Carl Johan Deurell

History of Design

Mah-Jong, 1967, Photograph from mail order catalogue

Title of Dissertation: Mah-Jong – Radicalisation of politics and politicisation of fashion in Sweden (1966–1976)

My thesis presents how the fashion label Mah-Jong, active from 1966 to 1976, became increasingly radicalised throughout their active years and to what extent that politicisation corresponded to society at large. Initially, this radicalism was expressed in opposition to an older establishment seen as forming a political and cultural hegemony. Mah-Jong adopted a referential image to Swinging London and used bold colours as an act of rebellion against such a society. An initial idea was that the clothes should be for everybody, regardless of body shape or age. However, within the mainstream it seemed the clothes would not be endorsed for a female body that was different from the media ideal. From around 1968, Mah-Jong aimed to ‘get out of fashion’, which is discussed in relation to second-wave feminist analysis of the fashion system. To get out of fashion, they excluded fashion vocabulary and embarked on a design programme that was hoped to be timeless. Eventually the brand became a signifier for socialist feminists. One aspect of Mah-Jong’s success with a feminist clientele lay in the materiality of the clothes. The tactile experience of a natural material like cotton reflected feminist concepts expressed in women’s literature and culture, such as a striving for naturalness and body-awareness. The final chapter of the thesis untangles how socialism and capitalism were negotiated by Mah-Jong, a ‘socialist’ company operating within an order of production defined by Swedish consensus politics.

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© Carl Johan De Greer, 1967