Coat of Theseus
Daphne Mohajer va Pesaran + Jake Nakashima-Edwards, RMIT University
This project asks where and when the value in a garment is produced—is it located in the materials, or in the branding? As a garment ages, changes, is repaired and parts of it replaced, does it increase or decrease in value?
This project considers the mass-production of fashion apparel products. The surplus of garments resulting from this system is affected by a common practice in garment design which enables the consumer to ignore the product lifecycle and focus attention on constantly-regenerating aesthetic expressions. This aesthetic regeneration is a kind of game of archival cultural references in which some key elements of design (fit, materiality, colour, silhouette) take turns becoming prominent and receding.
Constant newness, with no regard for where materials are extracted or processed, and where the disused garments travel to after ownership is ceded, is a core mechanism of the fashion industry. The consumer’s desire for newness in recent times has been satisfied by brands offering new products at a regular frequency. Lifelong ownership and repair are not readily available options for consumers. However, this project proposes a speculative system for garment design and use that enables consumers to disrupt the regeneration of garments—not only aesthetically, but materially.
The idea for this system is based on a thought experiment proposed in antiquity called The Ship of Theseus, which is very useful for cracking open the possibilities for this proposition to be critical and engaging with timely and important notions of sustainability and individual identity expressed through fashion.
The Ship of Theseus is a thought experiment explored by Greek philosopher Heraclitus around 400- 500 b.c. In this experiment, the ship that carried Theseus to the battlefield is preserved in a museum and the planks of the ship start to rot. The rotting planks are replaced with new, yet identical planks. If this process continued for another hundred years and at some point all of the original planks had been replaced, would the ship still be the one that carried Theseus? The proposition is to produce a wardrobe for Theseus. What stays the same in a coat that has been repaired so many times that it no longer retains any of its original fabric or thread? The silhouette, the size, the length of its sleeves and hems? What about the archetype, colour, texture, or print? If the garment survives for a hundred years, are the lapels narrowed and widened, are there trims or lace or feathers added to reflect the fashions of the day?
This prototype series could open lines of enquiry into how fashion consumers engage with authenticity, identity, value and long time. Can we design a garment for a hundred years?
Daphne Mohajer va Pesaran_ (PhD) is a fashion lecturer, researcher and designer. She is interested in what materials and relationships can emerge in communities of human and nonhuman people. www.d-mvp.com.
Jake Nakashima-Edwards_ is a fashion designer based in Naarm (Melbourne), Australia. He daydreams of new worlds and the clothes he would make in them.
Image: A new Theseus Coat. Japanese washi paper made in Kurotani, Kyoto, silk, and rayon.