Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Rei Kawakubo – A Brief History of Deconstruction

The enigmatic designer has spent the last five decades reconfiguring notions of beauty, sex and gender; in celebration of her upcoming Met exhibition, here’s a brief overview of her radically singular vision.

When Rei Kawakubo first brought her label, Comme des Garçons, to Paris in 1981, the fashion industry was scandalised. Although she had already been working in fashion for over a decade in Tokyo, her Western debut collection – characterised by tattered swathes of black fabric, torn sweaters and deliberately unfinished hemlines – resulted in instant notoriety and elicited a passionate, often vicious reaction. Some called it ‘bag lady chic’, others an ‘invasion’; others were disturbed and enraged in equal measures by this unique collection which seemed to rally against the foundations upon which the fashion industry was built.

Despite the chaos, this would go on to be seen as the opening chapter in a legacy which will next month be celebrated by New York’s prestigious Met Museum in an exhibition entitled ‘Art of the In-Between’. The loose theme is opposition, so the rooms will be ordered according to a series of deliberately vague binary categories including, amongst others: ‘Clothes/Not Clothes’, ‘High/Low’, ‘Self/Other’ and ‘Fashion/Anti-Fashion’.

Like everything Kawakubo does, the exhibition promises to be far from conventional. In fact, this is only the second time in history the museum has staged a tribute to a living designer – the first to be honored was Yves Saint Laurent back in 1983.

SS97, via

So what makes Kawakubo worthy of this accolade? Put simply, she doesn’t design clothing; she designs objects which just happen to be worn. Her earlier collections followed the ‘rules’ of design to an extent – although armholes, legholes and hemlines were sometimes dropped or deconstructed, they were, for the most part, at least present. Now, however, this isn’t the case – her models walk the runways in monstrous, outsized contraptions which often obscure faces, shroud bodies and challenge perceptions of what counts as clothing and what doesn’t.

This is an inadvertent commentary in itself. After all, we live in a world which tells us how we should look, how we should dress and what clothing we should be wearing to flatter our body type and silhouette; by obscuring and distorting the human figure completely, Kawakubo fucks up these conversations in a way which demands respect. Wearing these transformative pieces, her models become a twisted visual hybrid of human and not-quite-human; it’s an effect which completely unravels everything we assume to understand about the body and, at the same time, presents radical new possibilities to keep exploring the unknown.

AW05, via

Other themes have cropped up in Kawakubo’s work over the decades. There was ‘Broken Bride’, a collection characterised by frayed white lace, veiled faces and hands tied delicately together in the symbolic binds of matrimony; there was ‘Dress Meets Body’, famously known as the ‘lumps and bumps’ collection for its gingham dresses stretched over unsettling artificial bulges; there was even the 2D collection, which was later adapted by Lady Gaga to make the statement that a woman’s weight should never be policed by bloodthirsty gossip columnists. These topics have, of course, been explored by other designers, but Kawakubo explores them in a way which is almost impossible to replicate.

Some may argue that her clothes are unwearable – this is, at least in an everyday context, true. It would be ridiculous to strut out to a first date wearing a twisted mass of silver insulation material and a black cotton candy wig, but that’s not the point; these aren’t clothes made to sell, they’re made to stimulate conversation.

This is precisely what makes Kawakubo so worthy of her place in the Met; in a fashion industry increasingly driven by growth, sales and commerce, Comme des Garçons has always remained a beautifully bizarre anomaly. Numerous diffusion lines, fragrances and collaborations make this creative freedom possible, but it’s refreshing to know that this alternative exists. Not only does it provide a welcome antidote to a fashion industry in dire need of a break from relentless schedules and creative compromise, it offers a glimmer of hope that, despite what we’re told, it might still be possible to come up with radical new ideas after all.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Why it’s not OK to assume trans people rely on gendered “uniforms”

Earlier today, a journalist called Katie Glover published what is known in the industry as a “very controversial article”. Glover, a trans journalist and editor of Frock magazine, wrote a detailed article designed as a response to Louis Vuitton’s casting of Jaden Smith as the face of its SS16 womenswear collection. A cursory glance at the article shows responses that range from “what a load of bollocks” to “please rewrite this article with a more intelligent journalist at the keyboard.” All in all, not hugely positive. So what exactly does the article get wrong? Honestly, there’s so much that probably the best way to tackle is just blow by blow, so here we go.

