Attire de Courage

Romana Drdová, Tomáš Roubal, Tadeáš Podracký, Liao Jiaming, Nerdy Alan, Neuronprolapse, Lukáš Likavčan Curated by Richard Bakeš & Romana Drdová 12. 6. 2024 – 15. 6. 2024

Romana Drdová:
Hey Lukáš,
I’m opening a dialogue about the Attire de Courage exhibition…
I’d like to start a discussion with you about your views on fashion. I thought of structuring our dialogue like a play that spans several years, evolving into something like absurd theater. Do you remember when we sat on that bench during the pandemic and talked about how fashion and style are changing? I happened to record our conversation from February 24, 2021, and here’s a snippet:
You talked about a modern survivalist pragmatism, where survival is key for everyone. I asked how clothing can help us with that, and you replied: “Well, by creating a sense of safety. Like the general gesture we see in the trend of buying SUVs that are inspired by military jeeps with their high ground clearance and bumpers. These cars say something different from how they are actually used. They’re like social tanks…”
I then asked you if you think people can have this sense of safety even when they buy a coat from Balenciaga. You replied: “Yes, because gear has become a type of fashion fetish. People started wearing North Face, Rains, et cetera, which is part of this securitization and the new ideal of individuality that emphasizes physicality—physical fitness. It’s about securing the individual—not economically, but by being in a constant state of readiness.”
Take care,

Lukáš Likavčan:
May 18, 2024
Hi Romana,
Thank you so much for starting this dialogue!
For me, thinking about fashion today primarily means thinking about climate adaptation. Fashion (and clothing in general, including wearables like smartwatches, glasses, compasses…) is the primary layer separating the body from the environment. In a sense, fashion is about constantly negotiating between the outside and the inside—it’s a tool for regulating the materials, energy, and information flowing through the organism. Fashion philosophy has long focused primarily on the symbolic aspect of fashion: for example, for Barthes, fashion is mainly a semiotic field. For me, a broader metabolic perspective is important, wherein clothing represents a shell for the vulnerable body. That’s why I find the title Attire de Courage so fitting—it expresses precisely this “immunizing” function of fashion as a mediator between the planetary exterior and the biological interior. I don’t want to exclude the symbolic dimension of fashion from the debate but rather to contextualize it within a broader framework. For instance, when you look at the new collection from Balenciaga, for me it’s a perfect triumph of the symbolic, and therein lies its failure—it is fashion gutted by the visual logic of social media.
Greetings from Shanghai,

RD: Thank you for your lovely response. Where do you think this is all headed? I mean in terms of the evolution of shells, bodies, and the fashion industry in general?
LL: One trend is already quite clear—the normalization of “techwear.” What started as the incursion of some outdoor brands into the world of high fashion continues today in the form of the “outdoorization” of clothing aesthetics. Or take Lululemon—it’s a relatively old brand, but honestly, the best shirt I’ve ever bought is from them because it stays relatively dry even in the heat of a Shanghai summer. Other trends are less clear. What about the deeper integration of clothing and biology? Will we one day wear synthetically grown living clothing? And how will the architecture of cities influence what we wear? Just as urban outdoor wear can be seen as an adaptation to changing urban climates, in the future we will have to think more about how to protect against heat and UV radiation in overheated concrete jungles. In Shanghai, I’ve encountered another problem—the aerodynamics of the streets. In new developments full of tall, isolated skyscrapers, it’s so windy that I have to wear windbreaker jackets even when it’s nearly 30°C.

What trends do you see, Romana? I’m very interested in your perspective—you live and breathe fashion.
RD: I see it more emotionally because fashion—and self-expression through it—is like a lifelong relationship with a certain magic that happens for me, from finding and choosing the fabric to sewing something that starts as a feeling or just a note or photo and then becomes a tangible piece of clothing. I actually love when the randomness of what I’ll wear occurs, even to the point of the item’s disintegration. I align with Vivienne Westwood on this, who said that without your own creativity and education, you have no personal style. And that’s something I feel the lack of, and I notice it increasingly on the streets—it makes me laugh sometimes. From young people to older generations, everyone looks like they were made by the same company, the same cut of pants, the same hairstyles, the same jackets, the same nails…

When thinking about trends, I might scrap the whole concept. I’ve always seen them as artificial guidelines, and I don’t want to be bound by anything. For me, nudity is also a costume, and in considering what’s happening in society today, I appreciate what happened in the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s. For fashion to work for me, it needs life and real sexuality—an erotic self—no trend can cover up the fact that we are animals with instincts and needs that society suppresses. I want a world where everyone truly wears and shows who they are inside—like you said, a dialogue between external and internal identity. Then we might see people on the streets naked or dressed as pirates, woolies, fairies, in leopard print or BDSM outfits, and it would all be fine because we’d respect each other.
How do you relate to that? It’s a utopia, right, but I’m sad and tired of reality, so I retreat into my own worlds as a survivalist tactic…

LL: I understand you, and I completely agree that the concept of trends should be set aside—it creates an invisible hierarchy between those who understand the trend and those who don’t. And besides, any successful trend eventually spills into mass production and becomes a normalized part of everyday dress (here in China, I can see this in an accelerated form).

At the same time, you speak about style, and style for me is something more than just a question of individuality. Style is an expression of relationships, tuning into the parameters of the environment, both materially and symbolically. Therefore, it seems our ideals differ slightly here—for you, the ideal is total transparency of the self through what someone wears. For me, it’s more about understanding dress as a line of negotiation. Who we are is created through the shells we wrap ourselves in; what we call the “self” is an infolding of the exterior. I remember when I first wore a faux fur coat in Prague a few years back—I was on the one hand happy to be myself because I had always wanted to try wearing something like that out among people, but on the other hand, there was a certain surprise about myself: in the act of dressing, I was discovering a new nuance of who I could be.

© Lukáš Likavčan © Romana Drdová

Photo: Tomáš Souček