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British Coffee Houses and Parisian Arcades Relationship to Architecture and Fashion

Info: 6717 words (27 pages) Dissertation
Published: 15th Feb 2022

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Tagged: ArchitectureFashion


Two founding myths of modernity, British Coffee houses and Parisian Arcades, have both been described as stages for the public display of private persons. The former was a “micro-stage where visitors could enact their chosen personalities”1 and the latter, a promenade for the bourgeoisie to “display itself to the world.”2  Central to these two spaces of appearance are two objects of inquiry: fashion and architecture. By forensically reconstructing these objects, these myths are put to the test. In the first, the egalitarian ideal claimed by the Coffee House is pitted against reality, where architecture and fashion conspire to produce new lines of exclusion. In the second, the aesthetic character of the Arcade as phantasmagoria is dissected, and again architecture and fashion are charged as conspirators in producing the politically debilitating dream state.

Coffee House interiors dissolved social hierarchies, leaving space for fashion to emerge as a primary vehicle of power. A study of 17th century British interiors crossed with a forensic reconstruction of coincident fashions reveals the transfer of power from space to fashion. This transfer of power led to fashion-based forms of exclusion. Literal lines of exclusion are identified in the silhouette of a cuff or an overcoat. It is in these “trivial” sartorial nuances that power embedded itself.

Arcade architecture and its coincident fashions both framed modernity in the images of earlier epochs. Arcades cited early eastern and classical architecture, while coincident fashions cited the Elizabethan age. At the same time, a number of technological innovations were emerging in architecture and fashion. These include gas lighting, iron construction, mechanical looms, and new sartorial forms. This coupling, of citation and innovation, past and future, represents the principal aesthetic quality of the phantasmagoria.  The phantasmagoria created a false sense of progress and consequentially hindered concerted political action.  A forensic reconstruction of arcade architecture and fashion unearths the material properties of these time-transcendent citations, premature innovations, and the phantasmagoria produced by their coupling.

While centering on the problematic, this thesis recognizes these relationships are dialectical, and exist as problem and potential.  In the Coffee House, potential laid in the new opportunity to make oneself uniquely visible in the public realm. In the Arcades the potential laid in their ability to reveal the inefficacies of the capitalist system, and paradoxically, provided the necessary shock to spark concerted political action.


Western democratic capitalism can trace its political and economic lineage to British Coffee Houses and Parisian Arcades—the two great founding myths of modernity. Both were early instances of private property commodified into public space, both were fueled by commodities, the coffee bean and textiles respectively. At the same time, Coffee Houses and Arcades were spaces of appearance. The space of appearance is a political space in which “I appear to others as others appear to me, not merely as living things or inanimate objects but to make appearance explicit.”1 Through these founding myths it is easy to see how capitalism and democracy were made so irrevocably entwined.

With the entwining of politics and economics in Coffee Houses and Arcades, it comes as little surprise that fashion would be central to both. Fashion is the paramount political-economic object. Fashion’s political function lies in its incredible revelatory potential, which brings identity to the surface making “appearance excplicit.”2 As an economic object, fashion’s ephemerality turns the cog of consumer capitalism.

Fashion’s centrality to these politically and economically entwined architectural types is then not surprising.  There are, however, gaps in the literature as to how fashion relates to these architectural typologies, empirically and theoretically. The gaps are certainly narrower in Arcades than they are in Coffee Houses after Benjamin dedicated an entire convolute to the sartorial in Passagenwerk. His chapter on fashion catalyzed a considerable body of scholarship on fashion in the Arcades, especially from fashion theorists. Expectedly, much of this scholarship just brushes the architectural in favour of the sartorial. This thesis ambitions a balanced analysis of the architectural and sartorial in both British Coffee Houses and Parisian Arcades.

Through a forensic reconstruction, this thesis brings the sartorial and architectural into the same space of analysis and under a consistent scale. In doing so, analysis of the architectural and sartorial is equalized. This thesis argues the modern urban environment, and public space more specifically, is as much influenced by the architectural as it is by the sartorial, especially when the two are imbricated.