Paragraph #1. Glover opens the article stating how completely alien the fashion industry is to her, claiming that she is “out of the loop“ and “didn’t even realise Louis Vuitton had an old face!” Her undermining of the fashion industry continues when she states she didn’t even realize Louis Vuitton had expanded further than handbags, proving this woman clearly hasn’t picked up a copy of Vogue in the last year. How, then, should a writer that openly professes to know nothing about fashion feel qualified to write an in-depth think piece on the problematic nature of a fashion campaign?

The author then continues by reinforcing what we already know – that our entire society is based on ridiculous codes of gender which date back decades and still niggle no matter how progressive the world apparently becomes. Instead of fighting the notion that women should have long, flowing locks and keep a wardrobe full of gingham dresses to wear whilst cooking meals for her devoted husband, she instead argues that these visual tropes are handy to us because they help us identify women from men. Because, of course, if women snatch a smoking jacket from the menswear rack or cut their hair short, we all just stare blankly in bemusement whilst questioning whether she is, in fact, a female.

In Glover’s own words, “male-to-female transgender people rely on props like clothes, shoes, make-up and hairstyles to create the gender identity they want because most of the time their bodies alone are unable to do that”. Let us all remind ourselves that Caitlyn Jenner was completely ripped to shreds earlier this this year for claiming that “people feel threatened if you look like a man in a dress” and “the most difficult part of being a woman is choosing which outfit to wear”. Remember why those comments were problematic? It’s because they reduced the identity of transgender women to nothing more than an aesthetic. It creates the impression that trans women don’t actually spend their pre-transition lives in complete turmoil thanks to the same gender ‘ideals’ and ‘uniforms’ that Glover seems to think are so important. It disregards decades of battle for trans human rights, discards the very real threat of physical and verbal abuse and even murder, brushing that all aside to argue that, actually, as long a trans woman follows established visual tropes of femininity, she’ll be alright.

She then goes on to round off her articulate with an extremely insightful quote, stating fear that “men wearing skirts and girly stuff will become acceptable” – a clear sign of the heteronormative patriarchy encroaching on trans territory. By wearing a skirt, Jaden is apparently appropriating the “trans uniform” and is therefore detrimental to progression of the LGBT community. This was the part that truly blew my mind, for many reasons. Firstly, the introduction of gender-neutral clothing will not mean that men encroach on trans territory, it will in fact loosen the rigid codes of masculinity and lead to a mainstream media more accepting of non-binary gender identity. By eliminating gendered uniforms, we can begin to work towards the elimination of gender bias. Secondly, how exactly will “men wearing girly stuff” somehow worsen the world for trans women? Surely the main reason that (SOME) trans women feel the need to assimilate is to avoid judgement and harassment for daring to rebel against society’s toxic gender norms? 

Overall, it seems that Glover has managed to piss many people off for extremely justified reasons. The first is that mainstream media is already terrified to touch trans issues because, as I have found in my experience as a journalist, the fear of accidentally mis-representing a minority group is enormous. 2015 is often held up as a “banner year” for trans awareness, meaning that many journalists interviewing trans models and covering trans issues haven’t done so before. It is an EXTREMELY sensitive issue, and it is imperative that the media, the fashion media in particular, does its utmost to dispel the murmurs that trans identities are being exploited as a trend. It is important to talk about the issues plaguing trans women every day, it’s important to acknowledge that a lack of knowledge and judgement still exists, and MORE THAN ANYTHING it’s important to highlight that trans women are more than just a fucking aesthetic. By singling out this campaign and claiming it offensive to trans women, all that Glover could achieve is a) to reinforce the staggering pressure already placed on trans women to assimilate with heteronormative ideals of femininity, b) to erase the issues of trans women and claim that their sense of self-worth is based on their ability to don a ‘gendered uniform’ and c) to strike fear into the hearts of poor non-trans journalists trying their absolute best to represent a minority in a sensitive and beneficial way. 

Thursday, 10 December 2015


Never in recent years has society lived in such fear. As the profile of terrorist organisation ISIS grows in the UK (mainly thanks to fuel added to the fire by mainstream media), so does the trend for racist outbursts and attacks, many of which have gone viral; see this Muslim woman getting called an “ISIS bitch”, or this woman in a hijab being pushed in front of a London Underground train by an onlooker. With Trump calling for a ban on Muslims trying to enter America and Cameron approving airstrikes on the already-wartorn streets of Syria, modern Muslims are suffering the consequences of terrorism in the form of a rise in xeneophobia. Over 12% of the population of London are Muslim, so why are they still being dehumanised?

