Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Fashion shows at archaeological sites: private money for public spaces

Dolce and Gabbana at Agrigento

Fashion shows are performances; as such, they need pleasant surroundings and good mis-en-scène. The conventional runway show held at some typical exhibition or conference centre does not seem to work anymore; designers are always on the lookout for exciting locations where they can hold their show.
Back in 1998, Calvin Klein requested permission from the Greek Archaeological Council to hold a show at the Acropolis in Athens. The application was rejected. More recently, Gucci tried in 2017, and that application too was rejected. The Acropolis is far too precious to the Greeks, and the fear of damaging it rules out such interventions. It is also likely that the Greeks would prefer, for political reasons, a homegrown designer/brand to hold such a show in what is the pride and glory of Greek culture.
This year there were two events that linked fashion directly to archaeological sites: the Dolce and Gabbana show at the Valley of Temples in Agrigento, Sicily,  and Fendi's show in Rome at the Temple of Venus, a celebration of 'Romanity', with the splendour of the Colosseum in the background. Both shows took place in July and were spectacular.
Such events at archaeological sites can be quite beneficial to the sites: Dolce and Gabbana built a platform inside the Temple of Concordia, and as a result, visitors are now allowed to go inside the temple, whereas earlier they would have to limit themselves to going round it. Fendi, on the other hand, has pledged £2.2 for the restoration and cleaning of the majestic Temple of Venus. Archaeological sites are fragile and need constant attention; their upkeep is costly and not necessarily fully covered by state support. Not in Italy, not elsewhere, though some places may have better budgets.

An event such as a fashion show enables a renewed engagement with such sites which are part of a community and need to be seen not merely as monuments of a gone past, but still enmeshed in the present, alive and thriving.
Most of the main sites in Rome have received patronage from the fashion industry, specifically luxury brands. Rome is enveloped in its rich history which seamlessly merges with the present. Rome thrives on the income provided by tourism; it is only predictable that attractions should be well kept. It would be foolish to turn down the money offered by interested private companies, in this case,  luxury brands, although everything comes at a price.
Writing for The Guardian in 2016, in the wake of  the cleaning and restoration of the Trevi fountain achieved through another spectacular Fendi's fashion show, Eva Wiseman commented that  "it seems apt that this city, its story so tightly wound with ideas of luxury and taste, can be propped up by fashion brands in a way that, say, London can’t. The idea of Topshop sponsoring a clean-up of Nelson’s Column is almost unthinkable."   Fendi and Topshop are not quite in the same league, it must be said.
But do I detect here a sour grape sentiment in Wiseman's subsequent comments, when she wonders whether accepting money from fashion brands might eventually lead to the introduction of VIP only areas?
Fashion brands in the UK do not act as sponsors of known sites - I would love to see Victoria Beckham stepping up to the plate and investing into a British site (there are several that are languishing and desperately need to be renovated) but private money poured in the upkeep of places such as Kew Gardens is old news.  So why feel somewhat outraged? It's called capitalism, and we live in a largely capitalist world.

Chihuly at Kew
I go to Kew Gardens regularly, as I am a member. It is a great place to visit, but it is not easily accessible to everyone. London parks are usually free and especially when it is sweltering, they are places where everyone tries to spend time. And not just in hot weather. Parks and green spaces are the lungs of this sprawled out metropolis.
Kew, however,  is not free; getting in is a steep £16.50 per person, a little less with various concessions.  A membership 'plus guest' is the best option if you really are committed to visiting regularly, as indeed I am.
A family outing to Kew is expensive and not for everyone.  Who goes to Kew? By definition, Kew visitors are some kind of VIPs, in that they are people who can afford to pay to get in.
Within Kew there are many places sponsored by the companies that give money for the upkeep of the site, starting with the rather expensive cafes and ice-cream parlours (I went last Sunday with a friend and was shocked at the cost of a cone with a flake, a fiver for two).  Then there are shops where merchandise is sold, and it is not cheap either.

One of the ponds at Kew

Other places in London are also not free, Hampton Court for example.
So why would Fendi and Bulgari offering money for the upkeep of Roman sites be seen as more threatening than say, Sackler, or any private company offering money to hire a venue within Kew for a corporate event?
As a fashion lover, I delight in fashion shows and would be thrilled to see them at beautiful venues. And if I walk in one myself, which I occasionally do, I would be thrilled to do it at the Valley of Temples or anywhere as grand as that. I love history too, what an excellent way to bring my two passions together!