By rebuilding the sartorial and architectural, imbrications are unearthed which either dismantle or corroborate public space theories like Habermas’s “Public Sphere” and Benjamin’s “Phantasmagoria”.  Architecture and fashion are both potent forces, and ones that have guided us to our current democratic capitalist model. Their centrality to the two great founding myths of modernity, British Coffee Houses and Parisian Arcades, proves their potency.

The primary findings of this research center on the architectural-sartorial relationship as it relates to public space of the 18th and 19th centuries. Secondary findings relate to the actual tools and processes used to pursue the primary findings.


Eyal Weisman’s Forensic Architecture based at Goldsmiths is the methodological precedent for this investigation.  Forensic architecture is the “production of architectural evidence” and its subsequent exhibition “in juridical and political forums.” Weizman’s work focuses on the extremes–on the human rights and environmental violations that leave their traces in the built and natural environments. Cases range from drone strikes in Gaza to the Grenfell Tower fire of 2017.

This thesis takes forensic architecture and applies it to the quotidian arenas of life rather than the extremes. In applying a rigour typically reserved for missile strikes, to benches, jacket cuffs, sconces and puffed sleeves, the unsung powers of the seemingly mundane emerges. Furthermore, this application brings the theoretical into an empirical space. This space is created by a number of visual effects and game industry tools that, I argue, should be added to the architectural toolkit. A pipeline of cloth solvers, rigging and skinning systems, and sculpting tools work to process and pipe sartorial and architectural data into a single analytical space.

The process begins with data collection. While Weizman’s data is collected from sources like the media and remote sensing technologies, data here is collected from museum databases, artistic recreations of domestic interiors, archival architecture drawings, 19th C. travelogues, and costume books.  Data collected also addresses various scales of the sartorial-architecture relationship, from the urban to the ornamental.

Architecture Pipeline

The architectural and sartorial data is then processed through appropriate pipelines. The architectural pipeline involves tracing archival drawings in 2D and extruding into 3D models. This is not new.  Additions to the conventional process came at the detail level, when reconstructing worn oak furniture in the Coffee House and friezes in the Arcades. These detail level reconstructions were accomplished using virtual sculpting tools.

A virtual sculpting tool is defined as a “computer modeling system in which the goals and techniques of traditional sculpting are emulated.”1 Virtual sculpting involves pushing and pulling vertices on polygonal meshes at various subdivision levels. Sculpting on a lower subdivision level works to acquire a general mass, while higher subdivision levels contain detail. Unlike nurbs modelling, which uses curves and surfaces, polygonal modelling works on vertices, lines and faces. Polygonal modelling is considered more intuitive than nurbs modelling but has higher memory requirements.2

The intuitive process is complemented by a pressure-sensitive pen user-interface, as opposed to more esoteric UIs of modelling tools like Grasshopper.  Polygonal models are sculpted to the desired level of detail and then baked into displacement maps for use in rendering engines like Redshift. Displacement maps store height information in pixels, that at render time, displace vertices on a tessellated mesh.  This “virtual sculpting” process was part of the sartorial pipeline, as discussed next.

Fashion Pipeline

The process for sartorial reconstruction was much more involved. It required the use of cloth solvers, rigging and skinning systems, as well as the aforementioned sculpting tools. First, a body was needed on which to model everything. My body was set as a constant datum from which I could measure the sartorial against.  The body is the fundamental common denominator of architecture and fashion. “Both building and clothes are a mediating layer between the body, the environment and others.”1 Three methods of translating the physical body into the digital were tested. These include photogrammetry and scratch modelling and 3D scanning. The latter permitted the optimal balance of accuracy and efficiency (figure 1.12). The resulting triangulated mesh was retopologized into quads to optimize cloth solving calculations later in the pipeline (figures 1.13 and 1.14).