A disclaimer before we enter the body of this article; I am not claiming that fashion can eradicate xenophobia. However, it‘s common knowledge that everybody creates a first impression based on the first 30 seconds of interaction and, therefore, it is logical to argue that image and appearance play a large part. We subconsciously scan people to make up our mind them; we compare them to what is ‘normal’, and our ideas of normality are, whether we like it or not, influenced by what we see in the media. Fashion‘s role in the mainstream media, and its role in creating the advertisements and billboards fed to us daily, means that fashion now has more of a responsibility than ever to endorse beauty of all sizes, ethnicities and religions. So far, H&M are the only high-street chain to use a hijab-wearing Muslim, enlisting model Mariah Idrissi as one of the faces of their “Close The Loop” campaign. Despite the fact that she was one of many stars in a video which featured amputee models, Sikh males and plus-size models, it was Idrissi whose appearance garnered the most column inches – an indication in itself that a hijabi model is still an anomaly in an industry that claims to celebrate diversity.

Idrissi in H&M’s ‘Close the Loop’ campaign

In an interview with Fusion, Idrissi spoke openly of her experiences on set (she credits the cameraman and cast as being “very respectful”) and indicates that she was skeptical when initially asked to take the job, even going as far as to clarify that the bookers knew she wore a hijab; “it always feels like women who wear hijab are ignored when it comes to fashion… Our style, in a way, hasn’t really mattered, so it’s amazing that a brand that is big has recognized the way we wear hijab.” In reality, Muslim women are an enormous demographic for luxury retailers, so it seems bizarre that they remain absent from campaigns.

It’s fair to argue that fashion’s fascination with sex is one of the main reasons for the lack of Muslim models. Despite becoming one of the most iconic supermodels of the 1990s, Yasmeen Ghauri has spoken openly about the ways in which her profession are at odds with her strict Muslim upbringing. Speaking candidly in a fashion documentary she talks about how Muslims aren’t supposed to dance or show skin, and also that her job puts her Pakistani father, an Islamic priest, in jeopardy. American Apparel’s infamous “Made in Bangladesh” campaign also courted controversy last year by featuring Bangladeshi Muslim Maks (who chose to hide her last name) topless, accompanied by a blurb which again pursued the narrative that she had to distance herself from her religion before choosing to model.

Yasmeen Ghauri for Christian Lacroix FW1994

Regardless of the strict guidelines around the religion of Islam, it is quickly becoming imperative that fashion finds a way to broaden its stance on diversity and shine the spotlight on Muslim women. A lack of integration is usually the result of a lack of visibility; as the hijab remains unacknowledged by the mainstream media, it becomes increasingly pushed away from the aesthetic being normalised on billboards. Fashion is often cited as a visual reflection of society – one look at Vivienne Westwood’s political designs during the punk era is enough to prove that fashion and politics can engage successfully. It only makes sense that the glossy images fed to us by mainstream retailers reflect the multicultural society that 21st-century Britain has become. Hijabi women need a voice - a voice which silences Nationalists claiming Islam as a violent religion and which diversifies the common narrative that all women of Islam are repressed. No, fashion will never succeed in eradicating the wave of reactionary racism in the wake of terrorist attacks,. However, it can remind us all that the Muslim men and women we see on the street (many of whom are second or third-generation and therefore of British nationality) absolutely must not be stereotyped or villified due to the actions of a minority extremists.

Monday, 26 October 2015


It seems ironic that Germaine Greer chose the title A Female Eunuch for her seminal 1970 work. Greer aimed to argue that the suburban female stereotype stripped women of their sexuality, thus drawing comparison to eunuchs - the dictionary definition of which is a man that has been castrated. The emphasis here is on libido, on the genitalia - a man stripped of his testes is comparable to a woman stripped of her sex drive. Greer’s obsession with genitalia reared its head again this week in a now-famous interview with BBC Newsnight in which she claimed “trans women are not women” - a salacious soundbite which understandably pissed off the entire LGBTQ community. 

She continued - “I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to undergo that [gender reassignment] procedure. What I’m saying is that it doesn’t make them a woman”. Greer’s statements are problematic for a number of reasons, the first of which is that it completely ignores the progress that queer theory has made over the last few decades. It was Judith Butler that (convincingly) argued that biological sex and gender identity are two completely separate entities - essentially, you don’t have to be born with female genitalia to identify as a woman. Gender dysphoria is real, it’s relevant and it’s extremely important. The second problem is that Greer fails to talk about the transgender community without referring to surgery, thus demonstrating complete a complete lack of awareness with regards to the difference between transgender and transsex. 

