Textiles and fashion occupy a central position in the realm of material culture. Apart from fulfilling the basic human need for clothing and protection, textiles play important political, economic, and religious functions. Through variations of construction and patterning, cloth also has a great capacity for communication and serves as a significant site of personal and cultural identity. How we dress in particular is, by its very nature, one of the most visible of the arts.
Given the nature and role of textiles, it should therefore come as no surprise to discover that they can serve as powerful visual metaphors for all sorts sentiment and propaganda.
There’s a point. This week Karl Lagerfeld sent a parade of waifs down the runway brandishing placards for women’s rights (of a Barbie doll kind of flavour) Lagerfeld certainly knows how to pull off a stunt, but is this really the best fashion can do? Lagerfeld’s comment “I don’t ask myself political questions at that level” proved this was nothing more than his version of a model army.
Stunts are the fastest means to create indelible brand infamy. Some of them are put under the microscope and picked apart by media cynics, Chanel included, but the greatest stunts are those which nobody spots as stunts. Without careful thought the wrong stunt can diminish the impact of the message, and if it’s not backed up it’s not worth the newspaper inches it generates.
If you look back in history, fashion actually does have the power to make such changes: Coco Chanel herself emancipated women from the restrictive corsetry giving them freedom to move and work. This was nothing but a tongue in cheek swipe at the Parisian predilection for street protest, but one that millions are impressionable young women are willing to buy into…