Next, cylinders were modelled onto major body parts including the head, neck, limbs shoulders and torso (figure 1.15).  These will act as surfaces onto which the 2D garment meshes can be wrapped. Fashion patterns are then traced as 2D meshes (figure 1.16) and wrapped to appropriate cylinders (figure 1.17). A shirt front would be wrap to the front of the torso cylinder, a sleeve to the arm cylinder, and so on. Mesh edges are then “digitally sewn” using a cloth solver (figures 1.18, 1.19, 1.20). A cloth solver is a computational tool that takes a mesh surface and recreates and applies physical forces like gravity to it. Fabric properties can be defined in the cloth solver, so if the costume book specifies a piece should be stiffened, as was the case with many coats and waist coats, fabric properties could be adjusted to match. Finally, the digital sculpting processes discussed earlier was used to model sartorial detail such as embroidery or button holes (figure 1.22, 1.33).

Coffee House

The Coffee house represented the new social and political frame of the post-feudal world. Consumer revolutions in the 17th and 18th C., spawned by the transition from feudalism to capitalism, led to the expansion British foreign trade. A number of imperialist outfits were established, with the East India Trading Company (C. 1600) claiming majority control of Coffee imports by the early 18th C. The new public space was deeply indebted to the expansion of western capitalism and it colonialist practices.

Prior to mass consumption, coffee was consumed exclusively by a bourgeoisie circle known as the Virtuosi. Members of the virtuosi were tied by their preoccupation with the intellectual and exotic, coffee falling into the latter. The Virtuosi were the first and strongest promoters of coffee consumption. They were also absorbed in matters of taste and polite society. Being that their headquarters were the Coffee house, it is ironic that the Coffee House ideal claimed to disregard objects of taste, like fashion. Furthermore, coffees own function as a fashionable object–a novelty, often of exotic origins, that is first consumed by the upper classes and trickles to the lower–adds to this irony.

In 1665, the first British Coffee House opened in St. Michael’s Alley, Cornwall (see figure xx). While Viennese Coffee Houses predated 1665, the public sphere was limited to British Coffee Houses. In these early years the Virtuosi were the primary if not only patrons of the British Coffee House. As coffee imports increased, costs decreased until Coffee was accessible across all socio-economic classes. A mere penny for a cup meant lower classes could mingle with the upper and enjoy the exotic drink. This coincides with a multiplication of coffee houses from one in 1665 to 3000 in ______, when Coffee Houses reached their height.

Coffee’s pharmacological properties drastically differentiate this space from other like public spaces including taverns and pubs. For the first time, men could come together under sober conditions rather than the drunk and disorderly for which Taverns and Pubs were infamous.  While Taverns and pubs were a public space in operation long before the Coffee House, they could never have been the site for the deliberative democracy that unfurled in the Coffee House. Men congregating under sober conditions and with rational faculties was critical to the success of coffee houses as a political space. This level of sobriety also opened up perceptions of sartorial nuances that this thesis claims are of critical importance to the undermining of the public sphere.

The Coffee House, or public sphere as it is famed, fostered a deliberative democracy in which status was meant to be left at the door.  The only thing to be evaluated in political and philosophical debate was the strength of the argument, any indications of class were intentionally disregarded. Habermas first gave definition to the no hierarchal ambitions of the Coffee House in The Transformation of the Public Sphere. In it he writes, “The coffee house not merely made access to the relevant circles less formal and easier; it embraced the wider strata of the middle class, including craftsmen and shopkeepers. Ned Ward reports that the ‘wealthy shopkeeper’ visited the coffee house several times a day, this held true for the poor one as well.”1 In many ways the coffee house was spatially staged to be non-hierarchical. The illustration, titled “Interior of a Coffee House” (fig xx), was the spatial template for British Coffee Houses. While thousands of Coffee Houses existed in their Golden age between 1680 and 1730, this illustration is one of the few that exists. From the rarity of illustrations, we can deduce Coffee Houses were architecturally mundane, and not worthy of record. “Interior of a Coffee House” shows the coffee house was little more than a converted living room in a house.

