A Question of Immanence: Louis Vuitton, Lightning, and Our Virtual Selves

Clothes make the heroine, just as they do in real life or as they do in our virtual lives

On January 6th, Louis Vuitton premiered a Spring-Summer collection called Series 4: The Heroine, designed by Nicolas Ghesquière. In the lead up to the event, the famous fashion house released a video featuring Ghesquière's clothes modeled by a virtual heroine, Lightning of Final Fantasy XIII.

Ghesquière admits that the collection was inspired by video game aesthetics, and, thus, the video itself makes sense as it hybridizes the virtual with real fashions. Lightning's own movements speak to this hybridization as she both poses like a model, as well as leaps into the air, landing dramatically, before finally brandishing her handbag like a sword, as she might in a video game. She looks fashionable and heroic all in a single instant. Appropriate enough given that in her last game, Lightning Returns, a “Style-Change Active Time Battle system” governed Lightning's abilities in combat.

Clothes, as it were, make the heroine in the world of Final Fantasy, just as they perhaps do in real life or as they do in our virtual lives.

Indeed, this same hybridization works in reverse on the catwalk, though, as the models wearing Ghesquière's clothing are themselves modeled after the Final Fantasy XIII protagonist, sporting her hair color in one instance and some sort of sparkling eye decoration, as if to mark these women as having just stepped out of a video game.

In many ways, this video game inspiration for what represents the concept of “heroine” makes a great deal of sense. If global culture tends to figure its heroes as physically active figures, especially warriors, video games are one of the few mediums (along with comic books, perhaps) that very regularly features women as action heroes. Historically, film and television have tended to favor men in these roles, while video games feature characters like Lara Croft or the ability to choose the gender and look that you desire of the protagonist of the game that you are playing, as one can in Mass Effect or Dragon Age or other games of that sort.

Ghesquière himself describes his own thoughts on why Lightning's heroism seems especially indicative of contemporary women, though:

If we push the reflection about heroines, or what might constitute the nature of a woman whose actions can be so courageous that she becomes superior and iconic, it becomes obvious that a virtual entity integrates with the founding principles of the Maison. Lightning is the perfect avatar for a global, heroic woman and for a world where social networks and communications are now seamlessly woven into our life. (“Lightning: A Virtual Heroine”, Louis Vuitton, 5 January 2016)

Ghesquière seems to be framing the question of what a heroine is within the values of the culture of fashion here. That which makes a woman “superior or iconic,” like, say, a Marilyn Monroe, is how she appears to others or how she has constructed herself to appear to others, something that can be comfortably acheived in a video game (like the aforementioned character creation systems of many video games) or in virtual spaces in which we create avatars for ourselves.

Indeed, Ghesquière's comment follows another explanation on the Louis Vuitton web site of why a virtual woman, like Lightning, is an appropriate fashion model in 2016: “Real, virtual, incarnate, metaphorical: Lightning is the fruit of Square Enix studios' imagination, and she raises the question of immanence -- that which takes place solely in the mind -- in tomorrow's world.” The idea that a virtual character raises a “question of immanence” in “a world where social networks and communications are now seamlessly woven into our life” does make some sense when seen in light of the ability to construct the self virtually. Social networks like Facebook are spaces where identities are represented through carefully selected images of ourselves, virtual headshots that, perhaps, have been made flesh to those that we interact with in cyberspace, especially to those that we have never even met in the flesh, only in the “spirit.”

Admittedly, I find myself confused by the definition of immanence in this latter comment, though. Immanence is not “that which takes place solely in the mind,” instead, it is the opposite. It is the spirit made flesh, or if you prefer, the virtual made flesh in this instance, which seems to be what allowing a video game character to model clothes that will then be walked down a real runway seems metaphorically to represent. However, what it also represents is the way that what was once “only in the mind,” a vision of ourselves that we wish to project, becomes immanent, or in other words, puts on “flesh.”

The social network and the video game become spaces where we can embody our desire to project a particular image of ourselves, one that is especially cool, especially fascinating, especially fashionable.

After all, if a virtual woman can become a model, why can't we all?

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