wonder for a shirt made out of fabric like a summer scarf. She checks the care tag. And there it is, the inscription, "Made in China." Further, a minor misspelling in the detailed message about not wearing jewelry so as not to snag the delicate fabric. And then the contradictory instruction to wash, rather than dry clean, the delicate silk blouse. She feels a sinking feeling.

China, where silk was perfected. China, where cheap clothes come from. China, a complication. I thought this was a Belgian designer?

Scenario: She now spends hours searching for more information. She is perfectly aware of the small likelihood that anyone would go through the trouble of creating a knockoff of an obscure designer's blouse line. And yet. Google is there with image searches and shopping search results, and she scans for those words, "Made in..." Where does Dries Van Noten manufacture clothing? Seems like Eastern Europe, sometimes Belgium, sometimes not Belgium. She knows enough to know that all the designers have things made in China. Why would her beloved be any different? And why, she wonders to herself DOES IT EVEN MATTER?

Real or fake? Keep or sell? How did I feel before? Maybe the fit is not so good around my hips. Do I want things because of who they are made by? Maybe I need to further reevaluate residual issues with class, ascendency, and ownership.

I decide: I have minor issues with the fit. It gathers on my hips where i wish it draped loose. This can be altered easily by adding vertical slits. I put on an outfit. Yet another pair of new pants. These make me happy. They are vintage, no tags. Selected solely for cut, fit, fabric, style. Easy.

Vintage pants from Reliquary boutique in Hayes Valley, San Francisco

Final Scenario: Etsy email exchange. She kindly asks for more information, no intention to leave negative feedback, no intention to return, no complaining whatsoever. Just a request for more background, if possible. Response: The blouse is from an estate sale in Colorado. It's been worn and dry cleaned. Seller never went this level of nutso over the details of information that will never be available, simply wore it and enjoyed it.

Searching for information about a thing to determine its realness is futile. The blouse is as real as the photo of it that I posted to the internet to show you that I bought a Dries Van Noten blouse. Tags or no tags, it's as real as the silk thread that gives it shape. There is a blouse. I typed a 16 digit code plus some personal identification information, and days later a package arrived and in it, something resembling some digital images upon which I based my transfer of Magic Money from a place that may not exist to a place where it can again be used in much the same way.

Deep Soul Search Results
I think that I just wanted my first time* to be more special. But isn't that how it always goes.

*buying Dries Van Noten

Outfit Deconstruction: Part 2



those tricks Stephanie said...

I love this post.
On so many levels.

1.1 The blouse is really cool, regardless.

1.2 I agree and am in the same boat - WHY so much more valuable to us, if it is "authentic" designer? Marketing, natch.

1.3 Of course, the real thing of fine fabric and meticulous hand-construction can't be beat. However, there are plenty of high-end, well-known designer lines that ARE made in China. And besides - does "Made In Italy" really mean well paid, experiences seamstresses delicately handling each garment? DOUBTFUL.

2.0 Back to my point - awesome post! Love the addendum.

Charlotte Hess said...

I do love the blouse! I think as a seller of vintage clothing it's the stores responsibility to kind of validate their claims of authenticity. As a seller, I would have probably still sold the piece but at a lower cost since I couldn't reasonably ensure that it was a true Van Noten piece. Whatever the case, it really is a beautiful blouse!

Lucinda said...

This is one of the most thoughtfully wrtitten things (about clothes) I've read in some time. I've been thinking a lot lately about the actual value of objects vs. their personal value. If you are attached to the blouse, it's still a lovely piece even if its authenticity is in question. Great post.

Rianna Bethany said...

Fab post, very indepth about such a heated subject! The print on the blouse is fab, really different

Rianna xxxx

Alice /// VESTIGIAL WINGS said...

im sure youve already googled it to death but if not maybe try google?

this is a great topic for a post. living in KS, the only access I really have to designers is online, and i'm drawn towards ebay and other cheaper options- but the question of authenticity keeps me from going for it.

This reminds me of when I bought some new boots awhile back and my excitement was ruined by the fact that I had to get to the mailbox before my mother because she banned me from buying more clothes and I blatantly disregarded her command. It really ruined it for me, usually each purchase is well researched and deliberate but I was so nervous over the whole thing I did not get the excitement at all.

Sophia said...

Hi, I just stumbled onto your blog and love it. I also saw this post, and thought it definitely made me think. I'm not sure if this changes anything about it, but I have that exact same blouse...and I bought it in China. Dongwuyuan, in Beijing, if you've ever been! Some shops there have many clothes that claim to be designer off-samples which have ended up being unwanted. Now whether this is true, or that they are just impressive knock-offs I have no idea. But the quality of the silk and the finish is just as good as the real thing. (I think). I love it anyway!

OdettesVintage said...

Hi, so I happened upon this while searching for information on Dries: real or fake, cool how its almost 2 years to the date that this was posted. I found an amazing wide black leather belt marked Dries Van Noten 100% leather Made in Italy at the thrift, for a price way too ridiculous for me too mention, and I couldn't help but wonder if it were real or not. I've googled the heck out of it and can't find anything similar to it which is slightly odd. I'm hoping its real after all it does smell like some good leather. I'll do some more research and probably list it for sale in my etsy shop. Anyhow just thought I'd share, and I'm wondering why your posts have diminished since 2011. I've gone thru some of your posts and they are so beautifully written and I love the photos! My guess is just life, either way you seem pretty cool. I'll be following you on Instagram for more coolness and be watching out for future posts. Thanks for the wisdom on Dries. XO

Giles said...

I really enjoyed your post too! Definitely thought-provoking about what we value in clothing. I bought a Dries Van Noten jumper off eBay and was rather surprised to see a "made in China" label when it arrived, though I have no issues with the quality of the jumper and feel happy wearing it and for my money that's the main thing! Thanks for your post :)