Friday, 2 October 2009

Patronising Paris

A runway shot from Paris Fashion Week is meant to bring joy when we open our newspapers and, it is true to say, that is normally the case. But I wonder if I am the only reader who felt queasy over breakfast this morning at a picture from Christophe Decarnin's show for Balmain under the headline 'Rags for Riches: Balmain's Recession-busting Chic'. Below it was a picture of a model wearing a top ragged with holes. The sort of thing that dirt-poor women in far too many countries of the world have as their sole garment – the poor and disadvantaged countries, some of which I have visited, where to have virtually any item of clothing involves a struggle against crippling financial deprivation.

The copy in my newspaper pointed out that the holey shirt was a 'star piece' of the show, part of the designer's 'backstage aristocracy aesthetic'… whatever that may mean to the writer. 

What it means to readers not stranded on Planet Fashion is simple: an industry at great pains to point out that it is a caring, 'people' industry, concerned with ethical standards at all levels, is in fact double-dealing by praising a garment so patronising and insensitive to the realities of life for the really poor. Decarnin, you should know, has 'a devoted following of wannabe rock chicks with thin thighs and deep pockets' and, I would add, thick heads. He was admired last season for selling ripped jeans at around a grand a time – and there was a waiting list! 

Is it any wonder that, in the minds of normal people, a woman referred to as 'rich' so often has the rider 'bitch' tagged on? But perhaps the saddest thing for those who love fashion is the selling out that such cheap and easy gimmicks represent. This  is styling, not fashion design, and shows a terrible lack of imagination – in Paris, the city which imagined fashion for us all in the first place.
I want to end with a story. Some years ago, I was in India where a fashion shoot was to take place. There was huge anticipation as the local people learned that two models from Paris were to arrive. I shall never forget the dismay and horror when they did. Everyone was expecting goddesses of beauty. Two pretty girls in shredded jeans were duly delivered from the airport – to the utmost bewilderment of the Indians. How could such beautiful Western girls be so badly treated and from such poor families that they had to dress just as the poorest Indians did, in rags? I had no answer then. I have no answer now – except that mindless Western decadence and indifference to the rest of the world presents a danger from which Planet Fashion is not as immune as it imagines.