There is always a problem when you get to know the personality behind creative ventures that you like. You wouldn’t necessarily have wanted to be friends with Jane Austen or Shakespeare, and I can think of many examples of writers who, thanks to the new information culture, I know more about than I could and still enjoy their work.
Obviously the same will go for designers. We accept a lot and work under a little denial when it comes to fashion because it’s part of what makes it fun. When you see the back end of something beautiful it often involves a lot of hard work and even some dirty practices. That’s been discussed a lot when it comes to clothes and we all know we should buy more ethically.
But what about the attitudes of the designers towards us? It is a fact that designer labels ignore most of the population. You or I are probably too big a dress size or too poor to be of much interest to them. When Beth Ditto first met Karl Lagerfeld, she described him as making “fat-phobic” comments to her. Bad manners, but also a pretty obvious sign that he’s just not interested in any woman who doesn’t conform to his own standards of womanhood, i.e. very slim, at all ages.
Lagerfeld was interviewed for this month’s Harper’s Bazaar magazine, in the persona of Coco Chanel, which is fun. I’m just a bit disappointed that he made the following comment:
“Harper’s Bazaar: Your clothing liberated women in the 1920s. Are you still a feminist?
Karl Lagerfeld as Coco Chanel: I was never a feminist because I was never ugly enough for that.”
I know not every woman feels comfortable with calling herself a feminist but it’s an old, lame joke that feminists are ugly and bitter. What’s wrong with wanting women to be equal and free? Coco Chanel did not call herself a feminist, but she was a successful businesswoman. She never married and yet is lauded, iconic and her designs are still incredibly influential. She helped to free women from corsets and flapper dresses and designer the Little Black Dress and invented the handbag. So clearly she didn’t need a husband to validate her achievements, she was an amazing woman all on her own.
Loving clothes doesn’t mean you have to be obsessed with living up to a physical ideal, or that you for some reason don’t want women to have political and social equality – I am keen not to slag off other blogs but I don’t read the ones that focus entirely on models because it’s sad and depressing to spend your whole life wanting to be someone else. Fashion and looks are one part of female culture, but there are actually many other parts and they can live together harmoniously, if powerful people will stop assuming that one’s value and credibility resides entirely in how well you conform to Karl Lagerfeld’s version of beauty, or indeed any one version of it. If Karl and all the other designers suddenly decreed that beauty resided in looking exactly like me, you would all have to run out and get Chanel-branded cheek implants.
Actually that would be quite cool, and easier than getting everything sucked out or reduced in order to look like this: