I’ve finally had a moment to sit down and gather my thoughts about the Chanel S/S 15 show, a pleasant stroll down Boulevard Chanel that has essentially been overshadowed by the faux-test, fashion riot and co-opting of feminism that has reverbed into discussion threads far longer and more in depth than any other show of the season, nay maybe the year. I have to thank Instagram for clarifying my thoughts – not through the endless pictures by attendees, which mostly gave the show a big thumbs up and applauded the genius of Karl Lagerfeld – but by commenters on a little slideshow I made of the picket sign and banner waving finale. I salute you guys for bringing thought provoking discussion without brainless finger pointing to the land of emojis and likes.
I was ready to dissect it all to try and conclude my own initial feelings of unease and confusion when I first saw the show. Then I went and read some of the reviews that had gone up. Vanessa Friedmann, of the New York Times, who has been injecting pretty much every review with a political angle, somehow skirted the issue. Tim Blanks did add context and colour to his review but gave Lagerfeld a pass because he was remembering 1968. An interesting Twitter convo between Cathy Horyn (your presence is missed…) and writer Max Berlinger had Horyn answering questions from the public about recent shows. What did she think of the Chanel finale?
That was a nail in my twisted knickered self. Had I overthought it and gone too deep into my foggy flu-influenced thoughts? Should I tra-la-la along and laugh it all off as just a bit of fun at a fashion show?
Well, I’ve thought and re-thought. The feelings throttling about in my feverish head were real. When waiting for the show to start, I was catching up on what was happening in Hong Kong on The Guardian. I was thinking about how proud I was that as a sort-of-HK-er, Hong Kong – a city which I had thought was essentially a slave to the $ and consumerism – had galvanised itself and was fighting back for what is a hugely worthy cause. I was also still slightly perturbed by the fact that on Sunday night, a Chinese “fan” accosted me in a restaurant, accusing me of betraying my “country” because I had tweeted out my support for the pro-democracy protests – did try and tell her that China was, not in fact my country. I was incensed and perhaps, slightly raging in my own head.
My head looked up. Then I saw pretty paint-splattered tweed, rainbow silk and ribbon woven in and out, monochrome metallic pin-striping and the continuation of “street-inspired” casualification of Chanel classics. All good and well. They walked down the street in pairs, trios or by themselves, with different hair and make-up treatments. They were individuals walking down a very busy and Chanel-ified street. Dress however you want was what Lagerfeld seemed to be saying. Great!
Then at the end of the show, the silence was broken by a faint yelling. Cara Delevigne led the way with her loudspeaker, as all the models stormed the mock Boulevard with a mock protest. Karl Lagerfeld, not holding a placard or banner, walked along coyly as if it were a joke and a ruse. Some waved their banners and placards with half-baked enthusiasm (woe on models who are required to “act” – they mostly don’t have it in them). Some were having a laugh with it. Did they know what they were saying? I doubt it. Not with slogans like “Féministe mais Feminine”, “Votez for Coco”, “Divorce pour tous”, “Boys should get pregnant too” and “Tweed is better than tweet.” What do they even mean? More to the point, why is pointless activism being used to sell clothes, when elsewhere in the world, real isuses are being fought for with blood, sweat and tears?
I’ll quote some Instagram comments to solidify the point as they were so eloquent.
NonsenseonStilettos: This kind of co-opting of protests and the real concerns that have people out on the street, to drive Chanel’s particular brand of selling things, is in poor taste.
ModernNiche: Perhaps it is admiration of protestors past and present but essentially trivialises the real issues to sell clothes (or more likely beauty and fragrance) sold at some of the highest price point.
When the banners got meatier and expressed a more intelligent feminist sentiment – “He for She” (in arch reference to Emma Watson’s UN speech), “Feminism not Masochism” and “Women’s Rights are More than Alright” the shit really hit the proverbial fan. Whatever Lagerfeld’s true stance on feminism is, it is difficult to believe the conviction of a uniform cast of women, held up to an unrealistic standard of beauty, waving such banners, whilst wearing clothes that are prohibitively expensive. Why go there, Karl? To court controversy? To get more Instagram likes? I suspect it’s a combination of both.
Lounawt: It mocks any real struggle, it’s the bourgeoisie dressed up as the proletariat. The presentation of the feminist movement as trendy or as though we have gender equality.
