Fashion meets feminism?

Maddy Airlie 13 October 2014

Fashion and feminism – rather a squirmy pair of bedfellows. They recently became the focus for many articles after Karl Lagerfeld staged a protest on the Paris catwalk last month for his new collection. Slogans such as ‘History Is Herstory’ and ‘Be Your OwnStylist’ were carried by the models in order that Karl could tell us … what exactly?

Journalists believe it is a PR stunt, Lagerfeld simply taking advantage of Emma Watson’s success at the UN, and that he has no right to label himself as a feminist, given his harsh criticisms of the female body. And they are right. Karl Lagerfeld is not a feminist, but I don’t think he is trying to portray himself as such; I think he is emphasising the brand, Chanel, as feminist.

It is very difficult to ignore an artist’s personality, especially one as eccentric and publicised as Lagerfeld’s, but it is necessary if we want to gain anything positive from this ‘demonstration’. And we should want to, because how often has feminism been lambasted for being a male-hating movement, lacking any sort of fun? To see women gathered en masse on a high profile stage,
smiling and supporting women’s rights, might do something to change this outdated perception of what feminism involves.

Chanel as a label is famous for liberating women, taking them out of corsets and offering them trousers, yet Coco Chanel herself could never be described as a feminist. She claimed it is only by becoming more feminine that women become more valuable. However, that is not what her clothes said, and it is not what Lagerfeld’s say. It appears everyone has forgotten what is most important: the medium is the message. The designers for this house have been arrogantly flawed, but as artists, they are geniuses who will and – should – be remembered for centuries. Chanel said, “A woman should be two things: classy and fabulous.” Perhaps Lagerfeld is celebrating the fact women can be something more?