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Posts Tagged ‘Zen fashion’

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At an exercise class a couple of weeks ago I saw a woman wearing a shirt with this slogan, which inspired me to look it up online. This design comes from the apparel company Chin Up, but there are many more versions. Some posters with this slogan clarify it by adding a list of things to be dropped: regrets, resentments, doubts, worries, stress, fears. Some versions include an image of someone doing yoga (which is not actually the same thing as Zen):

Then there are the versions that insert some kind of Buddhist imagery, such as a silhouette of the meditating Buddha, a lotus flower, or the ensō (circle):

These “drop and give me Zen” products coalesce around wellness, the recent buzzword that encompasses physical, mental, and spiritual health. Most shirts with this slogan are marketed as workout gear, and of course the slogan itself plays off the familiar phrase “drop and give me ten,” which is usually associated with drill sergeants, coaches, and sadistic gym teachers. By changing “ten” to “Zen,” the slogan replaces push-ups or sit-ups with something vaguely spiritual and detached, but still focused. The common conflation of Zen and yoga reflects this vagueness about where these practices come from and what they involve. They’re both seen as Eastern in a nonspecific way that encompasses calmness, intentional breathing, and spirituality. The view that athletes adopt Zen-like concentration while competing also informs the slogan’s connection of Zen with athleticism.

While the array of products with this slogan includes mugs, posters, and magnets, by far the most common kind of consumer good is apparel. A shirt emblazoned with “drop and give me Zen” presents the wearer as someone who cares about wellness in all its forms, using Zen to confer an aura of spirituality on what would otherwise be standard workout gear. To use Chin Up’s line of slogan-sporting workout tops, “drop and give me Zen” is a different message than “shopping is my favorite cardio” or “run like zombies are chasing you.”

As with other Zen products, this shirt constitutes the ever-increasing inflation of Zen in American pop culture. Whereas Zen once had stronger ties to minimalist aesthetics and cosmopolitan sophistication (though still as a commodity), it is becoming a brand accessible to more and more Americans.

 

 

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Viktor and Rolf

The Daily Beast published a story last week about the return of the Dutch designer duo Viktor & Rolf to couture fashion after a 13-year hiatus. The story, “Viktor & Rolf’s Return to Couture for Fall 2013: Going Zen,” focuses on their couture show in Paris on July 3, 2013, which had the models walk through raked sand beds and strike rock-like poses on the ground. In an interview the designers themselves named Kyoto’s Ryoanji as their inspiration, unsurprising considering that its rock garden is the best known of the so-called “Zen gardens.”

While a Google search for Zen fashion yields thousands of results that use “Zen” without any reference to its historical meaning, the Viktor & Rolf show interprets Zen fairly literally. This is most apparent in the “Zen garden” aesthetic, but the designers continued the theme of minimalism in the clothes themselves, which were all black, asymmetrical, and played with volume and proportions. Their equation of Zen, Japan, nature, and minimalism undergirds the aestheticization of Zen that we see in all the “Zen and the Art of…” books, and other products that promise the aura of sophistication and exoticism.

As a couture collection, this show is not for sale in the same way the designers’ ready-to-wear collection would be. Designers present couture as their high art, sewn by hand, with no two pieces the same. Women’s Wear Daily reports that an unnamed art collector already bought several pieces from Viktor & Rolf’s 2013 collection. However, designers translate themes and elements from couture shows in their ready-to-wear collections, which are mass produced and sold in retail establishments. This means that couture lines are not separate from the business of fashion, and Viktor & Rolf’s Zen couture can serve as an aspirational example that trickles down into more wearable and affordable pieces.

Especially given its connection to commerce, “Zen fashion” might strike some as frivolous, a cheapening of authentic spiritual experience. Such a view rests on the idea that Zen is essentially an interior space of mindfulness and contemplation and does not concern materiality or even ritual. One of the questions Viktor & Rolf’s collection can raise is whether Zen fashion finds historical precedent in Zen practices: after all, monks and nuns wear robes that reflect status distinctions. Robert Buswell, in his account of Korean Sŏn (Zen) monastic life, writes of monks sewing patches on their robes to make them look older, and thus enhance their ascetic reputation, which is another form of aspiration.

Monk Meditating at a Rock Garden

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