Gaga Stigmata: What is the relationship between anarchy and fashion?
Addie Tinnell: Anarchism as a philosophy and practice is entirely dependent on fashion- nothing about it is outside of fashion. Anarchism differs from Marxism in that it emphasizes the process by which change will happen. Therefore, each anarchist act is an expression of the politic versus Marxism which is programmatic in its approach to change, and emphasizes the ends over the means. So the big question is, how do you as an anarchist share your ideas about an egalitarian world with another person? You can try to argue with them, but they probably won’t listen, or you can demonstrate it for yourself, on your body and in your actions, and try to create resonance.
Anarchists have always been concerned with fashion. You can go back to the days following the Paris Commune and see that the anarchists running the cabarets in the Montmartre region were impeccably dressed. I’m thinking of Maxime Lisbonne in particular – he was an exquisite dresser and an amazing anarchist organizer. Or the French illegalists, like the Bonnot gang. Jules Bonnot was known to obsess over stealing/wearing expensive suits and fancy cars. Or other anarchic type groups like the Os Cangacieros in Brazil – a group of Robin Hood-esque rebels that would bedazzle their outfits with various metals and wear gobs of fancy French cologne.
The connection between living outside of state domination and beautiful fashion is I think a fairly obvious one. If you do not trust the state to mediate your relationships, then you are totally dependent on the people around you for your health, welfare and safety. I often ask how you can build community with someone that has such little respect for you that they’re constantly shoving ill-fitting t-shirts and cargo shorts down your throat.
Gaga Stigmata: What are some style phases you’ve gone through?
Addie Tinnell: So so many! I try to switch my fashion directions every couple of months. I generally wear more or less the same outfit every day for a season until I get tired of it and gently transition to a new look. I find that this gives me the chance to fully contemplate the garments I’m wearing and try to aesthetically listen to what they want and what they want to say. I used to live with a bunch of crust punks and was inspired by their approach to clothes, which would organically grow and change throughout the garment’s life, adding layers of dirt that grows shiny and hard from being baked in the sun as well as the constant patching and repairs that comes with it. This isn’t even talking about the tattoos and jewelry, which are haute couture at it’s finest.
Right now I’m personally in a femme crust theme, which is basically about taking these crust strategies and femme-ing them. I’m taking a lot of classic crust patches and bleaching them and re-dying them light pink or various pastels so the original white ink sits atop a bed of light pink clouds. As well, I’m looking at the crust vest and replacing the silver studs with gold, chains for pearls, adding rhinestones and lace as well. My partner Kate Kershenstein, who I work with under the name Cake and Eat It, are thinking of setting up a distro with a few other anarchists as an extension of our art practice along these same lines and calling it Femme Strike (incidentally, Femme Strike encompasses a much larger project Kate and I are working on, that I won’t go into here, but the distro/fashion component would be its newest incarnation). An earlier fashion theme I had was called Pastel Paradise and was sort of a Miami Vice thing, with white blazers and pastels with plunging necklines. Another I called aaantwerp and was all about layers on layers of neutrals, beiges, eggshells and what not. I still love that theme quite a lot- I’m actually transitioning from femme crust to a sort of femme crust aaantwerp hybrid (name tbd). We did a fashion shoot with the aaantwerp theme on a glacier called Absence and Whispers that you can check out on our website.
Gaga Stigmata: What political potential does fashion have? Why should the political far left care about fashion?
Addie Tinnell: I think that anarchists already do care about fashion, truly madly deeply, but they are rightly uncomfortable with the consumerist tendencies of the fashion industry so they are afraid to openly talk about fashion and aesthetics. This is actually a big problem in the anarchist scene, something going back to the divide between what I call wet and messy anarchism and the anarchist movement itself. Wet and messy anarchism is kind of a universal tendency to resist all authority, you see this all over the place, people just doing little things like not talking with cops, to using humor to undermine a talking head, to outright riots. It’s wet and messy because people just do it, all the time, they play tricks on the authorities whether it’s the boss at work, the cops, or an activist-manager.
But the anarchist movement is different because it was originally an attempt by a certain group of European anarchists to translate this wet and messy anarchism into a political movement that could take down the state, which is actually a really interesting idea if you think about it. It would be like taking the act of having an orgasm and trying to make a political movement out of it... I guess you could say the queer movement does that, but yeah, I digress! The problem with the anarchist movement though is that it continues to be Eurocentric, because of this history and because I think that the origin of this idea is bound up with other Modernist tendencies like colonialism, eugenics and fantasies of returning to a pure natural state. So flash forward 100 years and the anarchist movement is in a major fashion crisis! The triumph of black bloc fashion has effectively crushed all organic forms of anarchist fashion innovation and replaced a multifaceted explosion of personal expression with an obligatory uniform of all black clothes that only reflects the German anarchist culture, which is where it originated. I’ve said a lot about the Black Bloc on my blog The Boulevardier so I don’t want to go into that other than that the Black Bloc is more in line with the logic behind a military uniform rather than anarchist ideals, which would emphasize a fluid anonymity.
Gaga Stigmata: Responses your style’s gotten in public?
Addie Tinnell: People love gold studs, absolutely love them. Here in LA, everyone loves my fashion, it makes me feel really happy to live in such a supportive place. Being trans, I tend to feel nervous in public a lot, but people here have been really positive and helped me to feel more confident. Also Los Angeles is the capital of femme in the US, and possibly the world, so in this way I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. People here really love a femme- hard femme, high femme whatever- LA loves the femmes. I was recently in rural Tennessee for my yearly queer punx retreat at Ida and people there were really excited about the femme crust theme too. I hope more queer punx step up with the fashion and just suffocate all the manarchist shit I’ve been forced to look at for the last 10 years. I have talked with some t-girls who feel really in the crosshairs with their gender presentation and society, and I just tell them to put some gold studs on your shit, people love gold, it’s like a protective amulet, that and black leather.
Gaga Stigmata: Who are influences?
Addie Tinnell: I’m influenced obviously by all the anarchist fashion plates from back in the day for one, but in reality I think people in LA are totally creative with how they dress and really turn it out every day, so they are a big influence. Probably the biggest influence for me has got to be Tumblr. The radical stoner femme community is really kicking ass there right now and I could name a thousand blogs of people posting amazing images all the time and having a really radical conversation around fashion and politics, I try to do my part with femmestrike.tumblr.com but really there are so many talented bloggers on there it’s disgusting.
Gaga Stigmata: You styled your friend Ariel Attack for court, and documented Ariel’s court outfits as an art project. What were some concerns or goals in this styling project?
Addie Tinnell: Kate and I were concerned with the image of the anarchist and the transwoman in the media, so our outfits, and the very fact we were dressing her, were totally about shifting perceptions. On the one hand anarchists are always depicted as scary foreigners who have strange fetishes, like not eating meat, and who shout a lot. And then with transwomen, we are all depicted as sadistic, pathetic prostitutes. So our outfits were about the assertion of a defiant transwoman anarchist, one that doesn’t need to answer to anyone. A beautiful transwoman who has rage and expresses it through destruction, and who will not apologize or explain why, because the act speaks for itself, and who then can show up for court looking very glamorous and seductive.
We of course were concerned with presenting her as innocent as well, so we looked at a lot of Winona Ryder court fashions, but at the same time we needed an element of femme defiance, so we were thinking about the women of the Red Army Faction, Gudrun Ensslin and Ulrike Meinhof. Ariel’s gender presentation is a sort of transwoman soft butch with hard femme tendencies, so the styling itself was very much an act of innovating garments to match this identity, so I was and am hard pressed to think of many fashion precedents. I would also say that I personally learned a lot from styling Ariel, in particular. Kate and I had done many stylings before Ariel but with her, because her physical identity was under attack from the media and from the anarchist community as well, it had much more gravity and we really felt the intimacy of dressing another person. The intimacy that is created from advocating for another’s body, and fitting their clothes, and picking colors and textures to portray the body that they see themselves as, and the gender that they perceive themselves as, and how this complicated act is like using fashion to embrace another person and almost travel through the world together in a sort of embrace.
Gaga Stigmata: I admire the work you’re doing with and for femme visibility/femme organizing. Why is femme visibility important? How would you define “femme”?
Addie Tinnell: Kate and I are discussing femme constantly right now. We just got done with a show where we wrote a zine about femme tactics for organizing and created a femme-ed union hall to expand on those ideas. We are not so much interested in femme as an identity, even though both Kate and I are total femmes, like totally, but we’re interested in femme as a verb, to femme something. In this way, femme at its core seems to be the creation of resonance between people, whether you call that affective labor or intimate solidarity, but it is the production of these deep bonds that are at the root of all decolonial organizing which is our primary interest.
How can we take femme strategies and re-organize ourselves in healthy autonomous communities as we transition out of capitalism? This is really where fashion comes in, because fashion is such a major piece to being and doing femme, and this is because it’s a conversation about the desire between bodies and the bonds that are created between bodies in public and in private spaces. This conversation isn’t enough though, it needs to be taken a step further, which is why Kate and I are members of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), which surprisingly enough has a very similar approach in terms of femme organizing except applied to labor unions. So right now we’re working with this intersection between radical unionism and femme, and have a bunch of projects in this vein that are about to explode, but I’ll just leave it there to make you squirm!
Addie Tinnell is an artist and anarchist organizer living in Los Angeles. She is half of the collaborative Cake and Eat It which creates operas, fashion shows, performances, installations, salons, books and generally gives away a lot of free clothes. She is from Denver, Colorado.
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