29 September 2013

Rick Owens Spring 2014 RTW Presentation: A Few (re)Considerations

Boa noite my readers,

Let me preface this post by saying that I appreciate the incredible charm, poise and grace with which Rick Owens operates in his interviews, the gregariousness and kind-heartedness he seems to display in his interactions with people at his shows, and the openness with which he speaks about his career. He has a calm voice soothing to the ear. Great.

However, as Rick Owens said himself in a April 2013 interview with Sofia Tchkonia, "Criticism is valuable," so let's have a gentle critique of his almost universally praised Spring 2014 Paris Fashion Week presentation. We'll talk about the leather and the fur use in a different post.

As many of you may know, Rick Owens, a U.S. American designer now currently based in Paris, decided to present his collection on bodies that he has never used before. As avid fans of fashion, you may have reviewed his previous collections on Style.com and observed the majority of the bodies that Rick Owens uses for his fashion presentation. (The screen shots only included the first 8 models; however, feel free to click on the link to view the approximately 40 images per collection).

As this newly proclaimed leader and innovator of diversity, never before has Owens as a designer seemed to have taken an interest in having brown bodies or bodies that weren't model-thin, represent his clothes on the runway. Even in his interview with Sofia Tchkonia, he says, "I kind of resented fashion shows because I did not like the idea of fashion shows presenting something that they considered a fantasy. I didn't like that you saw stuff on the runway that wouldn't even be in the stores, that it was all there for the effect of impressing you. That irritated me so when I did shows, one of my promises was that I'm never gonna show anything that I'm not going to sell. As time has gone on, I feel that I have been able to create the mood that I want and maintain the integrity of presenting things that I fully intend people to wear."

Tell me how pieces that disintegrate on the runway are pieces that will attract buyers? Tell me how pieces that disintegrate on the runway are pieces that are meant to be worn? How is this further perpetuating the stereotypes embedded within the minds of casting directors and designers who avoid women who look like me and look like the women in this presentation when the clothes are literally destroyed by their interaction with them? (The puff ball skirt begins falling apart around 8:24)

Additionally, Style.com, the reference point for all the major collections, ALWAYS publishes the names of the models next to their images. Want to know the name of any one of the models from this show? On Style.com, you can't. Highly visualized, highly mediatized, unnamed bodies-I smell a double standard....

Lastly, even with the NY Times to Jezebel.com (Jezebel, honestly, I was shocked), unanimously praising this show as a beacon of diversity, what are mediatized images and captions like this, that nonetheless do not match the content of the article, doing to reinforce the subtle institutionalized racism that makes these women in Paris Fashion Week so "shocking" and avant-garde in the first place?

(Click on the article so you can read it. And then tell me what the title of this article and images are doing /not doing to reinforce the words. Come on, NY Times!)

The purpose of this post is not to attack Rick Owens or rain on the parades that these women who must have felt amazing having had the opportunity to perform their love and craft on the runway of Paris Fashion Week. The point rather is to ensure that the conversation of "diversity in fashion" doesn't become conflated, diluted, or distorted with the extended legacy of profitable cultural appropriation in fashion, the use of brown bodies as vouyeristic subjects of entertainment and the perpetuation of stereotypes of the "angry black women" that fashion leaders such as Naomi Campbell even allude to that institutionally prevent women who look like the women on Rick Owen's runways from ever claiming the authority to function in the space of Paris Fashion Week as editor, buyer, or even fellow showcasing designer.

(In case the video doesn't work, click here)
The dire need for more diversity in fashion, particularly in the context of Paris Fashion Week, has led to the creation of institutions such as Black Fashion Week, created because of the dire need for representation beyond the white Eurocentric standard for fashion. According to Adama Paris, in response to continued questions of why a "Black Fashion Week," the production's founder responded, " “I would say fine, create a White Fashion Week,” she told the French press earlier this week “But guess what, the fashion world is already white.” She further continues, " “This is not a fashion show by black people, for black people,” she says. “It’s part of a movement, like “black music” and “black art”, and it is inclusive of all the people that are drawn to it.” (France24).

So, Rick Owens, designer from California, the U.S. state that gave birth to the Black Panther Party, bred with the cultural awareness of racial identity politics by default, with your fascination with stepping, the verbally unvoiced but visually declared newfound fascination with black bodies and black movement forms, what movement of racial inclusivity are you building beyond your brand? Are you building or supporting movements beyond your brand?

The lack of critical depth that the majority of blogs and even major editorials have taken in holistically representing this show has been shocking and necessitates looking at. Because, in the name of ethical fashion that considers not simply ethical materials and fair trade, but unethical institutions of institutionalized racism, imperialism, and cultural hegemony, we must re-evaluate the forms of representation that we, in the culture of trend waves, so immediately co-sign.

Again, this is not an attack on anyone but rather a plea, a CRY, that we challenge the colonial mind that has dominated the fashion industry for centuries. I'd like to continue my work in fashion as blogger, as designer, even as scholar, without being reminded that my complexion, my ethnic background, my locs are in any way a fetish or an abnormality that requires validation by someone else who doesn't have to deal with those thangs.... Let us create a fashion world of true diversity so that none of us have to.

In the name of Bethann Hardison, the pioneer of the diversity campaign that so many previous blogs have mis-referenced, "Please don't give me an all black show," Hardison said. "This is about diversity -- all nationalities, races, colors and skin tones being equally represented." 

Rick Owens, Philipp Plein, all those who work for you, all those who fund you, and all the editors who are invited to your shows, this is about DIVERSITY AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITY. So look amongst each other, look at images of your Spring 2014 models, look at the faces of the attendees, look at the faces of those in your design studios, look at the editorial masthead of the publications who support you, look at your funders, and tell me how you are going to ensure that you are truly advocating for, fighting for, the diversity that you have been ordained the leader of? What sort of diversity do you believe in and does it include me?

Peace, love, accountability, diversity, and beauty that no longer has to be qualified,

P.s. Robin Givhan, why are these women representative of a "Rejection of Conventional Beauty"? What conventions are you reinforcing?

P.p.s. Let's have a book club with Melissa Harris-Perry. Robin, you are welcomed to join. Would love to see you and Rick and Philipp, and everyone there :)

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