The book draws on material from recognised and distinguished writers who have contributed to the more formal and academically historical discussion of fashion, and its representation through the fashion image such as Becky Conekin, Caroline Evans, Margaret Maynard and Agnès Rocamora. In addition, the relatively unique backgrounds of other contributions such as Sascha Behrendt, Susan Kismark, Eva Respini and Bärbel Sill make this collection of essays a particularly unique book.
While the world of fashionable behaviour has increasingly been driven by an ever-expanding plethora of fashion images since the end of World War Two - little academic consideration has been given to the fashion image and its impact on the fashion system. This text begins a more academic response to such a dearth of recognition, both in the academic community and more public discussion forums, alike.
Indeed, while in Westernised countries `fashion' is `force-fed' to us in images from, in as diverse locations such as on billboards, at the bus stop, on public transport, in daily newspapers, women's and men's lifestyle, fashion magazines themselves, and weekend newspaper colour supplements, cable and satellite TV and the Internet, for example, it seems little serious discussion has been afforded to the `fashionable' image and its relevance to the public at large and to the fashion industry itself. Let alone, the academic community. As Shrinkle herself suggests, there appears to be an `unspoken aversion to the medium' of fashion photography.
The book she sees as being about `presenting the voices and concerns of current photographic criticism - alongside that of industry professionals - the fashion photograph is explored as visual image, material object, process, artwork and commodity form'. Noting the initial widespread availability of fashion illustrations by the end of the eighteenth century, the subsequent development of photographic and printing-press capabilities in the early twentieth century meant that the aesthetic of the fashion image was to scale ever-increasing heights as being a daily component of people's lives in Westernised societies.
The book is organised into four sections. The first of which analyses the institutions and ideologies that shape the media based fashion image, such as the notion of `society of the spectacle', and the increasing `placement' of fashion images in art galleries and museums. Here the more contemporary positioning of the fashion image in the realms of youth and street style culture additionally charts the development of fashion photography away from being a purely commodity or commercially driven entity, giving a status akin to that of photographer as artist, acknowledging both uniqueness and quality of such work.
The second section of the book considers the everyday business of the creation of fashion images. Via input from Rankin, Sascha Behrendt and Penny Martin, while particularly noting commercial constraints requirements and restrictions placed upon fashion photography, the opportunities for creative and artistic development are explored; including the recent visual-media development of moving imagery. As is the nature of fashionable behaviour, the social and cultural components of fashion in the daily lives of many of us are highlighted in the third section of the book. Again, as Shrinkle puts it: `images of dress play an important role in the construction of identities - the ways in which fashion images and the circumstances of their production', the role these play in `charting the boundaries of gender, age, race and femininity' are further explored.
Using Steven Meisel's Versace advertising campaign of 2000, Isabel Loring Wallace argues from the perspective of Baudrillard's `era of the clone' and the appeal of this to a globalised fashion industry, to promote mass-produced fashion products, instead of individualised bodies and the role of such in marking out difference. Representation and the role of the fashion image are further explored by Karen de Perthuis who suggests that the living body, clothed in the fashionable garment is purged of its references to the living, breathing `natural' body and is subsumed purely as representational `device'. In perhaps as what I believe as the long-since publicly recognised, but little formally acknowledged notion that fashionable behaviour is purely a means of accessing the desired `look' of the day: something which Christian Dior himself recognised how to create a desire for, rather than meet feminine demand or expectation.
In the final section of the book, issues of representation and the real, from the perspectives of cultural politics and phenomenology are taken up. Notions of a need to gather `street-style' - whereby fashionable garments were increasingly located in city locations, from the 1960s onwards - and are thereby given popularity and credibility. This is mixed with problematic notions of being `straight-up' or `real' entities, resulting in issues of such images simply being empty signifiers, and are therefore enactments themselves - much like the `staged' studio-based fashion images upon which fashion photography initially based itself.
Essentially, while the book is obviously aimed at an academic audience, the writing style throughout is accessible to anyone who is keen on establishing an in-depth understanding of the development of the fashion image and the positioning of the contemporary fashion photograph with regard to the fashion industry itself. As well as, given its greater media prominence, the part it plays in the visual ephemera of the street, and art gallery and museum wall space that is today's cultural phenomenon that is the modern fashion photograph.