Essay - Tamsin Blanchard
I am on my way back from a couple of days at the Paris shows. In the past 48 hours, I have seen collections that made me want to shop. I have also seen collections that made me think, and one that made my blood heat up to a rolling boil. But I am leaving Paris feeling quite satisfied that the worlds of fashion and politics, and the ability to make a statement with your clothes, are as strong as ever. It is simply up to us to be as engaged with the issues or as blissfully ignorant as we like.
For Viktor & Rolf, the issues are quite black and white. Their walking slogan clothes shouted ‘No!’ as emphatically as a contrary teenager. ‘What are we supposed to be saying no to?’ asked the editor next to me. Well, it seemed you could take your pick, but Viktor & Rolf were apparently saying no to fast fashion, even though their seams were hurriedly stapled together (with gold staples, no less) instead of painstakingly stitched. Now, I seem to recall a recent collaboration between V&R and the high street chain, H&M, which they didn’t seem too concerned about at the time, but they are right to raise the issue. The speed at which fashion is being produced and the rate we are throwing it away is simply unsustainable and irresponsible – contributing to the pollution of the planet, the exploitation of garment workers in the developing world, and feeding our feckless desire to consume, consume, consume.
For Vivienne Westwood, it might be too late to say no. On a roll after the publication of her manifesto, (how long before she forms her own political party? I can’t wait) her collection was called Chaos Point. ‘Scientists have warned that ecological crisis has reached tipping point and the destruction is now irreversible,’ she writes in her show notes. ‘Others believe the response of human beings to the crisis is one factor that can save us – provided enough of us wake up to the emergency but calls for new thinking (my manifesto recommends practice which will effect a change in thinking: we need a new ethic.)’ She used the naïve and primitive drawings of a class of seven and eight year olds to express her chaos theory. Her brief to the children included this sound advice: ‘Look up ecology in the dictionary …good management of the earth. Now you know something more than you did a minute ago – this is what life is about.’ There is hope for the future generations at least.
Another fashion house that is always looking for new ways forward is Issey Miyake. For one exciting moment, while reading the Miyake news sheet waiting for the show to begin, I thought Dai Fujiwara had come up with a solution to the world’s nappy landfill problem. He is experimenting with the idea of disposable clothing – the ultimate in fast fashion and something Viktor and Rolf would not approve of. But Fujiwara believes there is a need for clothes that can be thrown away – with as little impact as possible on the planet, of course – after a single use. He compares it to the convenience of disposable nappy. His biodegradeable dresses are an interesting idea, but I’m not sure if this is the way forward. Surely we don’t want to encourage society to become any more throwaway than it already is. If he can come up with a way to turn disposable nappies into clothing, however, he really would be onto something.
And finally, if I may, a short rant. The show that made my blood boil was Jean Paul Gaultier. I felt ashamed to sit so passively, watching a splayed zebra stitched to the back of a coat, a crocodile’s head worn as a hood, its once mighty tail trailing pathetically behind, and a seemingly endless parade of exotic skins and furs that followed. Why are we looking back to the Stone Age and the most primitive form of clothing known to man? After the show, nobody else seems concerned. But that is what makes the power of fashion as a political tool so subtle and subversive. The medium is the message, but more often than not, the message is studiously ignored. These are only clothes, after all.