Thursday, October 02, 2014

feminism as fashion statement

Fashion is, generally speaking, a series of trends. Feminism is not a trend, it is not a fashion statement.

When is a fashion show not a fashion show? When Karl Lagerfeld is at the helm. 

The master of extravagance: icebergs at the Fall 2010 show; a giant globe at the fall 2013 show; and the fall 2014 Chanel supermarket that is now making an appearance on street style by way of those decidedly odd shopping baskets, can all attest to his seemingly insatiable desire to go bigger and better and to attempt to tap into the current social climate, whatever that climate may be.

But, and it’s a big but, what exactly was this weeks SS15 feminist protest by way of fashion show all about exactly?

Karl had the Chanel models saunter down a runway built to resemble the Parisian streets where students protests in the 1960s took place, brandishing signs with slogans like ‘feminist but feminine’, ‘ladies first’, ‘make fashion not war’ and ‘he for she’. 

After the show, Karl explained his mother was a Feminist and he was bought up with a history of all that - ‘that’, I’m assuming, being feminism. It’s an odd comment from a man who infamously criticised British singer Adele for being too fat and also claimed no one wants to see curvy women on the catwalk - or WOC it appears, as a cursory glance at the models used in this most recent show, which was overwhelming white, can attest. 

In the wake of Emma Watson’s UN Speech and Beyonce’s frankly amazing MTV performance, complete with feminist spelt out in giant letters and the words of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie pouring from the speakers, the cynic in me wonders if Mr Lagerfeld wasn’t simply jumping on a bandwagon? Feminism is a buzzword right now, thanks in part to very visible and vocal women like Emma Watson and Beyonce. And the presence of a ‘He For She’ protest sign only galvanises the cynicism. 

Add to that the unfortunate timing of staging a protest fashion show while people are actually protesting in Hong Kong for the right to vote and it all feels a little like Mr Lagerfeld is doing more mocking - both of feminism and of protest - than making some statement of support for either.

Fashion is, generally speaking, a series of trends. Feminism is not a trend, it is not a fashion statement. And frankly it seems disingenuous of Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel to stage a show purporting to be in support of feminism when the fashion industry does so much to reinforce socially accepted ideals of beauty - white, tall and thin - and also does so little to support the women at the very bottom of the fashion food chain, many living in countries like Bangladesh where they are paid a pittance to make clothes that are then sent west.

To stage a protest show, with signs like 'make fashion not war' and 'history is herstory' alongside clothes that the vast majority of women, women who still desperately need a movement like feminism, will never be able to even see, let alone buy and wear, seems ridiculously hypocritical. And so far removed from reality it's almost laughable.  

For those not already actively engaged with feminism, not already self-identifying as a feminist, do shows like this help those same people to come to some understanding about what feminism is all about? Probably not. Do they hinder a movement with much work left to do? Probably not. Do they do anything to create dialogue? That’s yet to be determined. Is it to idealistic of me to say, let’s hope so? Probably.

kb xx