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  • Writer's pictureErica DeMatos

Is Deconstruction Creation?

On deconstruction, Kristeva, and Margiela.


The allure of elegance on the runway — graced by simplicity, models sashaying in slow two-step — might sound fashionable and enticing, but it’s often intentionally misleading. This tactic is often twofold: the clothing, or lack thereof, is making a statement; the designer convinces us of its importance by taking it away. The deconstruction of these pieces also implies an innate godliness about the designs and their creator: out of nothing is born a beautiful collection, the clothes becoming secondary to the notion of “creativity” that precedes them down the runway. Just as awe-inspiring and magical as its initial production can its destruction be. Perhaps laziness is being confused for minimalism; perhaps brands want to exhibit their consciousness about the materialism of the fashion world and are executing it in the wrong manner. In many ways, this practice is a case of soft-core rebellion; presenting beautiful garments that nobody in the audience can feel or access. 

As mentioned previously, there is an innate godliness about design. The process of ideating a piece and then bringing it to life is a certain illusive birth; born out of nothing is a new, creative production, designed in the hopes to live on and be worn forever. The degradation and dissolution of a runway look, in turn revealing less than what was originally presented, conflicts with the notion of a new collection. Why allow audiences to view the material if it is going to be taken away in front of their eyes? Perhaps ego is of considerable importance; in order to avoid ego death, the designer instead simulates a clothing funeral on the runway. 

Conflict with the object world comes when one has a preoccupation with the self — there is a mistake in dismissing the importance of timelessness when evaluating elegant and classic collections of decades past that have remained relevant. John Galliano spearheaded Dior as creative director from 1996 until 2011 and produced many controversial yet classic collections to be remembered for years to come. Take Dior’s F/W 2000 show, for example: an avant-garde interpretation of royal opulence, complete with the ghost of Marie Antoinette headed down the runway. Galliano combined fetish and faith whilst maintaining the integrity of the fashion house’s claim to fame; structured evening gowns were complemented by an overabundance of religion and Renaissance references. The collection’s cohesive yet shocking homage to Rococo regality delivered both entertainment and fashion — reason enough as to why it has been preserved in modern memory for over twenty years.  

Taking scissors to a pair of denim jeans that are headed down the runway results in messy craftsmanship and illuminates a spotlight on the person holding the bottoms of the newly-hemmed shorts. Similarly, an unfinished piece that is presented to an audience as such suggests a carelessness and egoism about the designer and their brand. It would seem as though there is little consideration for what contributes towards the preservation of a thing in today’s culture of immediacy; legacy should not be granted to someone or something merely because they obtain the power to threaten taking something away.

Julia Kristeva discusses the perverse in opposition to art in Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, a theme that fittingly coincides with the idea that the destruction of fashion is often not uniquely creative in nature:

“The abject is perverse because it neither gives up nor assumes a prohibition, a rule, or a law; but turns them aside, misleads, corrupts; uses them, takes advantage of them, the better to deny them. It kills in the name of life- a progressive despot it lives at the behest of death- an operator in genetic experimentations; it curbs the other’s suffering for its own profit- a cynic (and a psychoanalyst); it establishes narcissistic power while pretending to reveal the abyss- an artist who practices his art as a ‘business’. Corruption is its most common, most obvious appearance.” 

While clothing does not contain elements of morality, it is certainly capable of being destroyed in experimentation; pieces are “kill[ed] in the name of life” and absolved of any artistic integrity in order to present something anew. But if the newly destroyed piece is devoid of material, is it providing new life to an idea? Or is it the death of what once existed and no longer does that matters more? Regardless of the answer, we see the corruption of creativity before our very eyes — designers and creative directors exhibiting power and establishing modernity.

In the autumn of 1989, Maison Margiela publicly showcased a collection on the runway that shifted the attitude toward fashion exhibitions. Margiela’s intertwining of creation and experience resulted in an engaging show for its audience, who gathered in Paris’ 20th arrondissement, a North African neighborhood. The designer considered the setting and the culture, sending children running ahead of the models, who tripped down the uneven so-called catwalk built upon a dirtied street. Descent from anticipated values of order and cleanliness resulted in a new, undone nature. Dresses fell down the backs of models, who smoked cigarettes, had rollers in their hair, and were blinded by ski masks. Margiela’s S/S 1989 collection is one of intentional chaos and disarray, with the clothes’ undone nature contributing to the overall bedlam tone of the show. This collection has been remembered as a successful iteration of deconstruction — because it marked the beginning of a new era of minimalistic fashion during the 1990s. 

Another use of degradation to reveal a runway collection occurred during 2016, when designer Hussein Chalayan utilized natural elements to erode his presentation. Water cascaded down the garments, taking with it the soluble material that disguised his designs. Chalayan created a cohesive and immersive experience, relating the designs to the destruction that preceded them. In that, dissection for the sake of artistic integrity actually adds to a showcase in pursuit of revelation.

The subversion of this preoccupation with ego, however, can be seen in Coperni’s instantly-viral S/S 2023 show, in which a team of spray painters created a dress on Bella Hadid’s body as she walked the runway. Instead of destruction, the show emphasized creation. A religious experience was created for the audience, who witnessed nothing — just vapor — slowly turn into a piece of clothing, molded fittingly to Hadid’s body and ready for consumption.

Through these demonstrations over the years, critics and audiences alike have seen the exaltation of designer and the decay of design’s integrity. There is no orthodox form of fashion philosophy, but any deviation from what is expected should deliver more, not less — not to be confused with minimalism. A fashion house’s inability to distance themselves from the perception of the idea of art will prohibit them from being able to actually create art that is interesting and hopeful. Clothing is an articulation of the unconscious through demonstration, or “energy that is transformed into meaning,” as Freud might attempt to explain the importance of externalizing thought. Physicality is essential to making someone else believe in your idea, — providing proof of existence and giving body to an idea that can live on forever. It is the only way runway performance can continue to innovate. 🌀


Erica DeMatos is a writer, editor, and student based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Find her on social media at @erica_dematos.


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