Possessed by the Zeitgeist: Inspiration and Prophecy in the Business of Fashion

  • Kasper Tang Vangkilde Department of Anthropology, School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University
Keywords: The future, inspiration, prophecy, prefiguration, animism, shamanism, fashion


The ability to foretell the future―and, as such, to conquer and determine it―is an essential preoccupation of contemporary business, which supposedly distinguishes the winners from the losers. The business of fashion is perhaps the case in point, being inherently concerned with continually staking out new paths into the future. In this article, I explore how fashion designers deal with this imperative through processes of seeking inspiration, constituting a distinctive “technology of prefiguration” by which the designers come to enter a prophetic condition. Rooted in an animistic mode of being, this attests to a shamanic practice, which entails the designers becoming possessed by a zeitgeist and, hence, turning into prophetic agents with particular visions of the future. The world of fashion is, in this sense, populated by entities and processes not commonly associated with modern business, in that animistic tendencies, jumping things, spiritual beings and shamanic efforts enable the designers to attain otherwise unattainable prophetic viewpoints. Underlying this argument is a more general ambition to open up our conception of business, as I suggest that business anthropologists may do well to uphold a profound naïveté in their methodology, which may essentially challenge and revise our assessment of modern capitalism.