She then continues in the same offensive vein by stating that many women feel that trans women “don’t look like, sound like or behave like women” - a statement which is not only offensive, but also hypocritical. Greer quite literally built a career by stating the problems with stereotypes - the sexless housewife, the promiscuous whore. Feminism argues against a stereotypical portrayal of female “behaviour” - the principle of feminism is that a woman should be liberated, free to express herself as she chooses. Greer apparently doesn’t think this of trans women, insinuating they must assimilate in order to be “accepted” by biological women. 

Her statement also reiterates the pressure placed on trans women to aspire to ideals of feminine beauty. A large part of life as a trans woman is based on attempting to “pass” for female - if you look and act convincingly female, there’s a chance that people won’t notice your trans status and thus the likelihood of you being abused or beaten is significantly lower. The irony is that Caitlyn Jenner (who Greer accuses of “transitioning to steal the limelight of the other Kardashian women”… yes, really…) faced heavy criticism by the trans community for focussing too heavily on designer dresses and high heels and not enough on the struggles of less-privileged trans women and trans women of colour. 

Finally, Greer rounds off her rant with the age-old accusation of misogyny - “men think that they can have their penis chopped off and become a better woman than somebody who was born female”. Statements like these are the reason that, for many years, “feminist” became a dirty word. The notion that a biological man would consent to surgical castration to enter the female realm and become “a better woman” is completely nonsensical, yet this is apparently Greer’s stance. Honestly, seeing this interview shocked me - it probably shouldn’t, but it did. It seems bizarre that queer theory itself is a radical variation of feminism - indeed Greer herself was praised for her radical views. It seems that her views aren’t so radical with regards to intersectional feminism - if anything, it seems that her views are archaic and, more often than not, entirely hypocritical.

Thursday, 15 October 2015


Regardless of how much you care about fashion, there’s a 99% chance you’re familiar with Coco Chanel. You’re also probably familiar with Chanel as the behemoth brand that dominates Bond Street with its tweed two-pieces and interlocking C’s. A French fashion house steeped in history and largely credited for establishing the chic Parisian uniform that we have all come to know and love, Chanel is beginning to leave its roots and look firmly toward the future. At least this is the impression you get as you enter the Saatchi Gallery, guided by legions of guards present to limit the crowds. As you enter the gallery you are treated to a recreation of Coco’s own garden divided into three sections, all of which are beautifully decorated with vast swathes of flora including, Chanel’s own favourite, the camellia. This stunning yet quaint entrance soon makes way for modernity as visitors are reminded that the exhibition comes fully-furnished with free Wifi and an accompanying app, which promises to act as a faithful companion there to uncover new nuggets of information as you peruse the installations. 

Mademoiselle Privé exhibition poster

Wednesday, 14 October 2015


Ever since Caitlyn Jenner ‘came out’ as transgender on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine, the mainstream media has been more preoccupied than ever with discussions of gender. Sometimes, these discussions are positive for the LGBTQ community - they highlight the issues faced by the transgender community, illustrate the difficulties of daily life (a lack of gender-neutral bathrooms for example) and, most importantly, humanise transgender people. However, these discussions can result in negative consequences - one example of this is the show ‘Girls to Men’, which aired recently on Channel 4. A quick Twitter search of the documentary title shows “girlstomen consent” and leads to a statement from CJ Bruce, an individual that claims they were deceived by the show producers - just one of many accusations of deceit levelled at the show's producers.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015


Honestly, I’m still baffled by the ubiquity of street style blogs. I understand the fascination with the bloggers and their personalities and I understand that these blogs provide key tips on how to translate pieces and trends from the runway and incorporate them into your daily wardrobe. I get all that, really, I do - I’ve watched enough Gok Wan to realise that there’s a market for them. Personally, I prefer my fashion with an extra dash of fantasy - think frothy, grandiose couture gowns, extreme over-the-top embellishment and runway show pieces that would probably fall apart the minute you put them on. As much as I enjoy seeing that new-season Céline coat teamed with cigarette trousers and loafers on the corner of Oxford Street, I will always be a sucker for fashion that would attract the filthiest of stares on the 9.14 to London Euston. Fashion is at its best, its most creative when it’s not bound by the codes of conventional daywear. Which brings me back to street style blogs - the majority of them feature women who are probably on their way to a 'sensible' job which forces them to rely on statement coats and killer accessories to remain office-appropriate.

Club kid icon Amanda Lepore - "challenge homogeneity"