When looking at the furnishings and spatial arrangement of the interior, we see the space is in agreement with a non-hierarchical objective. Two primary observations are made: the absence of chairs and the plainness in furnishing. Chairs have historically conditioned tendencies to set up hierarchies. Chairs, which only emerged in domestic settings at the beginning of the 17th century, were typically reserved for heads of the house with lesser ranks sitting at benches. The term “chairman” originates from this practice. Benches and settles being the only forms of seating in the coffee house provide spatial equality.

A nearly identical coffee house is illustrated in this image except for a chair. Under the power of the chair the coffee house degenerates into a mob. The power imbalance created by the chair has nullified the spatial equality, leaving the “chairman” with a face full of coffee. This illustration proves the power held in a single chair, and why it’s absence from the “Interior of a Coffee House” illustration is so important.

Secondly, there is an obvious plainness in furnishing, especially when contrasted against a fashionable living room of the same period. The contrasted living room is furnished in the William and Ashley style, popular during the late 17th C. William and Ashley furniture is characterized by high backs, and extensive turning–something more expensive woods like yew and walnut could better achieve. The absence of decorative woodwork in the coffee house suggests a less expensive oak furnishing.  Oval-topped gateleg tables were a signature of the William and Ashley style and a fashionable living space was typically outfitted with several smaller tables. Comparatively, the Coffee House is furnished by a limited number of trestle tables, which were utilitarian in their aesthetic. Further contributing to the richness of the “fashionable” living room are polished oak floors, carpets, sash windows and expensive artwork. The “coffee house interior” illustrates an absence of carpets and earlier casement windows instead of the new sash ones. The Coffee house would also have been furnished with a combination of high and low brow artwork as opposed to only expensive works. Plainness in furnishing decreases intimidation produced by luxury environments and their implicit accusations of socioeconomic trespassing. The lack of chairs and plainness in furnishing were clearly in alignment with the public sphere egalitarian ideal.

Understanding that power in the coffee house was not spatially contained, and in fact the space actively suppressed hierarchies, where was power embedded? While scholars like Richard Senet have commented on fashion’s insignificance to the public sphere, for others like Erin Mackie, fashions very triviality meant it could thrive as an unnoticed container for power in this seemingly power free zone. Erin writes: “Power embeds itself in those apparently non-political and nonideological arenas of everyday life that it represents as unexceptional, even trivial. Manner, taste and style, not despite of but by virtue of their status as mundane, even trivial arenas of activity, become all important avenues of control.” Power was then embedded in fashion.

The centrality of fashion to Coffee House society was clearest in a number of lifestyle magazines commonly read there. Lifestyle magazines exploded in popularity during the late 17th and 18th C. and the rise of the Coffee House was as much indebted to the news commodity as it was to the coffee bean. Lower classes who couldn’t afford a personal news subscription instead visited Coffee Houses which served news alongside coffee. Two of the more popular magazines, The Tatler and The Spectator, addressed literary and aesthetic issues emerging in modernity’s infancy.3 The bourgeois duo Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, under the pseudonym Mr. Bickerstaff, authored the magazines. As the arbiter of genteel manners and fashions, Bickerstaff set the course to securing a position in the now malleable social hierarchy. This course involved the abandon of falbala or duvilllier wigs, buckles, colourful fabrics, and pumps, for “men of sense would not impose such encumbrances on themselves.”5 While the magazines claimed to liberate men from the foolish distractions of fashionable life, they were effectively drawings lines of exclusion in the ideally egalitarian public sphere.

Fashion’s innate capacity to draw lines was first addressed by George Simmel in his aptly titled sartorial analysis, Fashion. “Fashion on the one hand signified union with those in the same class, the uniformity of the circle characterized by it, and uno actu, the exclusion of all other groups.”7 The upper classes are the first to pick up a new fashion, in an attempt to differentiate themselves from the lower class. New fashions are then immediately adopted by the lower class forcing the upper class to develop new fashions, increasing their distance from the lower. By this process it is easy to see how Coffee itself initially operated as fashion. Coffee, however, didn’t succumb to its inevitable demise as most fashions do when adopted by the lower classes and this is where it breaks from the fashion paradigm. The popularity of fashion-centric lifestyle magazines and the fashionable character of coffee, a primary catalyst for the public sphere, undermine the idea that status and those objects indicative of it could merely be ignored here.

