Move over, Emmeline Pankhurst. Gloria Steinem, give it up. Germaine Greer, you can lay off the Duchess of Cambridge and stop doing television. Feminism has a new icon: Karl Lagerfeld. Thank God! A rich, old, white man has stepped in to save us girls.
In a 10-minute Chanel catwalk show, Lagerfeld has done for the f-word what five decades of wearing dungarees and demanding equal pay never could. He has made feminism fashionable.
The look this season at Chanel is women’s lib. The label’s spring/summer 2015 Paris fashion week catwalk show culminated in a feminist protest staged by its creative director, Lagerfeld, that famous supporter of women’s rights. He transformed the Grand Palais into a Parisian boulevard where, to the sound of Chaka Khan’s I’m Every Woman, a group of prepubescent-looking size-zero girls held a demonstration for equal rights; challenging, if nothing else, the stereotype of the ugly feminist. The sisterhood has not looked this sexy since the Spice Girls.
A troupe led by the supermodels Gisele Bündchen and Cara Delevingne brandished placards with poor puns such as “History is her story”. Other models carried signs reading, “Make fashion not war”, “Ladies first” and “Be your own stylist”. As in many protests these days, none of the protesters seemed quite sure why they were there. Delevingne’s screams of “What do we want?” were answered indistinctly. The Sunday Times Style section’s head of fashion, Claudia Croft, who attended the show, told me the reply sounded either like “freedom” or “handbags”. “Which, by the way, were gorgeous,” she added.
So were the girls. Gangly bronzed limbs. Full make-up. Delevingne in a black T-shirt that read “Crazy, sexy, cool” (the only time two of those words have been associated with feminism). A girl at the back looked especially emancipated in a pair of gold sandals and a £3,000 bouclé suit.
Good old Lagerfeld. Maybe he will run for prime minister next. If only Alastair Campbell had thought of co-opting fashion, except even he wasn’t that cynical. But then Lagerfeld is someone who has joked, “Everything I say is a joke. I am a joke myself.” And now he has made a joke out of feminism.
Perhaps. Lagerfeld is hardly known for his adoration of women. He is the guy who called Grammy-winning Adele “a little too fat”. He also said he doesn’t like Pippa Middleton’s face, so “she should only show her back”. And he sent out a press release for his range of Fendi clothes describing them as “Shaped to be raped”.
Then, instead of apologising, he said he had “used the phrase as a warning — there is a risk if you go somewhere in such a shapely dress, perhaps it can be dangerous”.
In August, when the Australian newspaper Financial Review asked Lagerfeld whether he was a feminist, he replied: “One day my mother was asked that. And my mother said, ‘I wasn’t that ugly, I know how to handle men.’”
Fashion itself isn’t exactly packing feminist credentials either, what with its penchant for underpaying, starving, sexualising and objectifying young women. No wonder so many critics hated Chanel’s show. The feminist website Jezebel called it a “cynical”, “money-grabbing” gesture.
Others derided it as an offensive publicity stunt, including Rhiannon Cosslett, co-editor of the blog The Vagenda, who called it “whacktivism”. She tweeted sarcastically: “It may be a consumerist parade of skinny white women wearing expensive clothes, but in 2014 we have to take what we’re given #chanel.”
Other onlookers struggled with the fashion. “Appreciate what Karl was trying to do with Chanel’s feminist riot. But no woman will want to wear Gisele’s knitted 3 piece,” tweeted Pandora Sykes, fashion features editor of the Sunday Times Style section.
We have yet to hear what Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue magazine, thinks. She was sitting in the front row. Perhaps she will be inspired to give feminism a Vogue cover — without airbrushing the image, as she did with Lena Dunham.
Arguably, Lagerfeld’s attempt to politicise fashion was bound to fail. The worlds of politics and fashion have often collided, with disastrous results. Especially for this label. As someone commented online: “The last time Chanel tried to get involved in politics the founder shacked up with a Nazi in the Ritz.”
Read the full feature here: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/newsreview/features/article1466927.ece