Perhaps you have heard about the “feminist” collection recently released by Dior at Spring 2017 fashion week. The line, overseen by the Dior’s first-ever female creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, featured flowing gowns paired with flats, white fencing jackets, and at the end, a midnight blue tulle skirt and sneakers paired with a t-shirt emblazoned with the words "We Should All Be Feminists.”
Clearly a reference to the book by Chimimanda Ngozi Adiche, who was sitting in the audience, the model wearing the ensemble walked down the runway to Beyoncé’s Flawless, which also featured Adiche’s words from her now-infamous TEDx talk. According to Dior, the line is Chiuri’s “own synthesis of what modern femininity can look like. ” The experienced designer said, “The message, really, is that there is not one kind of woman.” That, according to the fashion house, the line “wasn’t a predictable chocolate-box repackaging of ladylike house codes, but a refreshingly widened viewpoint, inclusive of the sporty and the fragile. The balance between the two led to a whole series of relatable, simple, and practical pieces aimed at drawing in a new audience.”
And yes, in many ways, the collection does just that. It’s a fun line, one that melds classic pieces with more futuristic-inspired details, and certainly plays around with the expectations of traditional feminine silhouettes. Playing Beyoncé at a fashion show is, also, a nice touch—it lends an air of accessibility to a traditionally elitist environment. There are some touches to be commended here, and they should be acknowledged. What this fashion line should not be praised for, however, is being truly feminist. Because it isn’t.
The show’s models are thin, tall, and predominantly white. The sort of “androgynous” silhouettes that they wear sit on their bodies in such a way that they highlight their femininity rather than reduce it. The same can be said of the models with buzzed haircuts, as well as the pairing of sneakers with flowing skirts. These are markers of gender rebellion, but they are not rebellion itself. Dior’s collection is not a feminist statement. It is, rather, a fashion collection which utilizes the trappings of feminism to seem 'in-the-know'.
This type of high-fashion appropriation of feminist rhetoric and trappings is nothing new; in 2014, Chanel garnered both praise and criticism for it’s feminist "protest", spearheaded by Karl Lagerfeld. The show displayed the fun, seventies-inspired collection, and culminated in the models walking down the "Boulevard Chanel," carrying signs saying “Ladies First” and “Free Freedom” (as cameras snapped away, of course.) It is clear to a critical observer that the "protest" is more of an extension of the fashion show than anything else. The audience sat calmly in their bleachers, as designer-dressed models carried signs and megaphones more reminiscent of accessories than actual tools of activism.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the show was how it tapped into not real activism, but rather social media culture. Elle describes Lagerfeld as “always with his finger on the pulse...tapp[ing] into feminism's most recent wave and staged a protest at the end of his show. Hashtag activism and pop culture protests are on the rise, and doesn't Lagerfeld know it.” There’s nothing wrong with utilizing popular culture and social media as a tool to further activist agendas, but there is something deeply unsettling about the undermining of actual feminist movements in utilizing activism for social currency. It’s great that people are paying attention to feminist protests— but using it as a method to get likes and shares is, ultimately harmful to actual movements for change.
This perhaps will remind you, as well, of H&M’s feminist campaign. Their latest ad seeks to destroy “What It Means to be a Lady," and includes some pretty cool representation. It's, overall a good thing — representation in the media is positive, especially when it involves brands which target young women. But in the end, it's still an ad. It's still trying to sell something; activism is not its primary goal.
In many ways, this ad is trying to get you to forget that H&M has fired workers for being pregnant, that it has made racist comments , and that it, along with many other brands, and that their clothing is manufactured using slave labor.
We have to stop pretending that feminism is not consumable. It is not something that can be bought and sold (with the exclusion, perhaps, of supporting small businesses and craft-oriented organizations that are run with methods using and advocate for gender equity). It is not some unicorn pin you can buy for $5.99 that checks off a box labeled “feminist”, instead of actually committing feminist actions. Feminism is not a boot, it is not a jacket, it is not a shirt that says “Feminist.” It is about concrete steps towards a more equitable and accessible world — in actions, not just clothes.
Photo via Dior's Instagram
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I'm a recent Bard grad livin large and in charge! I write and perform comedy (articles, standup, all that jazz). I'm writing a tv pilot right now about a cardiologist who is unlucky in affairs of the heart it's called "How to Get Away with Murmur."