“And The Walls Came Tumbling Down…”
By Yasmin Jones-Henry
What is Fashion For?
Sometimes, in order to reform something you need to tear it down. Rip it out of the ground from its roots and start again. Trimming the edges while the rot is permitted to reside undisturbed is nothing short of failure if your goal is to effect change and deliver a positive outcome. ‘Reclaiming fashion and redefining it for the masses’, was how I summarised what I wanted @WorkinFashion.me to do. As you will see in almost every article I compose, I return not to the lauded fashion magazines for reference – but to the etymology of the word itself for clarification. Taken from the Latin ‘facere’ meaning to do or to make – fashion is literally what we make it. So, as a creative – working within this industry I am compelled to ask, what are we making?
What is fashion? What purpose does it serve? Why does it matter? – I believe ‘fashion’ is an extended form of self-advertisement and a form of self expression. Fashion is personal. Fashion is art. Fashion is political. Fashion operates as a beacon within mainstream society dictating to the masses what to do and when. What the fashion industry sanctions – other sectors follow. This is what makes the industry so powerful – but this also makes it deadly. The industry that has grown around the aforementioned artisan, the beast that has emerged from the depths to feed off of its creative energy is what I wish to address in this article. There is a saying ‘start as you mean to go on’ and in the creation of any philosophical utopia – before the ideal state can be imagined clear lines of demarcation must be drawn. Principles must be drafted, rules must be established and a narrative must be set.
Within the fashion industry, this narrative is set primarily by the magazine editors who layout their blueprint for the reader to follow within the pages of their publications. To achieve this, creative collaboration is required. An ecosystem emerges whereby the editor becomes a patron to the designers, they monitor motifs amongst the new creations, they commission writers and they hire photographers to bring each story to life. It is a team effort. The end product is an archive filled to the brim with sumptuous artwork, world class journalism and breathtaking photography, all working together in symbiotic harmony to seduce the reader into buying into the lifestyle that is currently for sale.
Using the combined assault of visual aesthetic, literary prowess and psychology, their mission is to persuade you that you want, no, – need the things they have to offer. They deliver fashion advice, health advice, relationship advice – and in some cases even recommend where to travel and where to live. Make no mistake: while some remain unappreciative towards the role and the influence that these magazines still have over our society, much like the falling tyrants of Hollywood, until recently their power had remained unchecked.
Reports & Allegations
The ricochets from the #MeToo scandal are now beginning to penetrate the very heart of the fashion industry. The end of 2017 and the start of 2018 saw most of the major publishing houses and many of the leading fashion brands issuing public statements declaring that they will no longer work with the likes of Terry Richardson, Bruce Weber, Mario Testino… and most recently Patrick Demarchelier. Four of the most successful, famous and highly sought after photographers who have dominated the features and the ad campaigns over the last 20 years – in the space of two months have been exposed as predators, disgraced and disowned by the very peers who until recently had lavished them with praise and adoration.
The hypocrisy is stifling. Some of the victims that have bravely reported their abuse to publications such as The New York Times, have repeated time and again that when they first appealed to the decision makers (the agents and the editors) to stop working with these alleged abusers, their pleas fell on deaf ears. In fact one could argue these predators felt confident to unleash over 20 years of torture on the models who were trusted in their care – because they knew that they could act with impunity.
Take for example Mario Testino. When the New York Times spoke to several male models who had suffered and made complaints about his conduct during photoshoots– the indifference with which they were treated by their superiors (designers and editors) is baffling. In a recent statement following the revelations of his malfeasance, Anna Wintour (editor in chief of American Vogue), a close friend of Testino and king maker within the industry issued a public statement still maintaining her reluctance to accept that such stories concerning his behaviour could be true. I won’t bother to paraphrase – you can read the statement for yourself online. It followed a rather comprehensive list of guidelines belatedly drafted in a feeble attempt to salvage some moral high ground. The fact it has taken this long to issue a standardised code of conduct during photo shoots – demonstrates the extent to which safe working environments for models and the prevention of predatory behaviour was neither a priority or a concern for the decision makers within the industry… until their laissez faire attitude became a PR disaster.
Weinstein, Testino and Demarchelier all have one thing in common. They were humanised, embraced and elevated by the fashion industry. With which publications did Demarchelier, Testino and Richardson establish their careers? Who were the editors who consistently hired them to deliver their lifestyle vision?…Who – despite hearing reports of abuse insisted on giving them pride of place over other lesser known but equally talented photographers? Wintour was just one influential editor among many who continued to endorse the likes of Testino and Richardson even after models had filed complaints. In the grand scheme of abuse – should the abusers and the enablers be swept away with the same broom? Or should one be condemned, ostracised and expelled – while the other remains in their position of power and privilege as though nothing has changed? How sincere is this alleged reformation if the self appointed reformers are too cowardly to tackle the rot?
Left unchecked the rot and the cracks in any foundation will still bring about the structure’s collapse. To ensure genuine progress, structural changes are crucial for the industry if it is to maintain any credibility. A new lick of paint just won’t do. Sitting back watching the carousel that is Fashion Week come back around as they visit New York, London, Paris and Milan, I see the same faces lining the catwalk, seated just as they were before these show trials began. Scrolling through the numerous collections, swiping past the usual hyperbole with each post, I wish someone would ask: when will personal accountability become a trend? Or are the editors in question hoping that if they purchase a larger handbag and a new pair of sunglasses that they will somehow escape detection?
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