The Man with a Secret. Fashioning the ‘Camp’ Superman Body

Central Saint Martins: MA Dissertation Extract 2020 

By Zara Korutz

Superman, like Andy Warhol, represents a manifestation of Pop-culture which provides a window into social attitudes and beliefs. The Warhol philosophy of egalitarian art, reflected in Pop-culture, blends cultural boundaries which creates an environment whereby entry to participation is easy with sense of belonging that is high. Through the lens of Fashion Critical Studies, this project is connected to ‘Camp’ and Pop-culture with threads of debate related to masculinity and queerness which is revealed in the complexity of Superman’s fashioned body. 

‘Camp’ can be considered, if you will, the use of stylised material objects in fashion used to create a safe physical fantasy space that is an aesthetic system birthed out of survival against the perils of hegemonic masculinity. Pragmatically, recovery and healing is moving towards pleasure and away from pain. ‘Camp’ is a way of listening to that flow of energy—without reservation and with confidence and security. In this sense, fashion holds the power to transform, shape identity, and be a shield that can protect and heal. 

Fashion can break down walls and transcend worlds through a universal shared language of fantasy and play. By letting go of reality, audiences connect to a belief system which allows pleasure in the ordinary to be transformed into the extraordinary— which is why Superman holds so much cultural power.

Our Unity is the Power to Transform

The avant-garde merit of a women’s beauty honours her intelligence, compassion, and self-assurance.  Notably we see this shift in beauty standards communicated on the June cover of British Vogue with the debut of the oldest Vogue ‘cover girl’ with 85-year old Dame Judi Dench (a record previously held by Vogue Italia with 73-year old Lauren Hutton), – A statement that defies the false notion that beauty is reserved for the young. 

Transformation requires honesty and vision–so, we look to artists for inspiration.  According to The Complete Artists Way “Artists are visionaries…Seeing clearly and moving toward a creative goal that shimmers in the distance—often visible to us, but invisible to those around us.  It is our work that creates the market, not the market that creates our work.” 


This notion of market impact by artists is particularly true when it comes to fashion creatives who communicate what the rest of the world is trying to say, but with faster speed. There has been a lot of recent talk from fashion on post-pandemic fundamental business shifts. However, now is the time for fashion action– a redesign of the future by going back to their creative roots and owning their role by engaging creative talent that moves society forward with magnanimous change that promotes ethics over profits. 

In societies where economic and political systems are made of privately-owned industries, for-profit focused business practices can be legal yet unethical where the means often justifies the end with layers of policies that give the appearance of ethics with practices that are not genuinely equitable.  Industry secrets often don’t protect sustainability, profit equitability and production quality. According to The Fashion Transparency Index 2020 , the average transparency score across 250 brands is 23% with Tom Ford at the bottom of the list. 

There is no fashion greeting committee that ushers you into a chiffon filled magical world—that experience is reserved for the privileged few who are considered deserving enough to belong.  Perhaps, the new role for fashion gatekeepers should be seen as industry ambassadors with the focus on bringing people together rather than keeping people apart.  The antidote to a closed culture is its democratization—And for fashion, that means fashion belongs to the people who wear it instead of the powers who control it.  

A personal relationship to fashion does not require permission from any fashion authority. Fashion can be seen as frivolous, but it is not trite when you acknowledge its power to not only impact happiness, joy and self-acceptance, but to also tackle humanitarian issues.  

I’m not a doormat, I’m a feminist.

Dior T-shirt A/W19 Collection Photo: Daily Mirror

As pandemic re-opening strategies roll out, anxiously we move past the trauma and reemerge as survivors with the hope of higher consciousness for a better future. The dominant narrative over the past two months has been centered around the importance of reemerging through the crisis with deeper values followed by transformed behavior.   

In an open letter, a collective of global fashion leaders said, “We agree that the current environment although challenging, presents an opportunity for a fundamental and welcome change that will simplify our business, making them more environmentally and socially sustainable and ultimately align them more closely with customers’ needs.”   What the letter did not specifically address is equitable values based in diversity and inclusion for all humans regardless of gender, sex, race, ethnicity, age, and size. 

According to the December 2019 S&P 500 list, women currently hold 29 (5.8%) of CEO positions at those S&P 500 companies.  This same inequality can be seen in the fashion industry with the lack of women artistic directors, CEOs, executives and board of directors.   In July 2016, Maria Grazia Chiuri arrived at the house of Dior as the first woman artistic director in its 70-year history. Since then, Maria has been using her platform to preach feminism in her collections and on the runway–as seen with her famous feminism themed t-shirts.  So what is feminism anyway?

Socialist and French philosopher Charles Fourier coined the word “Feminism” in 1837. As a movement, it is a collective of people who fight for gender equality on many women’s issues that include reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, and support women in oppressed societies. Feminism philosophy, at its core, holds a belief of fairness between the sexes. The movement, often described as having ‘waves’, believes that all women have rights and a voice to be heard; a sisterhood, celebrating individual differences as a collective power. The new wave is called social justice feminism– a focus on change for all who are oppressed including women of colour, poor women, and queer and transgender women. 

The notoriously outspoken late British writer Dame Rebecca West said, “I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” I suppose one could say that anyone who fights for a social justice cause can be seen as difficult or aggressive since by its nature is a visible display or protest that typically involves a collective voice loudly demanding change. There is power in community. 

While feminists were busy fighting for basic women’s rights, like voting, over the past century, western world fashion editors were standardising young, white, thin, women as the epitome of beauty.  This marginalized view was commercialized by the idea that a woman’s value comes from her sexualized desirability- a dangerous objectification that diminishes the power of a woman’s voice. The new zenith of beauty honours a woman’s intelligence, compassion, self-assurance, and celebrates the power of her voice over her sex appeal. 

Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, says, “You have to use your privilege to serve other people.” As a world, justice is still a fight for many people of a certain gender, sex, race, ethnicity, age, and size. I’m with Maria Grazia Chiuri, may we all be feminists. Our unity is our power to transform-women’s rights and gender justice belongs everywhere including fashion!

Using Format