Aesthetic Sustainability

Three weeks ago, I presented my theory on Aesthetic Sustainability in a key note talk at the Fashion Colloquium 2018 in Arnhem, the Netherlands.

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Talk

One of the things I focused on in my talk was the interconnectivity as well as the differences between emotional durability and aesthetic sustainability. Emotional durability concerns sentimental value and the emotional bond between an object and its owner, which might lead to sustainable behaviour, such as mending, frequent usage and appreciation. Even though the terms are related, or rather; even though aesthetic sustainability in part consists of emotional value, the durability of aesthetically sustainable things is based on more than an emotional bond between object and subject. Whereas emotional attachment to an object is largely individual and concerns sentimental value, subjective stories, experiences or memories, aesthetically sustainable objects are broadly satisfying and maintain that satisfaction for years, as they evoke universally aesthetic parameters and moods.

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In this photo I am wearing a jacket that my mother in law has given to me. A couple of years ago I was interviewed by the Danish slow fashion magazine Less Magazine about personal stories behind my favourite garments, and I chose this jacket as an example of a piece of clothing that holds both sentimental and aesthetic value. I said:

“My mother in law, who is this cool Israeli woman, gave me this jacket. It was her mother’s, and it was bought in Russia in the 1920’s. What I particularly love about the jacket is that it is “charged” with so much time and so many stories! I also really like the way it feels to wear it; it is a little bit heavy, and the material is quite stiff, so it really feels like putting on a piece of important history in a “power wear” kind of way. The look of the jacket is also a very important part of why this jacket is important to me; I like that it is a little bit boho, and I really like the colour combination and the way the handmade embroidery combines with the black velvet.” 

The connection I feel with this jacket actually sums up the dimensions of aesthetic sustainability that, so to speak, exceed emotional durability pretty well. The value of aesthetic sustainability is similar to sentimental value: feelings are involved in the bond that takes shape between the aesthetically sustainable thing and the user. However, aesthetic sustainability is conditioned by expressive durability.
With respect to this jacket the aesthetic value manifests in the material qualities (the “stiffness” and heaviness of the jacket as well as the feel of the of velvet in combination with the texture of the embroidery), the colour combination and the identity providing quality of the “boho-look”.
Of course, even if the jacket’s aesthetics didn’t appeal to me, and even if the materials and colours didn’t nourish me I would still keep it and make sure that it was stored well, for the sole reason that it was given to me by my mother in law and due to the family-history that the jacket contains. But, I wouldn’t wear it; it wouldn’t be a garment that could satisfy me and nourish me. It would solely be kept because of its emotional value.
In other words; even if the jacket wasn’t charged with my family’s history, I would still be attracted to it, due to its aesthetic and sensuous qualities. The fact that the jacket is infused with history and time is of course an important part of why is has value, but the time that it is charged with adds value even if the stories and the hands behind it were unknown. It is obvious, due to the handmade details and the carefully chosen dusty purple lining material that a lot of time has been put into it. And the time of becoming, which is, in short, the time that is put into the making of an object is an important term in relation to aesthetically sustainable value.
Emotional value only leads to the kind of sustainable behaviour that can limit over-consumption; i.e. frequent usage and continuous appreciation, if it is combined with aesthetic value.

 

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