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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

When Fashion Offends

Fashion is art. The fashion community is a global one, and generally embraces new ideas and culture before the rest of the world does.  The fashion industry is also one that thrives on publicity, often at whatever cost. When I see offensive fashion, I often wonder if the designer is truly ignorant, or just courting controversy?

Dolce and Gabbana's Spring 2013 collection contained a lot of "Colonial" imagery on the runway. Was this a naive tribute to a time period and aesthetic or insensitive to the stereotypes it evokes? Does the reference outweigh the fact that the clothes are pretty?

Oil magnates and aristocracy of Muslim faith count among the many paying fans of Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld. This is why I couldn't understand why a designer who caters to such clientele would think scrawling verses of the sacred Qur'An on a bodice topped by cleavage in 1993 would be a good idea... This is a culture of conservative dress, with or without designer labels. The backlash against this gown was so harsh that it had to be destroyed.

Abercrombie and Fitch's retro graphic t-shirt depicting old stereotypes of Chinese Laundry workers did not go over well and was a public relations nightmare. I have known a few people who have worked at their design department who happen to be Asian and enjoyed their experience there. Designers in general tend to have twisted senses of humor and thicker skin. Was this a case of irony in design where the rest of the world missed the joke or ignorant cliches being promoted?  However, the company has come under fire for several employee lawsuits at the retail level for racial discrimination, which doesn't help.

Spanish fashion chain Zara had to recall a collection of handbags embroidered with swastikas. I cannot imagine anyone would knowingly add a controversial symbol as an embroidery to a handbag sold internationally. What I can believe, as someone who has worked at a large retailer and manufacturer, is their claim that their supplier shipped a range of embroidered handbags with different designs, when their buyer only saw one sample. I forgot what country they came from, but in my travels to India and similar countries, the swastika was not a symbol of hate, but an auspicious Sanskrit one that dates back thousands of years that means "being good". If Zara doesn't micromanage their design process and just places bulk orders of products all the time to fill their stores, I can totally understand how this could have happened by accident.

Then, there are the incidents where designers make very clear statements about their views that transcend what they send down the runway...  John Galliano took many risks in design.  Unfortunately, his personal, drunken views revealed something much darker that got him fired from his post at Christian Dior. 

Most recently, French label Zadig + Voltaire announced the opening of their hotel after their Paris Fashion Week presentation.  Founder Thierry Gillier was clear on his racist guest policy,  ”We are going to select guests. It won’t be open to Chinese tourists,".  With a statement like that, there is absolutely no room for misinterpretation is there?  Even more disappointing is that WWD decided to help the brand cover this up by changing the quote later in the day.

What do you think?  Has a fashion brand offended you?  Have you ever stopped buying a label because of something they produced that was offensive?

Photos by MCV/Firstview,IMG, Abercrombie and Fitch, Zara,(Fame FlyNet) The Zadig & Voltaire store in West Hollywood, CA

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