Ok, this post is a bit of a delayed reaction.
And ok, there are probably other reasons why I don’t wear Chanel. ($$$)
But as someone who is sort of a hobbyist for fashion, I got fed up with Chanel last year.
Chanel is easily one of the most recognized, respected, and classiest, highest-pinnacle brands in fashion. It is the creme de la creme. Chanel has demonstrated over and over again that it is able to be creative, fashionable, beautiful, classic, and contemporary yet timeless.
However, for the Spring/Summer 2015 show held in October 2014, the show concluded with a tasteless, sophomoric faux feminist protest. Models paraded out one more time, carrying placards with meaningless phrases like “Make Fashion Not War” and “Féministe mais Feminine.” I was shocked to see this spectacle of highly privileged bodies playacting at the struggles of oppressed and underprivileged groups for highly select audience, elitist by design and definition. The willful ignorance, lack of sensitivity or conscience, and cold selfcenteredness (and downright display of unabashed elitism) demonstrated filled me with disgust and outrage.
At a time when black people in the U.S. were trying to use protest to get themselves heard by the deaf ears of their local and national media and justice systems, when the environmental movement has just organized one of the largest marches in history in hopes that world leaders would finally listen to their concerned citizens, when Emma Sulkowicz and compassionate supporters were Carrying That Weight, when Ava DuVernay was preparing to release her film Selma that would remind us of the history of violence and murder that follows peaceful and political protest, when Anita Sarkeesian and other video game critics were being driven from their homes and fearing for their lives — this mockery of protest, and of feminist protest in particular filled me anger. It was as if the rich and powerful (and white) of the world were saying to the rest of us that none of our suffering and pain mattered, that they would continue to lord it over us, that nothing would change. They saw our demonstrations as cute theatrics at the best, a fad at the worst. No matter that people died and were imprisoned and saw their lives ruined as they attempted to make the world better. As one commenter characterized it: “It is the bourgeois dressing up as the proletariat.”
These feeling were made worse by the fact that I had overlooked my moral qualms earlier in the year, after Chanel’s Metier d’Art show in Paris Texas. The show was meant to be a “romantic Texas fantasy” inspired by the West around the time of the Civil War. (No matter that the show barely included any actual Texans and Karl Lagerfeld claims to have not done any research other than researching what was already in his brain.) I was excited and prepared to give Chanel a little wiggle room because I too have always loved cowboy movies and tv shows and indulge in the American West fantasy.
On the whole I was pretty pleased with the show. I thought they were doing a good job balancing creativity, excellent fashion, and inspiration without being culturally insensitive. Examples of the styles here, here, and here. Then of course, out came the Native American headdresses.
It was such an unnecessary thing to do and also a cultural insensitivity so easily avoided, it seemed to me like the reason it was done was more do demonstrate how Chanel (or perhaps Karl Lagerfeld), and perhaps high fashion, can do whatever it wants and remain impervious rather than as a sincere “tribute to the beauty of craftsmanship, “a symbol of strength and bravery” and “an integral part of Texas’ rich history.” Surprisingly, I heard little criticism about it (despite a recent history of outrage of appropriation of Native American dress . . . Pharrell, Gwen Stefani, Kesha, Urban Outfitters etc.). The Huffington Post perhaps described it aptly by saying that it “raised eyebrows.” If that. When commenters spoke up, others tended to figuratively roll their eyes and explain that is was just ‘beautiful fashion/art.’ These people must be living under a rock, I thought— and perhaps these elitist, high fashion/arty-types do.
I guess it should have surprised me less then that the faux protest of the Spring/Summer show likewise received little criticism. I think this demonstrates the true cowardice of most fashion critics in a time of actual artistic relevance, as well as the incredible power the big fashion houses and people like Karl Lagerfeld must wield. As a man who has said some pretty messed up things about women, I am constantly surprised by the many famous women who I respect, admire, and/or like as discerning people of principle (Kristen Stewart for example) who seem to be in his fan club.
Susie Bubble, a well-know fashion blogger, however was brave and, inspired by the commentary of her fans and followers, wrote a good criticism called I Doth Protest. I was so thankful to find this, and it is frustrating that she herself experienced a bit of a backlash in response to her piece. It is worth the read if you are interested in the show and the issue . . . she explains the show, which (for me) better contextualizes the outlandishness and the tactless, tastelessness of the finale in greater detail within the show as a whole. Much like me, she was disturbed by the contrast between the concurrent student protests in Hong Kong and the disingenuous homage to protest that she witnessed watching the show. She also dissects the logics that try to defend the show, revealing its failing as a sincere tribute to protest, its poor artistry if done out of ignorance, and its shameful anti-progressiveness if done out of outright trolling or cynical faddishness.
Tavi has (happily) also recently criticized the show. (I can still rely on Tavi at least!)
“I don’t know if [Karl’s protest] was harmful so much as just sort of pointless and zeitgeist-y,” she mused. “There are more substantive ways that his influence could be used in progressive ways if that had been his intention.”
And this I think gets at what I think may have bothered me the most about the show and the lack of critical reaction to its political implications. Not only was this a missed opportunity for someone with great cultural power to do something meaningful for feminist or any political cause struggling to be heard, but that the same voices that protest that ‘this is just a show,’ ‘just fashion,’ ‘just fun,’ also tend to later complain that fashion/art is somehow essential to society, life etc. Fashion and art are how we ‘express ourselves,’ make meaning, and ‘change the world.’
But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t argue for the supreme or sacred importance and relevance of art, while at the same time claiming to exist only in some vacuous state of escapism or frivolity whenever someone takes issue with the meaning you have made with your art. That is a shameful, shoddy, and lazy defense.
Art does have meaning, and this art has a poisonous, despicable meaning. It’s embarrassing that so few would say so.
Now every time I think of or encounter Chanel in a magazine or article, the name is laced with this acidic experience, its own pompous, power-playing elitism, and it is made bitter in my eyes. In the grand scheme of things, it makes little difference, but at least I have knocked it from its pedestal.