Saturday, 10 March 2018

comme des garçons autumn/winter 2018

Fashion has a complicated relationship with camp; go too far and it risks looking tacky and overindulgent. Mainstream camp is awash with the pastel heritage of John Waters and the garish vibrance of 2018 drag culture. If any designer is going to face it head-on and still come out with a stellar collection, then it is Rei Kawakubo. Comme des Garçons’ avant-garde signature style lends her some distance from the camp we are most attuned to.

Camp refuses to take itself seriously, which is why it is surprising that Kawakubo describes it as “really and truly something deep and new that represents a value we need.” Comme des Garçons stands out as a breath of fresh air among this season’s collections. Recently, designers have felt under pressure to politicise fashion, but Kawakubo offers an alternative, reminding us that fashion is fun. However, camp is also defiant because, much like fashion itself, it challenges perceptions of what art can and should be. Perhaps Kawakubo is right, and camp should be the next style movement. It is inclusive, fun and rebellious and it would make a change from the heavy-handed politics of slogan t-shirts and regurgitated punk aesthetics.

This collection feels nostalgic. Ruffles and tulle induce memories of prom, dressing-up boxes and borrowing our mother’s clothes, with copious clumsy layering and too many clashing colours. It’s humorous in abundance. After all, who would expect to see Betty Boop at a Comme des Garçons show?

This isn’t street style. Kawakubo has created a bold and unflinchingly camp collection for the stage and that is the charm of Comme des Garçons. It exists within the theatrical with Kawakubo subverting our expectations of fashion and challenging our perceptions of camp. Who else could find defiance in kitsch?

Saturday, 3 March 2018

recovering from an eating disorder as a fashion lover

This year eating disorder awareness week and Paris Fashion Week overlap. Some might find this ironic given that the fashion industry is often targeted as a leading cause of eating disorders. To view mental illness as having a straightforward cause and effect is easy and that is why we so often believe this, and even want to believe this to be true. However, it is not that simple. Eating disorders are much more complex than that. Fashion does not cause eating disorders, but that definitely does not let it off the hook. The industry and its leaders are still complicit in a society that values women by a number on the scale, and to suggest that models and magazines play no role in poor body image is even more naïve than implying that they are the only cause.

Fashion definitely played a role in my eating disorder, but I have always found that hard to admit. Partly because it seems so trivial, especially compared to people who develop eating disorders as a result of bereavement or trauma, but also because I love fashion. How could something I love so much hurt me so badly?

Fashion did not cause my eating disorder, but it did validate it. I followed a lot high fashion Twitter accounts at the time. One moment I might see a tweet about, say, Paris Fashion Week and the next someone would be posting thinspo, or their weight goals. This made fashion and weight loss seem synonymous.

However, it was often the clichés from outsiders that fuelled my illness the most. If your only knowledge of fashion is from films like ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ (great film, but it would be sooooo much better if they cut out all the comments about dress size and dieting, yes it’s satire, but it’s still unsettling) then you would think that being super skinny is mandatory for any career in fashion. Of course, none of this is true, unless you’re a model (more on that later.) When I was at Vogue people were literally eating bacon sandwiches at their desks. This surprised me, but it shouldn't have done. People eat food. Fashion people are people. So they eat food. Radical, I know. 

Still, recovering as a fashion fan is hard. My Instagram feed is full of fashion models who are skinnier than me. Come fashion week I’m scrolling through collections and sometimes have to remind myself to look at the clothes rather than how thin the models’ legs are. I find myself talking about body shape and appearance perhaps more than most because of how prominent it is in fashion. I still admire models who have obviously worked hard for the body they have, but it’s hard not to sometimes judge and worry. I hate judging other women's bodies, but the fashion industry’s treatment of young models is deeply troubling.

I recently read a sociological case study for my dissertation about a woman who went undercover as a model. She described standing in line at castings whilst she was measured with a tape measure and being sent away because her hips were 1-inch too wide or being told by her agency to lose weight. The most recent story to catch my attention was Cindy Crawford expressing her concerns that her 16-year-old daughter and up and coming supermodel Kaia Gerber would be put under pressure by the industry to lose weight, telling her to "enjoy carbs while you can."

I refuse to blindly blame fashion for eating disorders, but there needs to be change. Models like Kaia, Kendall and the Hadids all have the agency to call out the industry, but they don’t. Gigi has been very vocal about people judging her weight loss, but she has failed to speak about the unrealistic pressures agencies put on models. Teenage models relying on castings to provide them with an income are most at risk. Influencer-models would get jobs regardless. It shouldn't take models speaking out for agencies and fashion houses to realise it's treatment of models is wrong, but models with such a huge platform could catalyse industry change. 

