Johanna Blakley

Media | Entertainment | Fashion

Archive for September, 2010

Diane von Furstenberg & Her Tragicomic Quest for Copyright Protection

OK, I held back a bit in my last blog about new legislation that will most likely grant copyright protection to the fashion industry. In that blog on Design Observer I didn’t mention how deeply ironic it is that Diane von Furstenberg is leading the charge for this misguided legislation.

Well, in my new blog, just posted on PBS’s Need to Know site, I explain why von Furstenberg’s “iconic” wrap-around dress wouldn’t qualify for the protection that her Senate bill promises to offer. The main problem, you see, is that the wrap-around dress was actually a very hot item in the 1940s, when Claire McCardell successfully introduced it to the American market. Although von Furstenberg loudly proclaims ownership of this design (which was also popular in ancient Greece) , and she cites it as one of the main reasons she’s pursuing copyright protection for fashion designs, a quick search of the fashion archives would demonstrate that she’s created nothing new at all.

Who has, after all? DvF’s genius is in reviving the wrap-around dress and making it in the right kind of material with the right kind of print right when people wanted to wear it again. Does that mean she should own the design and no one else should be able to make it? In what universe would that make sense?


The Business & Culture of Social Media

I had a fantastic time last night giving a talk on The Business & Culture of Social Media at Social Media Week LA. The crowd (including a lot of USC students) had really thoughtful questions and I look forward to attending more of the week’s events. (If anyone has any suggestions for must-see events, do tell!)

My talk was based on a publication that I co-authored with Martin Kaplan, my colleague at The Norman Lear Center, where we study the impact of media and entertainment on society. A video of the talk will be posted eventually (and I’ll be sure to notify everyone when that happens) but in the meantime, you can feast your eyes on this beautifully formatted publication, designed by the Lear Center’s multi-talented Veronica Jauriqui. Lord knows I believe in substance, but design shouldn’t be an afterthought and Veronica has made sure of that.

Moviegoing and Dreamspace

I was sad to hear that Satoshi Kon, the ingenious guy behind the mind-bending animated film Paprika passed away a couple weeks ago at age 46 . I had been thinking about Paprika recently when I watched Christopher Nolan’s Inception, a film that also explores the possibility of entering into other people’s dreams in order to change the way they think about something. In Paprika, the focus is on a team of therapists who perform their work inside the dreams of mental patients, but malevolent interests also end up running amok in there, as you might imagine. In Inception corporate interests hire experts to infiltrate the dreams of competitors in order to perform espionage, but we can see the therapeutic possibilities there too (in fact, you could read the ending of them film as Ariadne’s attempt to finally release DiCaprio’s character into a dream he can manage to live within).

As unique and clever as Inception was — clearly Nolan is his own brand of genius — the idea that real life can invade dreamspace is certainly not new, and one could argue that the topic is perhaps best treated in film. The experience of moviegoing is probably as close as we’ve ever gotten to collective dreaming and it’s not surprising that film professors and theorists have used the language and tools of psychoanalysis to understand film ever since the medium was popularized.

The material connection between dreamspace and physical reality has always been a fascination of mine, and not just since I got hooked on the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise as a tween. But it wasn’t until earlier this year, after I saw a great piece in the New Yorker about nightmare research, that I started to really think about the profound role that films play in shaping our understanding of the interstial space between dreams and reality. Not only are films in a privileged place to depict this bizarre space (where the imaginary becomes real), but these compelling depictions end up worming their way into the collective unconsicous, literally providing the material for our own private explorations of these spaces in our own dreaming.

As I mention in an earlier blog on this topic, dream researchers have found that movie villains frequently star in our nightmares; whether or not our dreams are in color or black and white is determined by our TV and film watching; and the length of our dreams is also correlated with the type of video content we consume. There’s no doubt in my mind that our consumption of representations has a very real impact on our brains and behavior, but how on earth can we find any legible referents in the tangled relationship between filmic depictions of fantasy becoming reality and our own unconscious explorations of these themes, which have such a profound impact on our lived lives? I think I need to make an appointment with an analyst. Or a really smart film scholar.

New York Fashion Week . . . in Second Life

I always tell people that anything you can think of that happens in the real world also takes place in Second Life. Marriage, divorce, armed robbery, political demonstrations, car races, scuba diving, concerts, film screenings, theatrical productions, university classes, weird sexual acts, you name it . . . they’re all happening in Second Life (SL). I was delighted to find out that another real world event has been ported over to the virtual one: Second Life hosts several Fashion Week events, including a big one that will go on at the same time as Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City, September 9-16. Last year it was in Bryant Park SL; this year it will be in a custom space (I guess there’s no Lincoln Center in SL).

Retail fashion is a crucial part of the Second Life economy and so it makes perfect sense that some of the more well-respected designers would participate in a virtual version of Fashion Week. It can be pretty hard finding the good stuff in Second Life: I’ve actually started reading the SL fashion magazines such as Second Style, which have the same kinds of imaginative, theme-driven spreads that you see in Vogue or Elle. The big upside is that you don’t have to be rich to purchase SL couture. I have never, ever, looked at an outfit in a real world fashion mag and gone to Barney’s to buy it. But in SL, I have bought complete outfits that I saw in fashion editorial spreads (I certainly wouldn’t mind buying these leggings in the real world).

If you ever have to spend any quality time in Second Life (I’ve had to attend several meetings and conferences in there) then I can guarantee you that you will want to buy some decent clothes for your avatar. But let me warn you right now: this is a deeply addictive activity. I feel the same endorphins firing that I felt when I obsessively dressed (and undressed) Barbie dolls for hours on end as a tween. 

And, in order to make your avatar look good in Second Life, you don’t just buy clothes for them. You buy eyes and a higher-end “skin” that looks more appealing than the off-the-shelf virtual flesh that get you get for free when you join. Avatars are becoming more and more life-like, with freckles and glittering eyes and custom animations that make them seem uncannily alive. If you don’t mind crossing the uncanny valley, it’s a very exciting time to check out a virtual world and do a little virtual shopping.