Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Best of Women: Fashion! Yipee! Sparkles!

Achievement in Fashion Design: Rodarte / Kate and Laura Mulleavy
All right, I'll cop to the fact that leading these awards with a couple of fashion designers is a little like attending the Vegetarian Food Fair with a steak in my purse. But: how many other female fashion designers can you think of? Betsy Johnson? Um...Donatella Versace? For an industry that is dominated by images of women, there are precious few broads in a position of authority. It seems to be all dudes and skinny fifteen year old Ukrainian girls.

In any case, the Mulleavy sisters are the creative team behind Rodarte. In the past few years, they've created a collection based on the vulture, outfitted the dancers in Black Swan, and been pressured to lose weight by Vogue. Their aesthetic isn't slutty or glitzy (Donatella), but rather pretty and textured. They aren't afraid to go a little weird (see: vultures) and yet they still look at the women wearing their clothes as women, not as hangers or cardboard cutouts.

It's no secret that fashion objectifies women, turning them into commodities used as a prop to sell the clothes. Rarely does a strong female force emerge, and when it does, it tends to be a novelty rather than an actual shift in power. There was the much-lauded "Age of the Supermodel," a decade or so of singular names (Naomi, Cindy, Linda, etc.) who were considered huge assets. But...to who? The fashion houses that used their images to sell their product? The magazines that put them on the cover so that their issues would move? They made millions of dollars, yes, but you would be hard-pressed to figure out how they raked it in while today's models are interchangeable alien heads with stick bodies.

In fashion, women tend to be relegated to the sidelines - quick, name me one prominent fashion photographer who could also give birth? Or a designer who isn't also a model-actress hyphenate? We have Vogue's indomitable Anna Wintour, but even she does her damnedest to propogate the image of sylph-like teenagers as the sole vision of acceptable beauty. Her annual "Shape" issue is a parody of real-life bodily diversity: the variations run the gamut from "thin" to "petite" to "short" to, um, "pregnant." Like, what?

Fashion is frivolous, sure, but everybody wears clothes. We choose our looks based on how we want to present ourselves to the world - sexy cowgirl? Prim and proper? Slightly depressed? - and even though most of us can't afford/aren't interested in the highest-end fashion, its influence trickles down to what we put on our bodies every day. We receive so many cues about bodies, about sexuality, about socioeconomic status, about youth, from the clothes we wear and see others wearing.

So when I see a pair of sisters creating beautiful, interesting, challenging clothes, it's a good thing. I like their weirdness. I admire their unwillingness to compromise. Most of all, I adore that, despite the fact that they are simultaneously successful and so outside the box.

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