Fashion has never been about making people feel comfortable. From corsets to high heels, the fashion industry has always sought to modify, improve and evolve. It has also been a resource for ostracized groups to flourish in. It embraces the awkward, the outcast and unconventionally beautiful. And yet, somehow, it still manages to be racist, classist and often uphold unrealistic bodily ideals through catwalks and photoshop. With this being said, the fashion industry is far from perfect, but it strives to be just that. The one thing fashion has managed to hold on to is its will to anger the masses. It is not about reaffirming the comfort of those who have historically benefitted from the discomfort of others. Instead, it allows those whose voices have been silenced to gain back their confidence and showcase their power, which has always existed inside of them. Think of fashion like a superhero’s alter ego; it is not until Bruce Wayne puts on his mask and bat suit he feels like he can take on his enemies. Furthermore, once people see this person and what they stand for, they want to become them and encompass what makes them stand out. This is what fashion enables people to do. Fashion does not only empower the person who is wearing the garment, it allows for other people to be inspired and take a stand.
Take, for instance, the newest ad campaign for H&M called, “Close the Loop,” which promotes the use of sustainable fashion through recycling clothing. Much of the campaign’s publicity arose from the Swedish company’s decision to feature Mariah Idrissi, a Muslim model who dons her hijab in the commercial. It should be said that the commercial is not just about sustainable clothing, but that it also encourages its viewers to break the rules. While Idrissi’s appearance is a milestone for the Swedish company and the fashion industry as a whole, it also reveals how much work there is still to do in regards to being more inclusive and representative in media. Idrissi is like any other fashionista/o featured in the commercial who varies in race, gender, size, age and more. The commercial beautifully showcases the lengths to which society has worked so hard to constrict the ways people are allowed to express themselves and encourages its consumers to follow their own rules. Although fashion is very much about adornment, the clothes are merely a vessel for people to enhance the qualities they already possess. It would be wrong to reduce Idrissi to her hijab and it would also be wrong to not acknowledge the magnitude and impact of her presence in this commercial as a Muslim woman. If you went to Idrissi’s Instagram right now, you would see massive amounts of support from women, both in and outside of the Muslim community, who are delighted to see this kind of representation finally being showcased and supported in a mainstream campaign.
Another moment has got to be Pyer Moss’ spring 2016 fashion show, designed by Kerby Jean-Raymond. The show began with a featured presentation showcasing various videos depicting moments of police brutality that lead up to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The messages were then further replicated on the clothing with blood spattered boots, spray painted jackets and the names of the victims, as well as Eric Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe.” The fashion show shed light on the fact the #BlackLivesMatter movement is far from over and garnered support and backlash, which resulted in Jean-Raymond and his team receiving death threats. This sort of representation is unheard of in the fashion industry. Racism is rarely dealt with so bluntly and with such force. It also speaks volumes on how outraged and uncomfortable people become when confronted with issues of social justice while simultaneously supporting shows with little to no models of color or blatant cultural appropriation. Jean-Raymond remained unbothered by threats and seemed to be in good spirits as he journeyed to Paris, probably curating more ideas. The Pyer Moss show was not about appeasing the audience or pacifying the largely white-centered fashion industry who often are “inspired” by the lower class and communities of color. If you disagree, I advise that you search how many times large magazine publications have been called out for blackface/brownface, renaming/appropriating hairstyles that have been created by the black community, the need for an entire community to create the #ReclaimTheBindi movement because of appropriation and the amount of times you see people wearing Native-American headdresses at Coachella events and on runways because it is so cool. The Pyer Moss fashion show is not just about discomfort: It is about taking a stand in the same ways that the H&M commercial encourages viewers to break the rules while simultaneously taking its own advice by having such a diverse cast in its advertisement.
Fashion is not about comfort and it is not about making other people feel comfortable. This mantra is what allows room to be made for people like Kerby Jean-Raymond and Mariah Idrissi to address issues that largely affect consumers who are often lower class and/or people of color. Fashion is what allows people to express themselves, to be whoever they want to be and to fight back against conformity. Fashion is not superficial, it is deliberate and has a message. No one is exempt from the significant hold and influence that fashion has on a consumer society.
"This...stuff? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select...I don't know...that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. In fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff." -- Miranda Priestly in "The Devil Wears Prada" (2006)