May 6, 2011
shopping nina
Two Women Shopping in New York City, Photo by Rob Lang, 2008 (source)
Nina Ricci’s New Label, Paris, 2011 (source)


Following her first marriage and first divorce, and in an attempt to show her acquaintances that she was ‘doing alright’, my grandmother would sew designer labels into her generic clothing. There is a beige trench coat that hangs in her closet. Opening it wide, you can see a silky square tag, stitched in with amateurish and uneven strokes. It says, ‘Bergdorf Goodman’.



We clambered out of dresses and skirts in rooms full of women all doing that same thing—rustling through racks of patterns and textures, grabbing things, calculating discounts. These sales are mostly held in warehouse spaces, in empty and cavernous halls in which mirrors have been placed and tables positioned. We were chaperoned by a few, by people who guarded the doors and the dressing rooms and attempted to impose order and manage the sloppiness that materialism and desperation seemed to inspire in otherwise tidy women.


The stock sale’s relatively reasonable prices begin to suggest an easy access to designer clothing otherwise inaccessible but for the few. The warehouses that hold the clothing are big and spare and without elegant lighting or paneled fitting rooms. They evoke the factory—the place of production—and imply a pared down version of a world usually rarefied and ornate. Rejecting the boutique’s preciousness and the department store’s attempts at the cosmopolitan, these warehouses represent a different vision of retail, one suffused with gritty cool and the thrill of disorder. Important here, though, is one distinction. The items that burden the racks that line the walls are, implicitly, unrelated to the mode of factory production responsible for lower-end garments.


Whatever democratic mood is evoked by the industrial spaces of the seasonal warehouse sale is farcical. The pursuit of good prices, slashed but still outrageous, function as sport for those in the know, offering not only the consolation of the periodic bargain but also a social event, something to anticipate, entertainment, those days when women grab and dig. You are privileged to know about it.


Rachel Engler


‘One of the first changes I made, as soon as I arrived, was to the label on the clothes. I added the address…’


—Peter Copping, The New York Times, March 4, 2011



Associating a brand with a particular place is an established practice in the fashion industry. From cities, to neighborhoods, to streets: Chanel is tied to Paris, Yves St. Laurent to the Left Bank (Rive Guache) and Nina Ricci to Avenue Montaigne. These relationships with a specific locale are usually established through a company’s promotional material which may feature images of urban landmarks or citations of city names and addresses.


Some designers, such as Dries van Noten, take a more subtle approach to generating associations with particular environments. With no photographic or written references, the patterns of his textiles, with their nods to silks from Asia, printing processes from Africa, weaving methods from the Middle East and so on, take their wearers all over the world.


An even more abstract tier of signifiers are evoked by designers like Comme des Garçons and Martin Margiela through a barrage of techniques, such as ripping and employing dubious amounts of black, to connote ‘the street’.


A label’s ubiquitous allusions to place may, in part, be associations formulated as tributes to a muse. But more significantly, they may be presented with the intention of providing a distinct lifestyle narrative, helping shoppers to connect with the atmosphere an item seeks to create, regardless of what new context it is placed in.


Erandi de Silva



2 Responses to “LABEL”

  • Rachel says:


    It is strange how the patterns at Dries van Noten become an alternative residue of Belgian colonial history. The European dip into Africa is neutralized by the colorful blouse. And how then, women in places once colonies, rich women, say, in wealthy Asian cities, rely on the geography of the colonizer (the Parisian address) to certify and authenticate their designer purchases.

  • Kari Rittenbach says:


    “Authenticate”—in all its nuances. The address on the label becomes a remainder of geography; an item “Made in France” qualifies as such if something like a minimum of 20% of its production (i.e. finishing) takes place there.



    « previous post

    next post »