From Fashionista Street to Abu Ghraib

John Galliano's 2008 menswear collection suggest6s shades of Abu Grahb.  [Source: Stylophile]
John Galliano’s 2008 menswear collection suggest6s shades of Abu Ghraib. [Source: Stylophile]

This story might have slipped off my radar screen but didn’t, thanks to Stylophile. She published photos large enough, and clearly formatted, so I could better see what John Galliano was doing with his menswear collection for Paris Fashion Week. As I commented on her blog, I completely missed the irony when Galliano told French TV that he was inspired by the silhouettes of Henry VIII and Richard III. Sure, they were swell guys, if unkind to jilted wives and little boys, but would you really want to dress like them? Fashion historian Kathleen McDermott’s interpretation (see below) helped me realize that couture could have a political subtext. But I’m still perplexed — are these clothes meant only as political theater, or are they also for sale? Will GQ-type guys wear them in the club or boudoir?

On The Media‘s Brooke Gladstone interviewed Kathleen McDermott recently about the intersection of couture and politics. The piece begins with a clip from the 2001 film Zoolander, which parodied an earlier Galliano collection:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: The film is hilarious and ridiculous but not entirely fictional. British designer John Galliano used clothing worn by the destitute as an inspiration for a line in 2000, a hobo chic look.

This year, Galliano’s making a different statement. His designs seem to be inspired by – torture. Galliano’s fall 2008 men’s collection features young men painted to look bloody and bruised, wearing hoods and ropes around their necks and not much else besides underwear. More specifically, they look like they came from Abu Ghraib.

Designers like Galliano have made political commentary of their clothing for years. Kathleen McDermott teaches fashion history at the Rhode Island School of Design. She says these designs are meant to shock.

KATHLEEN McDERMOTT: I think they look they look frightening and disturbing and distressing and I think that’s exactly what he was trying to do.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: It doesn’t seem exploitative to you, an attempt if not to commodify horror than at least to fetishize it?

KATHLEEN McDERMOTT: I see it as a profound effort to use a bully pulpit to deal with issues that ordinarily you wouldn’t think of as fashion issues.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: What kind of a designer is John Galliano?

KATHLEEN McDERMOTT: One thing I’ve personally always noted about him is that he’s somebody who is very interested in many different eras but always with a twist. For example, he might do something taking on the clothing of the Ancien Regime, the period just before the French Revolution. Okay? But he would show you little bloody slashes across the neck where the guillotine would be, with blood dripping down.

So he’s always a guy who makes beautiful, beautiful, beautiful things but there is a very strong edge. I feel like he uses his enormous intelligence and knowledge of the history of fashion to provoke the viewer and have them ask questions.

Read the OTM transcript. See a slide show of John Galliano’s 2008 menswear collection.

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