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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Model Commodities: Gender and Value in Contemporary Couture

  • Author(s): Wang, Xiaoyu Elena
  • Advisor(s): Brown, Wendy
  • et al.

Every January and June, the most exclusive and influential sector of the global apparel industry stages a series of runway shows in the high fashion, or, couture capitals of New York, Milan, London and Paris. This dissertation explores the production of material goods and cultural ideals in contemporary couture, drawing on scholarly and anecdotal accounts of the business of couture clothes as well as the business of couture models to understand the disquieting success of marketing luxury goods through bodies that appear to signify both extreme wealth and extreme privation. This dissertation argues that the contemporary couture industry idealizes a mode of violence that is unique in couture’s history. The industry’s shift of emphasis toward the mass market in the late 20th-century entailed divestments in the integrity of garment production and modeling employment. Contemporary couture clothes and models are promoted as high-value objects, belying however a material impoverishment that can be read from the models’ physiques and miens.

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