Using a forensic reconstruction method sartorial lines of exclusion could be identified, shaking the foundations of Habermas’ Coffee House ideal. I by no means argue Habermas was wrong, for the ideal of the Coffee House was to disregard status. Decrees like “Rights of the Coffee House” institutionalized this ideal. I argue, along with Erin Mackie, that in reality there were sartorial lines of exclusion that undermined this ideal. It must be noted that, as the public sphere was male dominated, these lines only address exclusions among men. Sartorial reconstructions start in 1665, when the first coffee house opened, and continue until the 1780s, long after coffee houses fell from popularity.

Two primary findings came from this sartorial reconstruction: Firstly, clothes became more fitted. This can be seen when contrasting a stiffened coat skirt of 1690 with the relaxed and slimmer coats of the later 17th C. Secondly, cuff sizes decreased. These observations align with what fashion historians have termed “the great male renunciation”, a revolution in men’s fashion during the 18th century that saw the restraining of sartorial forms.

These lines represent the limits to inclusivity in the Coffee House. Lower classes unable to keep up with the latest fashions, fell outside of these lines and were excluded from effectively participating in political debate. Besides the lower classes, Mollies were also excluded by these sartorial lines. The molly was an 18th C. term for queer men who preferred to dress in the fashion with frills, laces, large cuffs and wide coat skirts.  Instead, Mollies frequented molly clubs, a London counter public where these lines of exclusion didn’t exist. While there were no explicit rules barring the lower classes, or those dressing in alternative fashion, their voices would be heard as irrational, or lacking “sense” in political debate.  Their perceived irrationality would render them invisible.

The public sphere was a space of action–the Arendtian action here being speech. It is plain to see how fashion undermines action in this space by redrawing spatial lines of exclusion as sartorial ones. That being said, according to scholars like Nancy Fraser, in stratified societies like modern London, a single public like the Coffee House is not as effective as a multiple simultaneously occurring publics. Despite these sartorial lines, the public sphere was destined to fall short in reality.

Chapter 2

The consequence of the fashion-architecture relationship in the Coffee House is an obstruction of action. The consequence of the fashion-architecture relationship in Arcades, is also an obstruction of action although less explicitly. In the arcades, action is not obstructed through lines of exclusion but rather fashion and architectures coupling to produce the phantasmagoria. The phantasmagoria is defined as a “magic lantern show of optical illusions, rapidly changing size and blending into one another.” The main illusion is the promise of techno-utopia so long as we continue to passively consume and feed the capitalist system. This is not to say that technology isn’t progressive, but so long as it serves capitalist aims, it merely creates an illusion of progress. If the social relationships do not change then there is no progress. The phantasmagoria blinds the labourer to the inequality of the exploitative capitalist system.

In “Cultural/Political Theory and a Re-invigoration of the Idea of ‘the Public’, George Baird sets up action and distraction as limits to the spectrum of consciousness in public space. Distraction is a state that emerged as a response to the modern urban environment. It prevents psychological exhaustion caused by the flurry of objects in this environment including advertising, lighting, fashion, etc. This is a great benefit of distraction. Distraction can even be revelatory, as in the case of the Dadaist who in a narcotic induced state of distraction experienced “profane illumination”. Distraction, however, is a double-edged sword. In it, we passively accept the phantasmagoria, falling into a trance like dream state in which we might miss the keys to awakening from it. 19th century Paris, and in particular, arcades are considered by Walter Benjamin to be the birth place of the phantasmagoria and architecture and fashion were central to its production.

The arcades were an urban innovation in that for the first-time passage was made through urban city blocks. Arcades provided escape from the street, which was dirty and dangerous. Poor infrastructure often left streets pooling with sewage. Streets and sidewalks were not yet separate leaving pedestrians precariously navigating street traffic. The Arcade provided a safe refuge from these elements. As public spaces, the street and the Arcade offered vastly different temporal experiences. The former was experienced hastily, and the latter–leisurely.  Another important distinction between streets and Arcades, was the latter was a private space that, like the Coffee House, was commodified into a public space. The profitability of this new urban experience led to the construction of ___________ Arcades in Paris and _______ across Europe.