Friday, 12 July 2019

StyleLikeU and Korean older models

I have been a little negative in my past posts, giving vent to my mistrust of femvertising and pro-age. I was feeling dissatisfied and quite unhappy at what seemed the commercialisation of a good idea. I feel a bit more relieved, it's not all gloomy. There are also those who are genuine and are trying to make a significant political point; they are not in it just for the money or self-aggrandizement. 
Are you aware of StyleLikeU?
Founded by Elisa Goodkind and  Lily Mandelbaum, who are mother and daughter, StyleLikeU is meant to empower women. I loved their series of short videos for The What's Underneath Project, in which women discuss themselves while stripping down to their underwear.
You have to see the videos, saying it like that may give the wrong impression. Actually, the stripping is important, it suggests getting down to the essence. It's a brave act and it leads to self -acceptance.
It's hard to indicate a favourite, as there are so many videos that truly speak to me; but the first one I saw was the one with Jackie O' Shaughnessy, the former American Apparel model, interviewed at age 62 - my age now - about five or six years ago.
What she said totally resonated. She talked about the invisibility of older women, the 'epidemic of poor body image for women, especially at my age'.
I could never understand who would be so foolish as to call her names and say she is ugly. Six foot tall and never-ending legs, surely Jackie embodies our contemporary beauty ideal,  which privileges slim bodies and height, only she is in the older age group. But clearly, the stigma of being old/older affects everyone, no matter their body shape.
It is with immense joy and pride  I can announce my collaboration with StyleLikeU - all will be revealed in due course, all I will say for now is that I am really looking forward to it.
StyleLikeU is also currently casting; the casting call is on Instagram, see below.

Still in the context of age and age divide, I saw an article the other day about senior models in South Korea and I was stuck by it.  Older people modelling are becoming more visible in this part of the world and the Koreans have implemented a systematic approach to it, with catwalk training offered at welfare centres. According to official sources, almost half of South Korean baby boomers live in poverty - the highest number among members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Korean ageing population is growing at a very fast pace. Modelling has proved lucrative for a handful of senior Koreans, many of whom are forced by unfavourable economic circumstances to take up more unusual work. 

AFP/Jung Yeon-je

The age divide in Korea is felt a lot more than elsewhere. There is a generational conflict. The baby boomers are not as affluent as elsewhere. Ageism is rampant and extremely ugly in its manifestation, with derogatory terms used by young people to refer to seniors, such as teulttakchung, a "denture-wearing insect" and yeongeumchung, a "pensioner insect".
An intergenerational divideis also apparent in the UK, in relation to Brexit, but many social commentators have been quick to point out that it is more of a class issue, rather that one related to age. It is also significant that the ageing population in a country such a Britain tends to be middle class and relatively affluent, unlike Korea.
It brings me back to the point I made in an earlier post: when we talk about age and ageism an intersectional approach is necessary.
Meanwhile let's celebrate the greater visibility of older women and men in fashion and advertising, beyond stereotypical representation.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

AltaRoma 2019: a reflection on trends

Logo designed by Anastasia Chernyavska

I have just returned from a few days in Rome, where I attended AltaRoma 2019, otherwise known as Rome Fashion Week. I saw several shows, though not all of them, it was physically impossible to do so, the heat soon became unbearable, and it affected mobility, at least for me.
The highlight of the event was the show put on the last evening, as a grand finale, by Accademia Koefia, a renowned institution which trains its students in the art of couture, passing on age-old techniques to newer generations of designers. Koefia graduates join well-established couture fashion houses, from Dolce&Gabbana to Valentino and  Balenciaga,  and have done so for decades;  their unique skills are much sought after, and they are trained to think about what they are making.  They are not merely dressmakers, of whom there is an abundance; they are true designers. Koefia closed AltaRoma 2019 with a magnificent show, sleek, professional and carefully conceptualised.
Their project this  year was an attempt to marry 'Made in Italy' with 'Made in Indonesia', highlighting the connection and synergy between two approaches to fashion and dress which are rooted in artisanal traditions, yet carefully avoiding cultural appropriation, the bane of much contemporary fashion in the Western world (think of the recent controversy concerning Kim Kardashian, Carolina Herrera and now Louis Vuitton).  Koefia has an ongoing relationship with Indonesian fashion designers and Indonesian textile makers, facilitated by the Indonesian embassy in Rome. Bianca Cimiotta Lami, on behalf of  Koefia, has worked on building up this relationship through regular visits to Indonesia since 2013, regularly participating in Indonesia Fashion Week and selecting young Indonesian designers who would benefit from training at Koefia, to broaden their skills. The Koefia short term scholarships are now a  feature of Indonesia Fashion Week and are linked to the annual Young Designer competition.
This year Koefia's international graduates presented around 50 pieces. They worked with Indonesian textiles such as batik and tenun, sourced in Indonesia with the help of the embassy, and were inspired by clothing memorabilia of the 1980s. They took on the role of  'curators', referencing the performance by Tilda Swinton in The Impossible Wardrobe, held at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, in 2012. In that show, Swinton, dressed as a museum curator in a white overall (but in heels) would 'reanimate' the clothes in the collection of the Musée Galliera, which would thus come to life through Swinton's dynamic and imaginative interaction with them.
The show by Koefia was a dive in our collective cultural memory, citing 1980s subcultures. It was also an acknowledgement of the cross-cultural nature of much fashion design, but as I said earlier, carefully eschewing appropriation.
My own involvement with Indonesian fashion is no secret, I have just completed a book to be published in the autumn by Bloomsbury, which discusses Indonesian fashion in a global context. I actually met Bianca Lami in Jakarta and was really keen to see her project come to fruition, I went to Rome especially. I was not disappointed.

