Sanctified: Fashion, Fame & the Everlasting

Above the new brand materials for Saint Laurent

During Summer 2012, a subtle shift was made to France’s most significant fashion label. Just a few years after the designer’s passing, Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) has been renamed Saint Laurent.  Born with the last name Mathieu-Saint-Laurent, Yves Saint Laurent was fashion’s golden child, but refining his name to Saint Laurent is a revealing moment of truth. The change was made by new designer, Hedi Slimane, who cites it as a simple reference to a YSL sub-label of the 60s, Saint Laurent Rive Gauche. Opposition to the name change has followed however, as there is an obvious second sense of cultural sanctification.

Saint Laurent represents an intersection of fashion and celebrity icon. Fashion is driven by constant change. There are however also fixed codes, classic clothing forms and notable brands that appear more lasting in status. Celebrity, in a similar sense, is celebration of a persona du jour who can, in time, become a fixed identity or icon. We can also observe the same process in art, where the subjective value of an artist’s work can turn blue chip. There are numerous other examples from sports stars and luxury brands where with time, some person or thing is “set apart as holy” or sanctified. Indeed like Saint Laurent, these people and things can seem rightfully special with talent or craftsmanship. But unlike prior eras when religious sanctification was based on virtue, or secular honor based on lifesaving contributions, postmodern sanctification is extended to stars of the culture industry, esteemed largely for magnetic media presence, brand power and vain glory.

The crux of postmodern sanctification is the aim to fix meaning.  In a postmodern world of subjective meanings, we take pleasure in superstar identities and brands that appear consistently strong. The process of “transformation of the commonplace,” as Danto so well expressed, is a mystification of the everyday. We first give value to things in their moment, allowing them a valid presence. But then we invest in their meanings and venerate them beyond their moments. The process of ongoing veneration is what sustains the meaning of fashion brands, celebrity publicity and the world of art and luxury. For without continued mystification, these objects of veneration are everyday things. Talented individuals and exceptional objects do exist everyday, but when we fix them as frozen images of greatness we enter an entrapment of veneration. It is often not the great thing, or its intrinsic value, that poses any problem, but aiming to give it a fixed eternal greatness above all other things.

Saints are most generally understood as people in Christ who are honored above others. In scripture there is only one saint identified, Aaron (Pslams 106:16-18). Beginning in the 10th century, the Catholic Church began to canonize martyrs and exceptional Christians.  Interestingly there was no St. Laurent until in 1984 when a priest of the French Revolution was recognized, meaning the origin of designer St. Laurent’s name is undetermined. Jean Calvin opposed Catholic veneration of sanctified icons, though his most debated concept is “perseverance of the saints.” The phrase refers to saints as simply Christians but the debate is about fixed salvation, or once saved always saved. Here we uncover the same hope in venerating iconic fashion labels, celebrities, art and luxury as fixed values. But in the case of Calvin, he deems that only God’s grace alone has eternal value. Postmodern cultural sanctification reveals that we desperately want to enjoy everlasting people and things but rather than see them as absolutes we can see them as openings, temporal glimpses of the source of all meaning.

In Revelation 22, John meets an angle of God. He falls down before the angel in total humility: “I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel …but he said to me, ‘Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!’” In a world monopolized by angelic icons demanding our glances, and ultimately our continuing veneration, scripture reveals that even an angel is not worthy of our submission. In honoring we uphold status, in upholding status we submit to a power greater than ourselves but less than the everlasting power that ultimately deserves our veneration. For by grace “we know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and there is no God but one.” (1 Corinthians 8:4)

Rachel K. Ward is author of All for Nothing (Atropos, 2010). Visit her daily blog here and follow at Twitter here.


Rachel K. Ward :
  • geoffh


    Great post. Thanks for you thoughts on how our longing for transcendence is expressed (or perhaps captured) within the culture industry and the icons within them.