Tuesday, 1 October 2013

This joyous performance will do more for fashion's health than Femen stunts

Fashion week is one of those things that completely dominate your life for eight weeks of every year. (That's four cities, twice around, in spring and autumn.) Or else it catches your eye from the middle shelf of your supermarket's print section every once in a while.

If you're a fashion journalist or designer, chances are you've been living on instant ramen and Alka-Seltzer for the past month, observing "momentous" shifts. If you're anybody else, absolutely nothing has changed. There's a disconnect between real time and fashion time that makes it difficult for things that might seem fantastically controversial during fashion week to cross over into the mainstream.

To the fashion press, Marc Jacobs dressing Cara Delavigne and Georgia Jagger in flat shoes with thick, straw-coloured bobbed wigs was a pivotal moment in New York this season. To the rest of the world, it was a couple of people with scarecrow hair.

I'm sure you get the point. It's hard for fashion to hold people's attention for longer than the 15 seconds it takes to describe what Victoria Beckham wore to dinner with Karl Lagerfeld last night. Of course, we've learned to acknowledge the economic importance of fashion. Because, while the manic month of shows is about as familiar to most of us as the idea of buying a Saint Laurent tube dress for £1,500, the fashion industry is a behemoth of employment.

We're also learning about the importance of the representation of women in the industry. There is still a distinct lack of diversity – from the high street right up to the shows. White models outnumber all other ethnicities combined. And the line that fashion is for thin people might be the most tired of clich├ęs, but that doesn't stop it from being 100% accurate.
Fashion is certainly a wonderful expression of art and culture and anyone who brushes it off as entirely shallow or frivolous is missing the point – but inclusive and accessible it is not.

Which is why those with a keen interest in the industry become especially alert when fashion stories go mainstream? And those moments are, more often than not, to do with issues of female representation. Heroin chic is an obvious example, which directed the public's gaze to the protruding ribs of its fashion icons. John Galliano's anti-Semitic rant was another. In fact, anorexia, drugs and racism are the three main reasons my dad might call me up to inquire nervously whether I really think it's a good idea to aspire to being a fashion editor.

Sure, it can be a pretty cruel world. Which is probably why nobody was particularly surprised to see Femen, the feminist protest group, storming the catwalk at Nina Ricci in Paris on Friday, chests daubed with the messages: "Model don't go to brothel" and "Fashion Dictaterror".

It's not hard to see how Femen would come to the conclusion that the fashion industry is a hostile, intolerant place; and, in the past few years, there has been some pretty depressing coverage of just how bad it can be. The recent documentary, Girl Model, featuring 13-year-old girls scouted in Siberia and sent to Japan where they're swindled into running up huge debts by agencies, isn't a particularly reassuring snapshot of the modeling world. The fact that so many of these young girls are forced into the sex trade because they're left to fend for themselves, broke in a country where they can't even read the road signs, is certainly good reason to highlight unhealthy attitudes towards women.