VakkoVamps - a project about the agents of seduction and the instruments of desire

(part of Hackers and Haute Couture Heretics
at Garanti Galleri 4 sept - 11 oct 2007)
When fashion comes under the scrutinizing  eyes of theory, it is often considered as a spell from the black arts and is “revealed” as fools’ play, ridiculed deception, or capitalistic conspiracy. Very rarely does theory approach the emancipatory, magical, extravagant, or luminous sides of fashion. This leads to a situation where critical designers almost automatically place themselves (or are being placed) into an anti-fashion position, enacting a “fashion drop-out” statement, and become producers of singular objects commenting on fashion from the outside. Seldom are their critical expressions actually worn or reach an elevated position in the fashion system.

Instead, a critical view on fashion has to acknowledge the positive magical processes involved in fashion as a tool for self-enhancement and empowerment, where the forces of fashion are used by the wearer for inner change as well as outer. A critical fashion also has to come practically into the system of fashion, into the logic of dream producing expectations. It has to produce real fashion, real instruments of desire.

As a comment to this, the aim of VakkoVamps is to probe the connections and interfaces between the critical standpoint and the glamorous shimmer of high fashion and act as a negotiating bridge between these two worlds. This position is by classic counter culture elements regarded as a “sell-out” to the system, since it is taking fashion as a serious partner. However, the aim of VakkoVamps is to explore how contemporary hacktivism and political engagement is constituted and step beyond mere defiance. Not as a position of oppositional dialectics but of engaged dialogue, trying to find a position beyond the dialectical pro- or anti-positions. It is an attempt to find a third locus of activism, forming a constitutive bridge and approach of enablement at the interface of overlapping and many-layered systems. In this case the interface is a conjunction of multiple forces, forces that are intersecting but not in opposition; fashion and activism, capitalism and critical interventions, glamour and subversion, just to name some.

This process of investigation is done by inviting the participating artists/designers from the “Hackers and Haute Couture Heretics” project to engage in a collaborative collection with the established Turkish upmarket fashion brand Vakko and together with them explore the processing of code and protocols within the enchanting fashion program.

The format of the VakkoVamps is to practically investigate how reform can expand the meanings of fashion as well as engage in manoeuvres of longevity enhancement, combining hands-on engagement and limited edition production with the myth building processes of fashion. Recycling old garments, updating them, as well as reconstructing their image into something interconnecting to values outside of fashion. This field in fashion intersects with similar brand strategies and work processes by Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garcons and the Guerrilla stores, Jun Takahashi’s brand Undercover, but also the designs and methods of Martin Margiela and Hussein Chalayan. What  makes the work in VakkoVamps differ from the previous examples is the open working process and interface between a multitude of participants and tactics as well as conscious reworking and reinterpreting of both form and authorship of the originals. The brand Vakko surrenders control to unknown processes performed by the hacking designers, and opens itself to be reworked outside of their overall strategy. The participants engage in hacking, co-design, and subconstruction, however in a format reconnecting flows of code and injecting them back into the fashion system, with Vakko as the power channel.

The project challenges the format of artistic practice and critical design. By connecting the project intimately with a large actor representing the glamorous side of fashion it is not anymore only playing with likeminded souls, such as the usual audience of art or reform workshops. The recycling done in VakkoVamps is not a work with old “Teddy bear” garment feelings to be recycled, but instead it is engaging with the politics of how desire is produced, communicated, and projected as dressed dreams into the future. The core of this undertaking is the process of hands-on reproduction of these instruments of desire. VakkoVamps produces garments that are vehicles, which will appear in the shops and dressing cabins of Vakko. Places where fresh identities and hopes are launched for the risky odysseys through life.

It is thus an approach trying to reach beyond the traditional audience of reform and alternative fashion to instead engage with the level of fashion where dreams are produced. Dreams that effect consumption patterns in society at large. They are dreams intermeshing with fashion, not as a game of illusions, but as the serious play of another scene, recreating desire in the spotlight of the real.

For a hacking activity like this Vakko seemed the perfect partner. Not only a distinguished and classic Turkish brand but also a label embodying the dream-producing machine of fashion.  With its glamorous designs it creates a mythical substantiation of Mediterranean luxury and has an established position as upmarket producer of ready-to-wear fabulousness. With its icon-like designs it acts as a model of aspiration, ubiquitous within the Istanbul chic circles and the brand’s glossy adverts seductively enchant the Turkish fashionistas like Sirens’ call from the large posters above the streets. With this position Vakko manifests the spirit of fashion as a strong force of imitative gravity, a paradoxical impetus of allure: at the same time pushing and pulling, dictating and attracting.

In this tension between high and low, VakkoVamps explores an experimental field of fashion, intersecting with capitalism but not necessarily with anti-market hierarchies, sweat shop production, globally uniform brands, and consumer interpassivity. How can fashion emanate as self-enhancing methods, emancipatory processes and states of flow, as an alternative to the classical product-based and highly material mass-production? These are questions we have to approach.
The intended working process of VakkoVamps was as follows:
1. Take a garment from Vakko’s last season to reform into something facing the new season or enhancing other values.
2. This Vakko garment is sent as “homework” to the participants. They have a month to remake it, document the process into an instruction for Vakko, and send these two back.
3. Vakko will reproduce the reformed or “hacked” garment prototype in 10 copies.
4. The garment will be styled, photographed, advertised as a “real” garment from the brand.
5. The new copies will be sold in the Vakko boutiques. The original prototypes exhibited at Garanti Gallery.
However, these kinds of collaborative processes are always a matter of negotiations and compromises, and unfortunately the full concept of the VakkoVamps process could not be pulled through. The ten-copy reproduction of the prototypes, the fashion image shootings, and the selling of the garments in Vakko stores were not to be realized. Nevertheless, the hacks of the Vakko garments were made and we produced our own fashion photographs of the hacked garments for the exhibition. This stage in fashion, the production of the fashion image, is as important as the production of the garments themselves since it is through images we meet most fashion.

Despite this partly successful cooperation, the outcome of the VakkoVamps is not so much a set of garments or objects as much as a series of methods for exchange and dialogue between two fields that are usually separated. The hope is that this interface can act as a pool of resources and trigger further inspirational collaborations as well as frame a complementary work mode for fashion.
VakkoVamps hackers (from top down): SHRWR (SE), Stephanie Syjuco (US), Rüdiger Schlömer (DE), Megan Nicolay (US), Junky Styling (UK), Giana Gonzalez (PA), Cat Mazza (US),
To follow the hacking methods please download the collected methods booklet here [pdf]
Fantastic photos by Laleper Aytek.
Modest modelling by Nazli Cetiner.
Stephanie Syjuco
Rudiger Schlomer
Megan Nicolay
Junky Styling
Giana Gonzalez
Cat Mazza