MelissaKateColeman: Feminism is a flat concept if we don’t use it to discuss current gender issues. In fact it distorts the conversation. This is not starting the conversation on feminism. It’s a conversation what a luxury fashion brand can and cannot do in good conscience. Just to be clear, if he’d really addressed issues I would have respected it regardless of his questionable past. Sadly, he was just paying lipservice.
Some have pointed out the fact that Lagerfeld – he of the controversial and often misogynist quotes – is in no position to even promote the cause of feminism.
MoreModelsofColor: Bullshit. If you are for all women. Cast older women, cast more models of colour – four black models is not enough and cast darker black models like Grace Bol, Nykhor Paul, Ataui and Ajak Deng, Ajuma Nasenyana, etc… Cast Indian models, cast more Latinas, cast more Asian models. Embrace all women. Have a more diverse cast if you are going to preach about feminism. Cast plus-size models. Stop it with racism, white supremacy and all the hypocritical-ness and pretentiousness.
On the flipside, some, including many big glossy title reviews, did credit Lagerfeld for driving awareness and starting conversations. I myself had lengthy conversations with fellow editors about the show usually tailing off without any neat conclusion.
SansimAdali: On the contrary I find it beneficial for those who want to make themselves heard. For example some of you now learned that Turkish women are suffering from gender inequality. Maybe some of you are now watching Emma Watson’s UN speech #heforshe. I just checked the latest news about #occupyhongkong
I did love all the conversation and discussion that came out of the conversation but what is the final end result – that Chanel gets more bag sales because they “raised” a topic of discussion?
PowItsKim: Awareness isn’t really a valid argument? If there is no follow-up, there is such a great chance of doing more harm than good ultimately. So he brought up, well, bombarded us with feminism, what are we now to do with that information? Who is leading this dialogue? The same skinny white women who are privileged by the system of fashion?
Thud. There goes that line of defence.
Then there’s the other theory. Was it all one big satire and was he in fact trolling feminists and political correctness in general? Or poking fun at fashion designers that take themselves too seriously with their heavy-handed messaging? Was Lagerfeld in fact acknowledging the real bottom line of why we’re all there to see fashion, which is that we’re all there to flog clothes and anything else is just a diversion? Then all the discussion is moot and not in fact a positive contribution because they’ve just added to the page views, mentions of Chanel on Google and its search ranking and numbers of #ChanelProtest on social media, which in turn will lead to sales. Which I’m fine with – that is what brands seek. We’re all in the game and that’s how it’s played. That said, it’s the callousness with regard to the real issues of feminism and the struggles going on right this second that makes my head spin. But yes, what fun! What larks because Instagram exploded with vids and pics.
And so, yes I have taken it all rather seriously and my knickers are in a big twist, even when I put aside my own personal entanglement with what is going on right now. It left me in a conflicted position because – and I do want it this to be known – I shamelessly love Chanel. I love its world and most things it touches with its glossy black, gold-edged, quilted hand. Chanel’s presence on this blog is a whole-hearted genuine MUAH to the brand without any commercial ties. Questioning what it does and its impact is demonstrative of how highly I regard it. This is a house that can affect change if it really wants to. It can go big on a protest and get behind a solid and genuine cause. Of course, if Lagerfeld is indeed just poking fun at the idea of fashion effecting change as he did when he prodded the art world in a gallery or made fun of our love of a brand, so much so that we’d try and steal an empty CC-logoed biscuit tin in a fake supermarket, then I have nothing to say to that. It’s the crème de la crème of all cynical moves that could so easily have been a positive one.
And then my other final final question would be, why all the fuss and the shit-stirring that essentially overshadowed the clothes? Unlike some of the other Instagram commenters, I quite enjoyed the clobber and when I saw them in the showroom, even more so, because they weren’t hidden by placards or banners. You saw superb craftsmanship and fabrications of the highest order and just a streamless unfettered indulgence of pretty pretty things (if perhaps a bit unedited). They’re clothes that could definitely empower a woman but that idea is now dented by the images of those signs. A woman rich enough to buy Chanel with her own hard earned £/$ will also be smart enough to know when she is being played by a man. Why couldn’t he just have had all the models walk out with variations on the signs that read “Be your own stylist” and “Be different”- those are strong messages that didn’t get muddled up with all this click-baiting, Instagram trolling and knicker twisting.