Benjamin on Fashion (Walter Benjamin Studies)



Reconstructing Benjamin’s complex, fragmentary, yet influential ideas about fashion, this book defines Benjamin’s fashion theory, beginning with Convolute B: Fashion in the German thinker’s Arcades Project (1927-1940), tracing it through Theses on the Concept of History and beyond.

Bringing Benjamin’s work into discussion with quite a lot of important but often overpassed sources, Philipp Ekardt shows the relevance of Georg Simmel’s fashion sociology, art historian Henri Focillon’s morphological theories of form, and the writings of German fashion critic Helen Grund, who introduced Benjamin to the fashion scene of his time. Systematically investigating fashion as the ‘temporalized processing of difference’, as emerging from a reading of Simmel’s fashion sociology, Ekardt shows how this idea is modified in Benjamin’s fashion-informed philosophies of history and the image, in addition to taking into account how Benjamin’s concept of materiality will also be related to clothing, and in contrast to an aesthetic of elegance.

He tackles the grounding of fashion in sex through morphological motifs in Benjamin’s fashion theory, examining the shifts from the androgynous looks of 1920s, to the overtly gender-signposted silhouettes of the 1930s. Pointing to surprising parallels in the overall historical thrust of the Arcades Project – to work through the 19th century – and the fashionable resurgence of Belle Époque styles even as Benjamin used to be at work on his project, Ekardt also makes a case for understanding fashion as key to appreciating the historical significance and prescience of Benjamin’s unfinished magnum opus.

Situating Benjamin’s thought within the fashion panorama of his moment, this can be a an important text for understanding Benjamin both as a thinker and cultural theorist.

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