The Phylogenetics of Fashion - a coded approach to evolution
We should explore the dissemination and mutations of fashion not through the study of “great designers” or “geniuses”, as this would represent a level of “intelligent design”. Rather, fashion should be understood from a evolutionary perspective, as a form of virus on our minds, a germ of innovation and imitation, a meme of style. We should study fashion through molecular sequencing data, cuts, drapes and brands (genotypes) or through morphological data matrices, style characteristics, niches within fashion ecologies, the taxonomy and identification of dress “codes” (phenotype). Approaching fashion from phylogenetics would be similar to the use of “codes” to understand DNA. The recombination of adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T) codes generate endless data for DNA. Fashion is not less complex. But complexity does not necessarily emerge from an intelligent designer.
New designs, mutations, or “mutagenesis” is where new forms arise from copying errors or hybrid symbiotic couplings in the fashion nucleotide sequence or the genotype of dress. Transmutatation, or “innovation” as sociologist Gabriel Tarde would call this cross-breed of imitations, is a moment of intensity and vibration at the root of transformative processes. The “new” is a particle collision between transferable coded elements generating an energizing spark of difference - when a charged pulse of energy is released.
The greater the difference, the stronger signal, the more “radical” fashion.
To be slightly provocative, one can say innovation is a mutagenesis, a natural process, devoid of any form “intelligence”.
This germinal life of intensity, identified by Tarde in every social setting, is the source of all changes and all fashions, but when it is accumulated, still or inbread, it loses its vibration and becomes dead capital, pure repetition, pure imitation. A fashion that has lost its luster.
Nevertheless, as Tarde points out, paradoxically fashion needs imitation to exist:
The evolutionary germlines of fashion are trapped between pure repetition, endurance and continuous cloing on the one hand, and on the other, pure vibration, potential, innovation, and mutation. From an evolutionary perspective, they exist, survive and evolve without divine intervention.
Fashion has no “innovators”, it has no “system”. All fashion is a contagion, a pestilence, a viral transmission. Fashion is a germ capital itself. It has a life of its own, parallel to human life. We are the vectors of fashion.
Now mutated with plasmids of globalization, Asian Sweatshops and ever-faster cycles, and merged with our relentless struggle for change, fashion can be a deadly viral infection for our planet.
(Tract made for Lisa-Anne Auerbach's Darwin-themed Tract House)