Thursday, September 23, 2004

The Politics of Fashion

Both the NYT and the Village Voice note that NYC's Fashion Week, falling, as it did, at the not-so-stilettoed heels of the Republican convention, was surprisingly lacking in left-wing accessories and liberal lapels. Or something.

The Voice's Lynn Yaeger writes: "It would have been reasonable to assume, what with Fashion Week arriving on the heels of massive anti-RNC demos, and with so many young designers vocal in their opposition to the current administration, and with the windows of Marc Jacobs's shop on Bleecker Street showcasing undies with lewd anti-Bush slogans, that this time around the catwalks would be crowded with irreverent, defiant, rebellious clothing. Unfortunately, subversive sartorial statements were far from the rule. Instead, designers seemed hell-bent on clothing women for lives that revolve around home (a big mansion), hearth (straight out of Architectural Digest), and country club (with restrictive admission policies)." She adds, "The power of this lily-white (and the runways were for the most part an Aryan pipe dream of pale skin and blue eyes), members-only Republican reverie could be measured by the ascendance of Bermuda shorts..."

Times fashion writer Cathy Horyn remarks: "You would never know from the spring collections that there was a bitter presidential campaign going on. Remember George W. Bush and John Kerry? Oh yeah, those dudes. And what about the demonstrations, protest T-shirts and hollering about Iraq and oil money that filled New York barely a week before the shows? Fashion is supposed to reflect the times. But instead of reflecting a complex, divisive period in American history, American fashion was at the beach. No one realistically expects a designer to build an entire collection around a political slogan, but neither did one expect to see such a uniformly simple view of American life — one that turned out to be free not only of outrage but also, on the whole, of ethnic and cultural distinctions."

Not surprisingly, since the Voice is a very liberal New York weekly while the Times is a somewhat liberal national paper with a focus on New York, the papers have different takes on what it meant that Fashion Week ignored what was going on in the city right before it happened. The Voice suggests that high fashion has become all-out conservative--not such a strange notion, in that any industry catering to the same people as Bush's tax cuts might have a tendency to do this--while the Times implies that Fashion Week was remarkably apolitical, absent not only from the protest scene, but also from the mainstream political one.

While Fashion Week and the convention were both presumably planned well in advance, with the fashionistas well aware that they were arriving right after the delegates, would it have been reasonable to expect designers to base their entire collections on an event that happened to be being held in New York just before their shows? Without making some bold statement about fashion designers being artists, and claiming that they are moved by creativity alone, or that they are, like Jane Brody's villainous health-food businessmen, just in it for the money, it would be fair to say that designers look to create clothing that fits their creative visions and that will, at least in some segments of the population, sell. Either goal is unlikely to be met by designers who use half a year's worth of outfits as a reaction to a political scene that, by November, will already seem so last year.

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