To understand the Arcade as the birthplace of the phantasmagoria we look to Benjamin, whose magnus opus The Passagen-werk, saw the arcades as both problematic and potent. Although there are many interpretations of Benjamin’s unfinished work, Susan Buck-Morss’ Marxist interpretation sets up clear foundations to link the architectural and sartorial. When Buck-Morss diagrams Benjamin’s dialectical image, the key to awakening from the capitalist phantasmagoria-the, the commodity is drawn at the center.  The commodity is bisected by two axes: the consciousness axis and temporal axis. These axes divide the diagram into four quadrants, each representing a different “face” of the commodity. Some faces like the fetish are problematic and some carry massive potential – like the fossil.  Architecture and fashion most clearly intersect in the wish image.

The wish image is a framing of modernity’s new experiences in images of the ancient. These new experiences are produced by innovations like iron and gas of the 19th century. Buck-Morss claims “the wish image is not to redeem the past, but to redeem the desire for utopia to which humanity has persistently given expression…” and later ““by attaching themselves as surface ornamentation to the industrial and technological forms which have just come into existence, collective wish images imbue the merely new with radical political meaning, inscribing visibly on the products of the new means of production an ancient image of the desired social ends of their development.” Fundamentally, the wish image earnestly strives for utopia and capitalism knowingly exploits this. The wish image–the framing of the new in the old–is not wholly Benjamin’s. Benjamin derives the referencing character of the wish image from Georg Simmel, who first illustrates it in Fashion. Simmel notes the referencing character of fashion occurs to conserve energy when the upper class needs to develop new forms to differentiate themselves from the lower classes. While Simmel focuses on the causes of the reference character, Benjamin elaborates Simmel to include the problems and potentials offered by it.

The problem arises when the wish image is used for capitalist gain, which happens when wish images become fetishes. When the wish image is commodified, it becomes a fetish: the magical value an object gains when commodified. These powers can best be compared to totems in occult culture. Fetishes are the primary hallucinogenic for the phantasmagoria. If the phantasmagoria is produced by the fetish, and fetishes are commodified wish images the objective of this research became a hunt for wish images in the fashion and architecture. I would reconstruct the new experiences of the city, and the innovations which produced them but I would also reconstruct their historical references. By seeing the strength of the citation, we might understand the strength of the Arcade phantasmagoria.

Most Parisian arcades were built between 1820 and 1840. This period in arcade construction was called “The Period of Fashion” because of the booming fashion and textile industries.  It is no wonder the link between architecture and dress would be clearest in a period when both were at their height.

For arcades, the primary technological  innovation or “form that has just come into existence” was the continuous iron and glass roof, which blended interior and exterior. Another major innovation of this period was gas lighting, which extended the temporal experience of Paris and blended day into night. Innovations in iron and glass were considered closely linked: “The two great advances in technology–gas and cast iron–go together.”X  These new spatial and temporal experiences were framed in ancient forms. Citations of past epochs are glaringly apparent in the Galerie Vivienne and the Galerie Colbert which were architectural templates for subsequent European arcades. Both galleries were designed by Percier and Fontaine, French architects working in the Empire style.  After Napoleons campaigns in the east at the end of the 18th century, european exploration of countries like Israel and Egypt became popular.  Illustrated travelogues like Forbin’s Voyage en Orient and from the east were increasingly published in France and had a considerable influence on architecture. One architecture to be influenced by these travelogues was the Gallerie Vivienne. When comparing a forensically reconstructed Gallerie Vivienne with the Bazaar illustrated in Voyage en Orient, there is a formal likeness, especially in Vivienne’s decorative arch. The travelogue was published in _____ and the Arcade was built in _______. This chronology supports the hypothesis that Vivienne was framed in the ancient forms illustrated in Voyage en Orient. Furthermore, the Gallerie Vivienne was ornamented with a number of ancient motifs–the Episcopalian staff, anchor, palm branches, cornucopia and lance.

