I have grown up aspiring to your full-page spreads in Vogue, relishing trips to my grandmother’s house just to be able to try on her vintage brooch collection, and wearing faux pearls from Claire’s with the hopes of being mistaken as yours. I got a little bit older and started watching every fashion show online, reading biographies of Coco and Karl Lagerfeld, gaining insight into your craft, honing my rationale for loving you. I got a little bit older still and eventually prized the day I walked through your doors as an official employee of the company I’d so long admired. Having worked all summer and saved up for a real pair of your pearls for my own, I wear them with only the greatest pride and respect as I represent a company which has taught me so much about the industry, about professionalism, and about people. Yet, I am now a student at Wesleyan and relish my sweatpants (almost as much as my pearls) during late nights spent reading on topics of intersectionality: race, class, sex…cultural appropriation. So I feel it my duty to now question you. It doesn’t mean I love you any less. In fact, quite the opposite, in love there must be the ability to scrutinize, right?
Karl Lagerfeld, reigning designer at the house of CHANEL, sought to make a feminist statement with his Spring 2015 ready-to-wear collection. Lagerfeld, having clocked in over thirty years at the helm of Chanel and nearly two additional decades as creative director of the couture house of Chloe, is commonly noted as an industry visionary. Chanel collections set the tone for subsequent seasons and are generally lauded as an unquestioned authority on trendsetting and taste-making. So when Lagerfeld sent a hoard of lanky, (mostly) white, teenage models down the Parisian catwalk wearing boxy tweed pantsuits, psychedelic prints, and carrying signs in protest of the patriarchy, no one questioned his vision. Tim Blanks, contributing editor at Style.com, wrote in his review of the collection, “[It was] Energy tempered by fierce intelligence.” Which is true; there were shining moments and incredibly forward thinking ideas imbued within the collection, but also a few problems that most in the fashion journalism field failed to recognize. Lagerfeld’s ode to second wave Feminism, models carrying protest signs such as, “We can match the machos,” felt somewhat dated and out of place in our continuously modernizing world. Additionally, Karl’s gaggle of girls on the runway being mostly white and of a certain body type, wearing clothes upwards of $5,000 appears to be exploiting the somehow trendy term of “feminism” for consumer driven outlooks and, ultimately, limiting the definition of feminism. Yet, on the other hand, the extreme vastness in the offering of silhouettes, colors, and styles marks a difference from typical runway shows. Each model was specifically styled with differing hair/make-up and wearing their clothing in a way to express individuality. One model picketed down the runway carrying a sign marked with, “Be your own stylist.” It is this moment that seems to be the most monumental in the positive takeaway of this collection. In a fashion culture where trends and the ability to shell out for expensive items seem to dictate those “in fashion,” it is this mantra that I want to be shared.
So Chanel, I have to say, I can’t quite make up my mind on this one, but there are my thoughts. As I continue to expand my understanding of these academic ideas, I hope to enhance my awareness of their real life applications in the hobbies I’ve loved for so long. And it is just that, an awareness. I will forever be a lover of the interlocking C’s, but I will continue to do so with a more critical mind.