Contemporary French Civilization

Clothing and refugee identity in Des sneakers comme Jay-Z

Contemporary French Civilization (2020), 45, (3-4), 317–336.

Abstract

This article presents and analyzes how clothing shapes refugee identity in Des sneakers comme Jay-Z, an engaged photographic project from 2018 by French photographers Frédéric Delangle and Ambroise Tézenas. Commissioned by the association Emmaüs Solidarité, the series features forty-six portraits of men seeking asylum in France. The refugees wear outfits they selected from available donations at the Centre de premier accueil de la Porte de la Chapelle in Paris. First-person texts featuring the men’s thoughts about their clothing choices accompany the images. I contend that vestimentary choices in Des sneakers comme Jay-Z reflect each man’s sense of agency in the social construction of his nascent transnational identity as he adapts to life within the French Republic. Although casual, everyday outfits rarely draw engaged reflection by those around us, photographing the refugees in their selected outfits and questioning them about these items creates a project that defamiliarizes common garments to encourage viewers to reflect on clothing’s role in fashioning new subjectivities. Reading the accompanying texts through the lens of the sociology of clothing and fashion, the article investigates how the men’s apparel choices reflect both nostalgia for their homelands and a desire to integrate into French society. Through the shared human experience of self-presentation through dress, Des sneakers comme Jay-Z thus constructs a narrative emphasizing refugees’ basic humanity in order to contest anti-migrant discourses.

Le présent article analyse la façon dont les vêtements influencent l’identité réfugiée dans Des sneakers comme Jay-Z, un projet photographique engagé réalisé en 2018 par les photographes français Frédéric Delangle et Ambroise Tézenas. Commandée par l’association Emmaüs Solidarité, la série comprend quarante-six portraits de demandeurs d’asile en France. Les réfugiés portent des tenues qu’ils ont choisies parmi les dons disponibles au Centre de premier accueil de la Porte de la Chapelle à Paris. Les textes à la première personne qui accompagnent les images présentent les réflexions des hommes sur leurs nouveaux vêtements. Je soutiens que les choix de l’habillement dans Des sneakers comme Jay-Z connotent le désir de chaque homme de construire une nouvelle identité transnationale et de s’adapter ainsi à une nouvelle vie au sein de la République française. Les tenues décontractées de tous les jours ne font réfléchir que rarement les gens que l’on croise, mais l’acte de photographier les réfugiés dans leurs tenues choisies et leur poser des questions sur ces habits crée un projet qui défamiliarise les vêtements ordinaires afin d’encourager le public à réfléchir sur le rôle de l’habillement dans la formation des subjectivités nouvelles. Lire les commentaires des réfugiés à travers l’optique de la sociologie de l’habillement et la mode permet au présent article de considérer la façon dont les décisions vestimentaires de ces hommes reflètent leur nostalgie pour leurs pays natals ainsi qu’un désir de s’intégrer à la société française. Grâce à l’expérience humaine commune de la présentation de soi vestimentaire, Des sneakers comme Jay-Z insiste sur l’humanité fondamentale des réfugiés afin de contester les discours anti-migratoires.

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Works cited

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Barthes, Roland. Système de la mode. Seuil, 1967. Google Scholar

Blackman, Toni. “Jigga Speaks: The Tradition of Black Oratorical Genius.” Jay-Z: Essays on Hip-Hop’s Philosopher King, edited by Julius Bailey, McFarland & Company, 2011, pp. 25-38. Google Scholar

Cotton, Charlotte. The Photograph as Contemporary Art. 2nd edition. Thames & Hudson, 2009. Google Scholar

Crane, Diana. Fashion and Its Social Agendas: Class, Gender, and Identity in Clothing. U of Chicago P, 2000. Google Scholar

Dant, Tim. Material Culture in the Social World: Values, Activities, Lifestyles. Open UP, 1999. Google Scholar

Delangle, Frédéric, and Ambroise Tézenas. Des sneakers comme Jay-Z: Portraits et paroles d’exilés. Emmaüs Solidarité, 2018. Google Scholar

Barthes, Roland. Système de la mode. Seuil, 1967. Google Scholar

Direction de l’information légale et administrative. “Quelles sont les valeurs attachées à la citoyenneté?” Vie publique, 13 May 2019. Web. Google Scholar

Blackman, Toni. “Jigga Speaks: The Tradition of Black Oratorical Genius.” Jay-Z: Essays on Hip-Hop’s Philosopher King, edited by Julius Bailey, McFarland & Company, 2011, pp. 25-38. Google Scholar

Eicher, Joanne B., and Barbara Sumberg. “World Fashion, Ethnic, and National Dress.” Dress and Ethnicity: Change across Space and Time, edited by Joanne B. Eicher, Berg, 1995, pp. 295-306. Google Scholar

Cotton, Charlotte. The Photograph as Contemporary Art. 2nd edition. Thames & Hudson, 2009. Google Scholar

Griggs, Brandon. “Photographer Describes ‘Scream’ of Migrant Boy’s ‘Silent Body.’” CNN, 3 Sep. 2015. Web. Google Scholar

Crane, Diana. Fashion and Its Social Agendas: Class, Gender, and Identity in Clothing. U of Chicago P, 2000. Google Scholar

Hollande, François. “Le message du Président de la République au Parlement - le 16 novembre 2015.” Le Sénat, 20 Aug. 2019. Web. Google Scholar

Dant, Tim. Material Culture in the Social World: Values, Activities, Lifestyles. Open UP, 1999. Google Scholar