The Gallerie Colbert shares the same innovations as the Gallerie Vivienne. Instead of the ancient east, the Gallerie Colbert cites the early Christian Church. A comparison of a forensically reconstructed Old. St Peter’s Basilica and the Gallerie Colbert shows an even stronger referencing than in the Gallerie Vivienne. The citations include: Corinthian columns, decorative friezes, classical corbels, and an ornamented pediment that formally imitates the open roof structure of Old St. Peters Basilica. In perspective, the Gallerie Colbert is experienced like the early Christian Church. The darkness of the shop windows and the depth of the columns create the illusion of aisles flanking a central naive. The Gallerie Colbert takes the citations even further. Not only are forms and ornaments imitated, but materials are too. The columns are painted to look like yellow marble; the bases, red marble; and the friezes, grey marble. Architecture here clearly operates as a wish image, only one that is commodified into fetish in support of the Arcade’s capitalist objective.

Benjamin most explicitly ties architecture and fashion in the wish image when he writes, “fashion like architecture, stands in the darkness of the lived moment.”  “Darkness” is a metaphor for the unrealized potential of architectural and sartorial innovations, and their premature application under capitalism. This prematurity shows itself in the intense framing of the new in the old — the wish image. During the “period of fashion”, wish images pervaded sartorial forms with an unprecedented intensity and arguably, one never again matched.

During this period, which fashion historians have titled the Romantic era, fashions were heavily citing Elizabethan age fashions. Popular literature of the period was preoccupied with the 16th C.so its easy to see why French fashion settle on the Elizabethan mode. By reconstructing some of these fashions we can see these sartorial forms transcend time. For example, an 1826 dress (see figure xx) cites the puffed and slashed sleeves of a 1560 dress (see figure xx). It tries to differentiate itself, however, by wrapping itself in a gauze mesh. We can see this as an interfacing of ancient and new.  Similarly, an 1830 dress (see figure xx) cites the massive sleeves and ruff of a 1580 dress (see figure xx). The sleeve however grows to be 3 times the size of its historical reference. From the reconstruction it is clear to see just how strong these references were, and why the arcades would’ve been so phantasmagorical.

Finally, as aforementioned, there are faces to the commodity that are revelatory and not problematic as is the fetish. The commodity puts us into the dream state but it’s also is the key to awakening from the dream state. Its paradoxical.  When the fetish quality fades from the wish image it turns into a fossil. This happened when the arcades fell into ruin at the end of the 18th century, capturing all the fashions and commodities that failed to engender their utopian promise. The fossils potential lies in its ability to reveal the inefficacies of the capitalist system. Furthermore, the revolutionary potential of these objects is multiplied by the fact that they are wish images. In seeing the unrealized utopian desires of the generation that just past as well as those of ancient epochs, we are supplied with additional motivation for revolutionary action. We see a constant failure to move towards utopia, which was the promise of linear time and the techno-utopian narrative that commonly accompanies it. We instead determine that only concerted political action will take us to utopia.

Animated Experiments

Because the arcades were a space of circulation, the phantasmagoria was experienced dynamically. If the phantasmagoria was a magic lantern show of optical illusions, rapidly changing size and blending into one another, I thought it best to look at the wish image in an animated state that compliments the illusion of progress produced by the phantasmagoria.

Experimenting with all four dresses–1560, 1580, 1826, and 1830–promenading in the arcade captured some of these shifting forms. The gigot sleeve, of the 1830 dress, is particularly bewitching in an animated state. Daytime and nighttime animations were produced to see how these forms interact with natural light and artificial light. Tests were also conducted with a moving camera. This puts architecture in motion in the same way fashion was put in motion.

While I hypothesize the animated experience of the arcades to be central to phantasmagoric production and reception, these tests proved less conclusive than anticipated. The framing of the new in the old seems to be the primary aesthetic quality of the phantasmagoria and the point where fashion and architecture conspire most explicitly.  Further experimentation of the phantasmagoria’s animated quality is necessary to identify any sartorial-architectural collusions.

