If any of you follow fashion, you know every major city has celebrated it’s Fashion Week over the past month or so. And I can’t help but reflect on it all. Sure, Fashion Week is full of crazy outfits, “who’s who” sightings, and glamazons. But in some overt and covert ways, it also uplifts society. Based on what I’ve read and experienced first hand, Fashion Week also helps open borders; gives those otherwise ignored and let down by society a sense of respect and hope; and, in some veiled ways, empowers a group of women living within a conservative and somewhat sexist society. And when it comes to me, personally, it has helped open my eyes to and widen my appreciation for another world.
No question, the fashion world has it’s share of issues: underage models, eating disorders and, most recently discussed in the press: sexual harassment. I’m certainly not saying the industry is perfect. But there’s a beautiful side to it. Let’s just take a look at New York Fashion Week as an example.
One particular show that kicked off the week, received a ton of buzz, and impressed the hell out of me. It celebrated the talents and models of the NYC’s homeless youths (see full New York Times story here). For four weeks, designers from PVH mentored homeless youth, teaching them how to design, sew clothing and choreograph a show. These lessons culminated in a show that displayed major doses of creativity, elation and pride. So many of these youths are on the street due to abuse and neglect from their families. You can imagine the lack of confidence, anxiety and helplessness they must feel on a daily basis. But this experience not only taught them key skills in design and crafts, but gave them a sense of accomplishment and pride they rarely felt before. The pictures of the event, alone, tug at the heartstrings.
Here’s another fascinating example from The New Yorker. Given the uber-New York-ness of fashion week, The New Yorker dedicates a whole issue on the topic every year. The best story by far in this year’s edition, “Armor and Lingerie,” features Amaka Osakwe, the designer of Nigerian fashion line: Maki Oh. She, too, showed her talents at NY Fashion Week. Despite her “unassuming” appearance, Osakwe is “obsessed with the female form and seduction, subversive interests for Nigerian women.” She also makes it a point to highlight Nigerian fabrics and designs, embracing and bringing to light her culture around the world. Perhaps most exciting for me, is her expertise in turning her clothes into a form of “elicit escape.” In other words, her designs give women the permission to embrace their sexuality — on their own terms — despite the taboo of sex in Nigeria. As such, she gives women back their power to determine how, when and in what ways they want to express their sexuality.
Needless to say, the NYC Fashion Week story that affected me the most was that which I experienced myself. I was invited to attend a fashion show for Chinese brand, Naersi, at the American Museum of Natural History. I had no idea what to expect. I’ve never been to China nor have I developed an sense of Chinese fashion. But given my relationship with UniPx media (a source of fashion and lifestyle to the Chinese market), and the wonderful VIP accommodations I was given, I jumped at the chance to attend. Naersi dressed me in one their own beautiful gowns, sat me in the front row next to it’s founder, one of the top models in China, and a few seats down from TV star, Leighten Meester (how’s that for a view?:)). And best of all I was able to drag a few of my good friends to join me. The brand’s role, according to its literature, is to “instill confidence and success to independent women….through beautiful and modern design.” As to be expected, some of the designs are meant for the runway show only, but there were quite a few that inspired me. What hit me most was not so much designs themselves but that I was able to peer inside a world that I have admired from afar but, until now, have little contact with and understanding of. But right there and then I felt a new sense of kinship with Chinese fashion lovers. Despite the political, cultural or philosophical boundaries that separate China and the U.S., the spirit of beauty, celebration of female empowerment, and love of pushing the limits unites us. Thanks to fashion, I feel a new sense of appreciation for and connection with a culture that always seemed to distant and different.
No doubt fashion is fun and sometimes frivolous. And in some ways, it’s because of its very lack of seriousness that it can be used to subvert culture, push against our assumptions and make us think. When used for the right purposes, fashion has the potential to unite and empower people. That and a nice new pair of boots will certainly give me a lift. 🙂