Chanel head designer Karl Lagerfeld is known for his out-of-the-box fashion presentations during Paris Fashion Week, and this time, he went all the way with a feminist march. Too bad it didn’t work.
Lagerfeld closed his Spring 2015 runway show for Chanel at the Grand Palais in Paris with a feminist protest, complete with models carrying protest signs — “Make Fashion Not War,” “Ladies First,” “We Can Match The Machos,” “Feminist But Feminine.” Model Cara Delevingne lead the pack with a speakerphone, shouting “Come On!” while one male model carried a sign that read, “He For She.” Karl himself strutted down the runway next to his models who carried the pro-woman statements. The Palais runway was reconstructed as “Boulevard Chanel,” a street meant to look similar to the wide Parisian streets that feminist students walked to protest police back in 1968.
A few fashion insiders hailed Chanel’s finale as a “feminist statement.” ““I think (Karl) was harking back to Coco Chanel’s feminist values – she was very much a strong and empowered woman,” said Marie Claire Editor-in-Chief Trish Halpin to The Guardian, “I think this just shows that fashion, feminism and empowering women do not have to be mutually exclusive.” But, others aren’t convinced. Under Dazed Digital’s review, Facebook commenters had mixed feelings about the show, citing Karl’s body-shaming controversy (he said in a previous interview that “nobody wants to see a round woman on the runway”). “Karl Lagerfield is the same person who said Adele was too fat. But, the one time he sends 6-foot white women down a runway carrying signs in some distorted feminist protest, he’s a feminist icon?,” one commenter wrote.
Feminism and fashion are two of the most polarizing topics in culture. It would make sense, then, that anyone in fashion bold enough to dive into feminist discourse would handle it with care. Sadly, Karl Lagerfeld isn’t one of them. Without the proper context, models strutting down the runway carrying protest signs aren’t addressing any sort of problem. And, for them to walk with their signs during the show’s finale makes it seem like a last-minute stunt.
Furthermore, considering fashion is known primarily for historical inspirations, a more appropriate feminist approach could’ve been creating ensembles inspired by feminist icons. Could you imagine a Black model giving an ode to 1970s activist Angela Davis or civil rights womanist Audre Lorde? If Karl really wanted to make a “feminist” statement, he should’ve also addressed the one issue that’s the elephant in the room: diversity on the runway. Black women are extremely underrepresented in fashion — and feminism — and, if Karl really wanted to make a feminist statement, there should’ve been more than three Black models walking on his runway. But, what are we left seeing instead? Tall White models smiling with Karl in Chanel.
In fashion, you’re either privy to fashion trends or not because there’s no way you can be taken seriously as someone smart AND stylish **insert sarcasm**. And, in terms of feminism, many celebs have shied away from the word out of fear of being called a man-hater and the few who do are often criticized for it (sorry, Beyonce). Fashion insiders and celebrities have every right to comment on feminist topics and issues that are personal for them, but without the proper research, the message falls flat.