Critiques of Luxury: Unmaking the Worlds of Excess - Workshop

Image Joana Coccarelli

Image by Joana Coccarelli

5th May 2015

University of Oslo

Niels Treschows Hus 12th floor

9:30 – 15:00


9:30 – 10:00 Registration and Coffee

10:00 – 10:30 ‘Knowing Luxury’ – Joanne Roberts, University of Southampton

10:30 – 11:00 ‘Critical Luxury Studies: Defining a Field’ – John Armitage, University of Southampton

11:00 – 11:30 ‘The Cult of Luxury and its Vulgarities: On the Irresistible Power of the Low’ – Tereza Kuldova, University of Oslo

11:30 – 12:30 Discussion

12:30 – 13:30 Lunch

13:30 – 14:00 ‘Luxury Fashion Exposes the Fiction of Ethical Fashion Discourse’ - Efrat Tseëlon, University of Leeds

14:00 – 14: 30 ‘Can Luxury be Copied?’ - Veronique Pouillard-Maliks, University of Oslo

14:30 – 15:00 Discussion

15:00 – 15:30 Coffee and snacks

Please register here by the 1st of May

Presentation Abstracts

Knowing Luxury

Joanne Roberts, University of Southampton

This presentation will engage in an examination of the epistemology of luxury. The purpose is to explore how luxury is known. By employing philosophical understandings of knowledge to analyse present day luxury, I will argue that the prevalence of market valuation and digital technologies are leading to the objectification of knowledge about luxury to the detriment of the more subjective, socially constituted, practice of what I call ‘knowing luxury’.

Professor Joanne Roberts

Director of the Winchester Luxury Research Group

Joanne's research focuses on the role of knowledge and ignorance in the field of luxury, including questions concerning how knowledge and ignorance shape the production and promotion of luxury goods and services, and how luxury consumption draws on knowledge and ignorance. She is also pursuing research on the role of knowledge communities and networks in shaping the meaning of luxury and the forms that it takes in various spatial, sectorial, and socio-cultural contexts. Joanne is a member of the editorial advisory board of the journal Luxury: History, Culture, Consumption.

Critical Luxury Studies: Defining a Field

John Armitage, University of Southampton

In this lecture a critical approach to contemporary luxury studies focusing on aesthetic, design-led and media practices is introduced. Exploring the new field of critical luxury studies, the lecture will present an examination of the relations between historical and, crucially, contemporary ideas of luxury with a view to comprehending the socio-economic order with novel philosophical tools and critical methods of interrogation that are re-defining the concept of luxury in the twenty-first century.

Professor John Armitage

Co-Director of the Winchester Luxury Research Group

John's research focuses on contemporary representations of luxury within new media cultures, questions of old and new luxury and media cultures, luxury news, and journalism. He is currently investigating the idea of ‘critical luxury studies' concerning luxury photography, debates over luxury advertising, and other aspects of the convergence between luxury, media, and cultural studies. John also works on luxury cinema and the relationship between luxury and television and is developing an innovative approach to the question of luxury and the future of new media cultures.

The Cult of Luxury and its Vulgarities: On the Irresistible Power of the Low

Tereza Kuldova, University of Oslo

Coco Chanel famously insisted that “luxury lies not in richness and ornateness, but in the absence of vulgarity”, and yet this ideal appears to have little to do with the reality of luxury. Upon closer inspection, we find within the cult of luxury a recurrent fascination precisely with the vulgar, the low class, the polluted, and the dirty. Vulgarities of all kinds seem to possess a certain power that the elevated and refined lacks, but desperately tries to appropriate and incorporate them within itself. This talk presents such cases from across fashion, art and interior design, while attempting to crack the dependence of the high on the low.

Tereza Kuldova is a post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History, University of Oslo and social anthropologist. She has studied the elite segment of the Indian fashion industry and the relations of production. She is currently part of the HERA II Enterprise of Culture research project. Among her recent publications is an edited volume Fashion India: Spectacular Capitalism (2013). In early 2016, her monograph Luxury Indian Fashion: A Social Critique , will be available. She has also curated and designed an ethnographic museum exhibition Fashion India (2013 – 2014) at the Historical Museum in Oslo.

Luxury fashion exposes the fiction of ethical fashion discourse

Efrat Tseëlon, University of Leeds

In the aftermath of the financial crisis the global apparel market saw the rise of trends of democratisation of fashion and of luxury, an increasing gap between patterns of consumption in mature and emerging markets, and the rise of concerns with issues of ethics and sustainability. All of these resulted in challenging the uniform quality of luxury as a mark of exclusivity and status, and redefining the language of fashion consumption. As a cultural practice that is premised on excess and exploitation the turn to ethics forced both fashion and particularly luxury fashion to address the fundamental contradictions that lie at their core. At their core ‘objects of desire’ whose main function is what Žižek calls the ‘surplus of enjoyment’ do not satisfy any concrete need, and are consumed only as a supplement beyond use-value. Their symbolic quality lends them the insatiable paradoxical property that, the more you consume the greater the need to consume it. The ethical discourse of fashion adapted to these apparent contradictions by rebranding fashion as supportive of ethical and sustainable practices, and by redefining its aims. The paper examines how these contradictions are revealed in what is said, and in what is denied.

Efrat Tseëlon pioneered the field of critical fashion studies, examining concepts, artefacts and practices as signs of ideologies and power relations.She has contributed to fashion scholarship by extending the research agenda from designer fashion to ordinary clothes, and from designers and makers, to consumers and wearers. Tseëlon is the editor in chief of Critical Studies in Fashion & Beauty, and is the author of numerous publications critically interrogating key concepts in fashion research such as beauty as stigma, or school uniform as an instrument of control. In her book The masque of femininity (1995) she developed the theory of fashion as an ideology of gender construction, and in Masquerade & Identities (2001) she analyses masquerade as a technology of identity critique. In Fashion Ethics (2013) she examined ethical fashion as ideological discourse.

Can luxury be copied?

Veronique Pouillard-Maliks, University of Oslo

What is the status of the counterfeits of luxury? What is lost, or gained, on the way? This paper will depart from an interwar American press clipping showing a dozen copies of the latest fashions in all price ranges. It will then turn to Paris designers, the ‘originators’ or creators of the designs copied in the US and on domestic markets. These Paris firms waged legal battles against counterfeiters who sought to reproduce fashion for the masses. Using unpublished archives of legal cases, the paper will examine the intertwined notions of luxury and dissemination during the interwar period. The paper thus feeds into the question of ‘how luxury is known’, only this time from a historical perspective.

Associate Professor Veronique Pouillard-Maliks

University of Oslo, Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History

Veronique Pouillard-Maliks’s research focuses on the history of consumption societies in Europe and in the transatlantic space. She is currently finishing a book on the history of fashion piracy in the 20th century, in which she investigates how fashion firms used the criminalization of counterfeiting as a business and marketing strategy. She is particularly interested in the relations between business and government and, in this respect, also works on the history of communication techniques, with a focus on the compared history of advertising and propaganda.