Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Loren: Connecting the (black) dots

Everytime I go back to Singapore, Land of One Look One People, City of Subservience, Country of Blah and lesser known as Town of When-people-knew-me-then, I have to meet up with old friends and acquaintances. We catch up, make small talk, make superficial critiques, uncomfortable feet shuffling and then we break the awkwardness with the exchange of gifts. In the recent years, with my, err, yen for fashion coming into light, I've had this conversation several times.
Friend: So are you still into fashion?
Loren: Yeah, pretty much.
Friend: *puzzled stare at Loren for a long time* Can I ask why again?
The conversation varies from person to person, but the gist remains the same. If I was just starting out into finding my foothold in fashion, I would probably take it as I don't look like the kind of person who could be into fashion. My insecurities would take a leap for my jugular, and my paranoia would evoke an eruption of rash. 
However, I have been on this path for a while now, and despite still getting the "whatthefugisshewearing?" stares every now and then, I'm more self-assured about my own fashion identity to take the conversation personally. 
The common thread that holds the questioners together, is that they became acquainted with me in the past. They remember me as the girl who would carry a book around everywhere she went, who preferred to be browsing the philosophy book aisles, who felt that walking in heels was a feat reserved for the low of intelligence, and who would rather spend money buying a beautiful edition of Shakespeare sonnets than on something frivolous. 
They cannot identify that girl with the girl who stands before them, who withstands multiple blisters to stomp around town in heels, who gets completely absorbed in the latest issues of Vogue, who always has at least two different shades of lipgloss in her purse and who would rather spend money on a dress than on food. 
I don't blame them for thinking that I've fallen off the wagon, and whacked my head on the road so many times that all sense has fallen out. Truthfully, I think so too. Sometimes. But I have come to terms with it. I know that I do not need to sacrifice one facet of myself for another, that I simply need to learn how to be more proficient with my time.
I still don't know how to explain to them, that fashion isn't merely following trends, materialistic wants and artificial values coated with a plastic sheen. It also involves the study of economics, of history, of politics, of psychology, of art history....its just a little less obvious to the common beholder.
Despite it being a very bad time, the current recession actually shows how tightly fashion is interwoven with the principles of economics and even how fashion influences social values. To save a long winded rant, I shan't go into it right now. 
Instead, look at the fashion business from this current situation. 
Despite having the newly inaugurated President Obama come to pass, it is still a problem for models of color to participate in the runways of Milan. Not a single colored model walked the runways for brands such as Jil Sander, Missoni, Burberry, Trussardi, Gianfranco Ferre or Prada. It actually does not come as a surprise, as the fashion industry is first and fore-mostly a visual (thought I was going to say 'white' didnt you?) industry and in general people dont see beautiful objects or clothes on color. It seems that white models fit the image that people want with expensive goods, as crass a statement that is. Let's face it, even for asian designers, they tend to choose Caucasian models rather than asian ones, for various color reasons.
Gucci designer, Frida Giannini defended her show saying that she is "always looking for black models, or even Chinese or whatever, for the shows," but agencies always send her the same crop of white guys resulting in an entirely white cast for her show. 
Franca Sozzani, editor of Vogue Italia partook of the who's-to-blame game, attributing the lack of diversity due to designers thinking its "too obvious" to feature ethnically inclusive runway casting in the week of Barack Obama's inauguration. Ironically, this is the same country that published that groundbreaking all-black Vogue edition just months ago. Hello? That was nothing but "obvious", and if I remember correctly, flew off the news racks faster than marked down cashmere.
One New York modeling agency claimed that he did send over several black models he was certain would be accepted, but they weren't. Of course, that's just based on the word of one agency. 
With President Obama now in office, and with the fashion industry looking towards his partner to help promote fashion, it is odd that the fashion industry has not jumped onto the "black" wagon and shown their support in the new era of change. Irregardless of how "obvious" it is. Odd, but not surprising, as I said. Certainly during the elections, many prominent designers showed their support for Barack Obama, but what about the rest of the colored population?
Many say that having a black President is like conquering the last frontier in racism, but truthfully, I don't think that it is the last frontier. The fashion industry is the last frontier. Until black, asian, or latino models dominate the catwalks and magazine covers as prominently as whites do, you cannot say that color discrimination is a thing of the past. Its very much in the present, its just hiding politely in the suburban plastic hedges.
Fashion and Politics. Its a lot more meshed together than you would expect.

1 comment:

  1. pardon me... but what about Tyra Banks? Naomi uhh what'shername. Watts...? I'm terrible. But yeah...what about them?