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Book Review: The Geographies of Fashion

Book Review: The Geographies of Fashion

Louise Crewe, The Geographies of Fashion: Consumption, Space and Value, Bloomsbury, £21.99, 188 pp., March 2017

Born out of a burning desire to investigate fashion’s relationship with geography, The Geographies of Fashion by Louise Crewe delves into a threadbare analysis of the mechanics of fashion production and consumption. The word “geographies” in the title seems to evoke a culturally codified aesthetic impression of fashion shaped by the shifting landscapes of time and space. While defining the term geography in relation to aesthetics, Harriet Hawkins expertly notes that, “Aesthetics has long been recognized for the possibilities it offers for staging encounters between humans and their environment.” [1] It is precisely this phenomenon that Crewe, a professor of human geography herself, sets out to explore in her book. Thoroughly researched and crisply written, this book provides penetrating insights into often unheeded, behind-the-scenes processes, involved in the making, circulation and promotion of fashion. The book is broken down into seven chapters. In her introductory chapter, Crewe defines the concepts used to frame subsequent chapters. Semiotic, socio-economic, affective, relational, and biographical approaches have been used to assess the global impact of fashion.

It is proposed that fashion operates within and in relation to socio-economic life and the built environment. This “cultural economy approach,” Crewe states, “underscores the impossibility of severing commercial or financial explanations of fashion from those that emphasize the aesthetic and creative determinants of worth and value.” [2] This idea is substantiated by drawing on the symbiotic relationship between fashion and architecture, be it the design of interior or exterior space. An example of Maison Martin Margiela’s retail space serves to best illustrate this point. Just as architecture plays a role in attributing a certain intended aesthetic quality to fashionable apparel, fashion creation is also inspired by monumentality and three dimensional sculptures. Of particular interest in this section are examples of fashionable ensembles by Pierre Cardin and Issey Miyake’s A-POC.

The discussion takes a rather interesting turn by opening the reader’s eyes to some of the harsh realities plaguing fashion supply chains. It exposes uncomfortable truths behind the glamorous facades of luxury fashion brands that are so geared towards producing tons of quantities of fashion clothing that conditions of labor employed in producing the fancy stuff is the least of their worries. Crewe draws on the widely debated Rana Plaza factory disaster of 2013 to illustrate this point. She discusses how certain handcrafted products from luxury fashion brands may be grossly overrated as their manufacturing remains largely contingent on ruthless massacre of wildlife. Crewe reveals ways in which big brands shrewdly circumvent labor laws and international legislations on bio-commodification for the sake of maintaining their brand quality and repute. What is impressive is that the text relies on just enough statistical data to give readers a sense of scale and magnitude of the problems, without sounding cryptic.

The harmful effects of fast fashion are contrasted with the principled methods of production and sustainable quality of slow-luxury fashion. Both the upsides and downsides of this appreciative consumption model have been observed through the example of Saville Row and Harris Tweed. The focus of the discussion then shifts from looking at the back-end modes of production to assessing the front-end appeal and the retail aspects of projecting luxury brands. How do high-fashion enterprises position themselves in thoroughfares to attract masses and augment sales? This question is addressed through an engaging conversation on the ways in up-market flagship stores such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Channel and Selfridges present themselves to their customers.

In the next section of the book, Crewe turns her attention to the affective qualities of fashion. At this point the discussion shifts to emphasize the biographies of clothes and their relationships to people’s lives and the memories associated with inhabiting certain garments. The reader is encouraged to view fashion as a process, constantly moving and changing with time. Value is accrued in clothing as it is used, worn and discarded/destroyed over time. Here questions are raised about fashion’s authenticity and how a particular brand or label influences value in a clothing item.

Finally the book ends with a conversation on the exciting new opportunities presented to fashion businesses by the internet and cutting edge-digital technology. We often wonder about the extent to which online retailing platforms achieve success in selling clothes to fashion enthusiasts. One would argue that there’s a difference between experiencing fashion in physical space and physically experiencing fashion. However, the discussion of digitally enhanced features of flagship stores and e-commerce websites such as Burburry, SHOWStudio, and ASOS, among others makes it clear that the internet has solid potential to dramatically reconfigure fashion retailing.

The book undoubtedly serves as an enriching reservoir of knowledge on the internal workings of a fashion system, making it especially invaluable to the students and scholars of fashion and textile history/economics or material culture. Overall, Crewe’s analysis builds strongly upon Appadurai’s notions of the “scapes,” [3] and on the circulation of commodities in cultural perspective, [4] which I imagine would have served as the cornerstone for this book.

I must admit however that the termination of such an engaging discussion was a bit disheartening. Eventually, what does a reader gain out of a synthesis of all the geographies of fashion? This is still a mystery. Just as an audience eagerly awaits a grand finale after a mind-blowing performance, a reader excitedly anticipates a well-integrated summation of the concepts explained towards the end of the book. Instead, it felt as though I was abruptly ditched after the last chapter to wonder about the interrelationships of all the different dimensions of fashion laid out throughout the text. It is unclear for instance, whether the book is targeted towards the producers or consumers of fashion, or towards both? In the end the reader of this book may be left contemplating what to make out of all the connections between fashion in the urban spaces, fashion’s mutually beneficial relationship with architecture, its brand projections, the supply chain labyrinth, and its increasing interdependence on digital technology for maximizing impact? Granted, that the introduction offers an explanation of how each conceptual device would work to structure the discussion around variables of the fashion industry, but such an exhaustive account of fashion’s multidimensional outreach certainly merits a satisfactory conclusion.


[1] Harriet Hawkins, “Geography,” in Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, Vol.3, ed. Michael Kelly (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 177-178.

[2] Louise Crewe, “Figuring out the Geographies of Fashion,” in The Geographies of Fashion, (London: New York: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., 2017), 2.

[3] Arjun Appadurai, “Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy,” Theory Culture and Society, 7, no. 2-3, (1990): 295.

[4] Arjun Appadurai, ed. The social life of things: Commodities in cultural perspective. (Cambridge University Press, 1988).


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