Hollander, Anne. Seeing through Clothes. 1978. U of California P, 1993. Google Scholar

Delangle, Frédéric, and Ambroise Tézenas. Des sneakers comme Jay-Z: Portraits et paroles d’exilés. Emmaüs Solidarité, 2018. Google Scholar

Direction de l’information légale et administrative. “Quelles sont les valeurs attachées à la citoyenneté?” Vie publique, 13 May 2019. Web. Google Scholar

Larrondo, Valérie, Marion Perin, Vanessa François, and Sabrina Ponti. “Des sneakers comme Jay-Z: Portraits et paroles d’exilés.” Delangle and Tézenas, n.p. Google Scholar

Miller, Joshua I. “Fashion and Democratic Relationships.” Polity, vol. 37, no. 1, 2005, pp. 3-23. Google Scholar

Eicher, Joanne B., and Barbara Sumberg. “World Fashion, Ethnic, and National Dress.” Dress and Ethnicity: Change across Space and Time, edited by Joanne B. Eicher, Berg, 1995, pp. 295-306. Google Scholar

“Les Rencontres d’Arles: Jane Evelyn Atwood, Laura Henno, Mathieu Gafsou, Ambroise Tézenas et Frédéric Delangle.” Interview by Brigitte Patient. Regarder voir, France Inter, 7 Jul. 2018. Web. Google Scholar

Griggs, Brandon. “Photographer Describes ‘Scream’ of Migrant Boy’s ‘Silent Body.’” CNN, 3 Sep. 2015. Web. Google Scholar

Rosello, Mireille. Declining the Stereotype: Ethnicity and Representation in French Cultures. UP of New England, 1998. Google Scholar

Hollande, François. “Le message du Président de la République au Parlement - le 16 novembre 2015.” Le Sénat, 20 Aug. 2019. Web. Google Scholar

Slovic, Paul, Daniel Västfjäll, Arvid Erlandsson, and Robin Gregory. “Iconic Photographs and the Ebb and Flow of Empathic Response to Humanitarian Disasters.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 114, no. 4, 2017, pp. 640-644. Google Scholar

Hollander, Anne. Seeing through Clothes. 1978. U of California P, 1993. Google Scholar

Stallabrass, Julian. “What’s in a Face? Blankness and Significance in Contemporary Art Photography.” October, vol. 122, 2007, pp. 71-90. Google Scholar

Larrondo, Valérie, Marion Perin, Vanessa François, and Sabrina Ponti. “Des sneakers comme Jay-Z: Portraits et paroles d’exilés.” Delangle and Tézenas, n.p. Google Scholar

Tharoor, Ishaan. “Death of Drowned Syrian Toddler Aylan Kurdi Jolts World Leaders.” The Washington Post, 3 Sep. 2015. Web. Google Scholar

Miller, Joshua I. “Fashion and Democratic Relationships.” Polity, vol. 37, no. 1, 2005, pp. 3-23. Google Scholar

Vahabi, Nader. La crise de l’accueil des réfugiés de 2015, une pathologie du modernisme. L’Harmattan, 2018. Google Scholar

“Les Rencontres d’Arles: Jane Evelyn Atwood, Laura Henno, Mathieu Gafsou, Ambroise Tézenas et Frédéric Delangle.” Interview by Brigitte Patient. Regarder voir, France Inter, 7 Jul. 2018. Web. Google Scholar

Wells, Gwendolyn M. “In a Museographic Mode: French Fashion as Curator of National Identity.” Dalhousie French Studies, vol. 53, 2000, pp. 155-162. Google Scholar

Rosello, Mireille. Declining the Stereotype: Ethnicity and Representation in French Cultures. UP of New England, 1998. Google Scholar

White, Miles. From Jim Crow to Jay-Z: Race, Rap, and the Performance of Masculinity. U of Illinois P, 2011. Google Scholar

Slovic, Paul, Daniel Västfjäll, Arvid Erlandsson, and Robin Gregory. “Iconic Photographs and the Ebb and Flow of Empathic Response to Humanitarian Disasters.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 114, no. 4, 2017, pp. 640-644. Google Scholar

Wike, Richard, Bruce Stokes, and Katie Simmons. “Europeans Fear Wave of Refugees Will mean More Terrorism, Fewer Jobs.” Pew Research Center, Jul. 2016. Web. Google Scholar

Stallabrass, Julian. “What’s in a Face? Blankness and Significance in Contemporary Art Photography.” October, vol. 122, 2007, pp. 71-90. Google Scholar

Tharoor, Ishaan. “Death of Drowned Syrian Toddler Aylan Kurdi Jolts World Leaders.” The Washington Post, 3 Sep. 2015. Web. Google Scholar

Vahabi, Nader. La crise de l’accueil des réfugiés de 2015, une pathologie du modernisme. L’Harmattan, 2018. Google Scholar

Wells, Gwendolyn M. “In a Museographic Mode: French Fashion as Curator of National Identity.” Dalhousie French Studies, vol. 53, 2000, pp. 155-162. Google Scholar

White, Miles. From Jim Crow to Jay-Z: Race, Rap, and the Performance of Masculinity. U of Illinois P, 2011. Google Scholar

Wike, Richard, Bruce Stokes, and Katie Simmons. “Europeans Fear Wave of Refugees Will mean More Terrorism, Fewer Jobs.” Pew Research Center, Jul. 2016. Web. Google Scholar

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Author details

Hagins, Zachary R.