The Dress Circle: New Zealand Fashion Design Since 1940, by Lucy Hammonds, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins and Claire Regnault (Godwit/Random House, 2010), 422 pp., $75.
What is the purpose of clothes, beyond reflex notions of warmth and concealment? Does fashion have to be attractive? Or can you use it to express anxiety, even revulsion about body-image issues, about political issues? Fashion reveals hierarchies of class and taste; but fashion is also by definition subversive, a form of revolution overthrowing preceding fashions which have become stale. And fashion is cyclical: it recycles the past in ways that help define the present. Fashion, then, is a form of drama, a form of theatre, an expression of emotion crafted into art — or perhaps crafted into architecture, using the body as framework.