The Tumultuous Relationship between the East and the West Essays

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During the Age of Exploration, early orientalism started to take shape in fashion. Since, the East has remained an inspiration and influence to Western culture. In spite of this, oriental dress does not symbolise cultural flexibility and acceptance, but rather imperialism. It is a metaphor whereby the West establishes a dominant role over the East by studying and reproducing oriental culture. As Edward W. Said put it, “Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly exclusively…Oriental” . Moreover, this essay will explore the tumultuous relationship between the East and the West, as well as discuss the impact and progress of Orientalism in fashion.

Paul Poiret was the first couturier to embrace draping, thus moving away from the more traditional techniques of tailoring and corsetry. This launched the transformation of couture traditions of the Belle Époque. To many, Poiret had dethroned the paradigm of Western fashion when he employed the art of Orientalism into clothing. Today, Marc Jacobs also illustrates the contribution of Orientalism in contemporary fashion through his cheongsam-infused 2011 Spring collection for Louis Vuitton. A direct and modern take on Orientalism, the collection highlights the feeling of ‘otherness’, in that the Orient represents an exotic fantasy as opposed to being an equal: “Present-day orientalism is a ‘series of imaginary mirrorings’ in which the white Westerner enacts a level of otherness that eclipses the circumstances of the ‘true’ other” . Essentially, Marc Jacobs embodies a colonialist who explores and exploits the Orient, therefore reinforcing the idea that Or...

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...countries begin ‘reorienting’ themselves as oriental. More specifically, “it is making peace with an expectation, which, in fashion, was either falsely affirmed or subverted” . Finally, the Oriental look or Orientalism is manipulated and managed as a sub-style, able to create its own identity and aesthetic hegemony, thus enabling it to establish itself and endure.

To conclude, today’s Orient in contemporary Western fashion does not refer to the trophy of imperialism. On the contrary, there exists a developed, nomadic Eastern quality that the industry has embraced: its fashion (modernity). Fashion does not belong solely to the West. Hence, there is a greater sense of equality, in that the West exists in the East just as much as the East is present in the West. “They 'live' in one another and their 'own' identity is created by acts of constant slippage and renewal” .

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