Extended Fashion Pipeline

An extension of the forensic reconstruction pipeline was necessary to address the animated character of the phantasmagoria. First, motion capture data needed acquiring. Two methods were tested to record this data: infrared scanning and an IMU (inertial measurement unit) mocap suit.  The latter, which uses a gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer to track body movements, proved to be more accurate and so was used to animate the arcade phantasmagoria.

A bipedal skeleton, or a human skeleton is set up inside of the retopologized 3D scan. This is referred to as “the rig”. Connections are then made to determine what bones influence what vertices on the body mesh in a process called “skin weight painting.” Figure XX depicts a shin being painted in full white which means it is fully influenced by the tibia/fibula bones. After skin weight painting is completed for all bones the motion capture data can be transferred onto the rig and simulated. For each frame the vertices are computed based on the moving rig and skin weights.

Next, the cloth meshes are layered on top of the body mesh and simulated using the cloth solver mentioned in the initial sartorial pipeline (see page XX). Finally, the cloth meshes are exported as geometry cache files and imported into Maya for rendering. A geometry cache is a file that “that store vertex transformation data”. Every vertex of the cloth mesh is stored as data and then, come render time, the cache is applied to the mesh and every vertex moves accordingly.


Using the forensic reconstruction method, the centrality of fashion–an inherently political and economic object–to British Coffee Houses and Parisian arcades is concretized. As typologies, Coffee Houses and Arcades possess specific architectural characteristics that intersect with fashion in potent and problematic ways.

In the Coffee House, hierarchical lines were erased from the space through egalitarian furnishings. An absence of chairs and plainness of furnishings produced an egalitarian atmosphere that supported the public sphere’s nonhierarchical objectives. However, the erasure of hierarchical lines led to the redrawing of new ones in fashion. Fashions inevitable function as a line of demarcation is therefore heightened in a space where no other lines exist. By forensically reconstructing both the furnishings and fashions, the erasure of lines and their subsequent redrawing is explicated. The “circle” Simmel speaks of manifests in a series of fashion silhouettes (see page XX). Those inside this “circle” would be rational participants in political debate and those outside–irrational, and effectively invisible.  Furthermore, by employing a method reserved for trials of international importance to the mundane, the trivial is ennobled with its real-world power.

In the second public space on trial, the Parisian Arcade, the architectural-sartorial relationship is also problematic albeit less explicitly. Using Susan Buck-Morss parti of Benjamin’s Passagenwerk, which positions the commodity–for which fashion’s ephemerality makes it paradigmatic–at the center of the magnus opus. Her Marxist diagraming of the commodity’s various faces create points of intersection for fashion and architecture. In these faces we can see how fashion and architecture operate as wish images that, when commodified, turn to fetish and release the deceptive phantasmagoria. The forensic reconstruction method rebuilds wish images and their historical references. This process concretizes the wish image as one of commodities physiognomies and brings a scientific rigour to Buck-Morss’s interpretation. It also, like the Coffee House, imbues the “profane” with mystical power. For Benjamin, waking from the capitalist phantasmagoria depended on the profane. When a commodity falls from fashion, it sheds its fetish face and turns to a fossil. When the arcades fell from popularity in the ______ they trapped the commodities turning them into fossils. In these failed commodities, the unrealized utopian dreams of various epochs, including the one just passed, are made visible. We realize the inefficacy of the capitalist system in delivering the techno-utopia it repeatedly promises. True revolutionary action that reconfigures social relationships can ensue, rather than the superficial reconfigurations capitalism depends upon.

These are the architectural-sartorial relationships central to British Coffee Houses and Parisian arcades–the two founding myths of modernity.

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Fashion can describe the common aesthetic styles of a particular period, including the general look, materials used and method of manufacture of decoration, clothing and related accessories. In everyday context, fashion generally means to describe the latest styles of clothing, hair, decoration etc.

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