Fashion is changing in terms of diversity, but too often it feels like tokenism and it is moving too slowly. The industry is taking precautions, but it is going about it in the wrong way. Last year France introduced a law banning models with underweight BMIs, but it is well-known within the eating disorder recovery community that BMI is a hugely inaccurate way to judge health and weight. More widespread and effective action is necessary for causing the structural changes within the fashion industry that are absolutely imperative. 

Loving fashion and loving your body are not mutually exclusive. You can read Vogue every month and also have a healthy relationship with food. You can love your body and watch runway shows. The skinny fashion clique myth needs to die. Being a fashion fan and recovering from an eating disorder is hard, but recovery is hard full stop. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. One day you might even find yourself eating a bacon sandwich at Vogue.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

nudity in fashion magazines

British Vogue's March issue has already been met with divided opinion. Firstly, there is still no sign of the diversity we hoped for under new editor, Edward Enninful. The Hadid sisters are the most predictable Vogue cover stars imaginable. Many of the magazine's best covers have featured actual models and the Hadids have been impactful cover stars of other publications before, so, in theory, under Enninful’s editorship, the covers could be really interesting. Sadly, this is not the case. The sisters are styled the same, which is supposed to be a comment about how British Vogue has “reuinted” them by letting them work together, but it just comes across as too sentimental for fashion and lazy. Furthermore, the covers are so heavily photo shopped that Bella is hardly recognisable. Both sisters have had strong Vogue covers before. Bella's Vogue Italia cover shot by Inez and Vinoodh stands out. In comparison, this cover is very dull.

The covers were met with an eye-roll reaction from most- more skinny white models in the supposedly “new” Vogue. However, the nude photo of the sisters from inside the magazine is what sparked an internet debate that has stretched beyond conversation between fashion fans. The argument tends to fall into one or two camps; "why are they naked when Vogue is supposed to be a fashion magazine?" and "it's 2018, aren't women allowed to be naked?"

There are issues with both of these points. Of course, Vogue is a fashion magazine, but it also an arts and culture magazine. The editorials are not there just to show clothes; if they were, every editorial would be a boring studio shoot. The joy of Vogue is its engagement with wider culture, and the narrative angle its editorials often have. Besides, there is a long history of nudity in fashion magazines. Horst P. Horst was taking nude photographs for Vogue as far back as the 1930s. Nudity and fashion should not be mutually exclusive. Some of the most iconic and, yes, empowering editorials feature nudity. The most recent one that comes to mind is Serena Williams' pregnant Vanity Fair cover shot by Annie Leibovitz. It was powerful as well as being feminine. Gigi herself posed nude for her first Vogue Paris cover in February 2016 it was beautiful. Fashion magazines are a place for women to reclaim ownership of their bodies in a predominantly feminine space. In 2018 magazines can make powerful statements about body positivity and feminism through nudity. However, the Hadid Vogue image does neither of these things.

In theory, the Hadids embracing in an expression of sisterly love is a nice and innocent idea. It could have been executed well, if the shoot had gone in a more ethereal/Virgin Suicides kind of direction. Or even if they were both posed in more powerful stances, reflecting their status as two of the most powerful women in fashion. What we are left with is something that rests uncomfortably inbetween. The pose is awkward and that makes it look unnatural.

We shouldn't live in a society where women's naked bodies are automatically sexualised, but many people have pointed out the potential creepy readings of the image of two naked sisters posed in that way. The image has been called "incestuous and disgusted." I would never go as far as to call it disgusting. There is nothing "disgusting" about the female body. It has been pointed out that the photograph was taken by a gay man for a women's magazine edited by a gay man, but that doesn't remove the sexual undertones of the image. The image is still taken through the male gaze, even if it is not the heterosexual male gaze.

The nudity doesn't bring anything new to the magazine. No one is more natural than when they are naked, but the blatant, heavy photoshopping conflicts with that. What fashion magazine readers want from nudity has changed. We want honesty. Vogue Italia have the right idea with their Gisele cover for their March 2018 issue; natural hair, no makeup, no photoshop.

What individual women choose to do with their hair/makeup/clothes is completely up to them, but magazines have an audience to target and we increasingly expect them to take responsibility for their influence on young girls and women, and acknowledge that most of the time, that influence is toxic. British Vogue has repeatedly misread what it’s younger readership want.

As the second issue under Enninful’s editorship to feature models on the cover, there was scope to be more creative with it. The grey background alone is dull. Bella and Gigi are stunning, but the images don’t make the most of their potential. The Hadid image in is weak and that, more than anything, makes it a target for criticism. The Hadid sisters are beautiful and nudity very much has a place in fashion magazines, but the photograph doesn’t look like art, and it does nothing to challenge industry beauty standards.