As for the other shows of AltaRoma 2019 - I successfully obtained accreditation as 'blogger' to view as many as I could - they were interesting, though predictably, a mixed bag. Unlike the Koefia show, there was an overall lack of serious conceptualisation, resulting in a uniform blandness. What has now become an abundance of keywords in fashion, such as 'sustainability', was bandied around with great nonchalance. The workmanship was definitely there, especially in the fashioning of accessories - Italians always make good shoes and bags; however, the ability to present a coherent design project was often a hit and miss affair, not sufficiently thought through.
I did not attend all the shows; thus, my observations are based solely on what I saw - I would love to be challenged on this! Nor did I attend the exclusive, by invitation only, Fendi show which took place at the Temple of Venus, with the Colosseum as backdrop, on July 5th.
One of the shows I saw,  part of Rome is my runway 2,  struck me as being a possible commentary on the pollution and dirt of Roman streets, where garbage is not collected often enough and, with the summer heat, it rots, giving out a nauseating stench. I am pretty sure this was my own reading of it, I doubt it the designer conceived it to be so.  His (male) models wore masks, but possibly this was meant as something decorative. I sent a short video of the collection to a friend, and we laughed - what else can you do? -  about the state of Roman garbage collection.

Blowing the cover off fashion and tv. StyleLikeU.

As a Grey model and a fashion activist, involved in campaigning for inclusion - I am delighted to announce that I will soon be working with StyleLikeU, the US-based platform "for role models who stand outside of norms" -  I have a particular bone to pick with the organisers of AltaRoma.  I was struck by the total lack of inclusion and diversity in the model selection.  It seemed to me that the designers  (and I am not talking of students, some of them are already established, though perhaps not as world-famous as, say, Dolce and Gabbana or Fendi, the latter a patron of AltaRoma) were operating in a vacuum, disregarding and showing a lack of awareness  of the body positivity movement and the changes this has engendered. Even when they positioned themselves, in their press releases, as focussing on the core value of diversity, on feminist attitudes, on the fluidity of gender, this was not seen on the runway. Where were the curvy models, the trans-models, the older models, the disabled models? Even in terms of ethnicity, apart from a couple of young models of colour, the runway was dominated by young,  thin, tall  Caucasian girls and equally homogeneous looking young Caucasian men.  I am here discounting Koefia's models who were students of its modelling and deportment course - students tend to be young. But what about the others?

A show part of AltaRoma 2019 which presented fashion looks and models, a regular feature of all AltaRoma editions

Diversity is not to be confined to a few well-selected words in a press release. Inclusive representation is crucial, and unfortunately, I saw little of it. The clothes themselves are insufficient as a commentary on diversity. They are worn by bodies and it is through the bodies of the wearers that diversity is represented.
I found this lack of diversity on the catwalk rather shocking and somewhat behind the times.
Designers might be able to excuse themselves by saying that they do not select the models, hired directly by the organisers; they can only choose from a pool of girls and boys.  It is something I hear all the time in London, where, come Fashion Week, a few designers begin to phone up agencies, even a day before the show, in a panic, realising that the LFW models are not diverse enough. They absolutely need to have at least one older model, one curvy model and ideally, a disabled one and a couple of black models, because a lack of inclusive representation will be noticed. London Fashion Week has come a long way, yet it remains tokenistic. Rome Fashion Week is not even that!
 I would invite AltaRoma organisers to view Timeless Beauty, the highly acclaimed documentary film made in 2018 by Deyan Parouchev, a Franco-Chinese coproduction focused on an exploration of atypical beauty in fashion and advertising. It might help to put things in perspective.
Who knows, AltaRoma 2020 might surprise us, in more than one way.

See the article of 11th July in  The Jakarta Post by Josa Lukman for a more detailed account of the Koefia show.