Chanel’s Ready-to-Wear Racist/Sexist/Fat-phobic Runway Show

On September 30, 2014, Paris Fashion Week witnessed the embarrassing mockery that was Chanel’s “feminist protest” after its Spring/Summer 2015 Fashion Show.

Top models Cara Delevingne (who has been dubbed the “baby Kate Moss”); Giselle Bundchen (who prided herself on not turning into a “garbage disposal” by gaining “only 30 pounds” during her first pregnancy); and new-comers Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner lead “the protest,” carrying ridiculously pointless placards in support of faux-feminism.

Let’s go over some of these signs, shall we?

  • Tweed is better than tweet.” Pointless punnery devoid of political meaning yet full of commercial potential for Chanel, matched by the megaphone call, “What do we want? TWEED!” Okay, I guess.
  • “Match the Machos.” Who or what are the machos? The men? If so, this is simply perpetuation of masculine prowess and we certainly do NOT want to match it.
  • Feministe means Feminine.” No, it actually does not.
  • “Free Freedom.” Again, what the fuck does that exactly mean?
  • “Ladies First.” Again connoting further perpetuation of patriarchal standards connected to the “weaker sex” who needs help opening doors, rooted in chivalric sexism.
  • The unexplainable “Boys Should Get Pregnant Too” because apparently pregnancy is a burden that must be combated by feminism, and the world is divided into the binary of girls who get pregnant and boys who (unfairly) don’t. Chanel’s definition of feminism does not include those who identify as trans/non-binary, but only reinforces conventional gender stereotypes. Truly revolutionary.
  • And my personal favorite, “Be Different.” What inspiration, coming from a group of white women modeling the latest size zero clothes that cost as much as the average person’s monthly rent! True revelation, really.

So let us be different, Chanel.

Let’s be different by signing more women of color to walk the runway shows and no, a couple of outlying factors hurled to skew the results won’t change the bigger picture. Sign more Black, Latino/a/x, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Native-American models, and no, cultural appropriation of said races is, unfortunately, not the same thing.

So again, let’s be different. Let’s have average/plus size and older models. And if this is simply impossible to do during regular fashion runways, then at least include them in your all-inclusive, revolutionary rally for the liberation of women and the erasure of misogyny.

But that wasn’t the message being sent by Chanel. Statements like “History is Her Story,” “Make Fashion, Not War,” and “Women’s Rights are Alright” aren’t politically loaded bullets hurled at the patriarchal back bone, but wilted mockeries of the decades-long struggle for human rights and equality.  They’re simply commercialized puns, staged for the few minutes of blog-exposure and hashtag hysteria.

Historical aside: Ironically, Coco Chanel was a vociferous anti-Semite and a Nazi agent during WWII, who took advantage of her Jewish shareholders’ imprisonment into the concentration camps by profiting off of their shares. Evidently, she didn’t mind the combination of fashion and war quite so much.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a shock, however, considering the overseer in charge of this laughable display of pathos is Karl Lagerfeld, the chief asshat of fat-phobia and douchebaggery himself.

Karl Lagerfeld

Lagerfeld, the man who called Adele “a little too fat” and demanded that Pippa Middleton “should only show her backside” since he “didn’t like her face,” is now leading a feminist march towards liberation?

Lagerfeld, the man who blamed the hole in social security on “the diseases caught by people who are too fat” and complained that only “fat mummies sitting with their bags of crisps in front of the television” objected to seeing skinny models on the runway, is now advocating for equality and diversity?

Lagerfeld, the man who claimed that “no one wants to see curvy women on the runway” and lamented that it would be “difficult to have an ugly daughter,” is now encouraging inclusivity and individuality?

It is no surprise, then, that this sudden faux-embrace of feminist ideals, albeit white and thin and tall and pretty fem ideals only, is a mere commercial step and nothing more. Lagerfeld himself admitted to the limp pointlessness of his “protest” by stating that feminism should be “lighthearted” and “not a truck driver” of ideas.

Chanel’s shoutout to Emma Watson’s “HeForShe” then, the latest brand of white feminism to make not-so-shocking shockwaves in the media, is perfectly understandable, since Watson’s attempt at tackling feminism was just “lighthearted” at best.

The bottom line is: with all the recent coverage on feminism and the list of celebrities being outed as either feminists or non-feminists has diverted attention away from the importance of the movement as a political one. This article does not aim to slap a single blueprint on feminism or assign a fixed formula on how it should be practiced or followed.

However, one thing that it aims to do is to de-commercialize it.

Feminism is starting to become a mere trend, a fad. And while exposure and media coverage are essential to the movement, the current portrayal is problematic at best, with zero to very minimal mention of intersectional feminism. It is becoming a watered-down cause that is “in” mainly because it’s comfortable, reinforcing white privilege and traditional standards of gender and sexuality.

Feminism must be political, and in order to be political, it needs to be uncomfortable.

Lagerfeld doesn’t get to brand feminism and make a mockery out of it. Lagerfeld doesn’t get to use the decades-long struggle for suffrage, recognition, and equality as an accessory. Lagerfeld doesn’t get to make money off of feminism.

Let’s get branding out of feminism. Let’s get white privilege out of feminism.

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One Comment

  1. Your statement — “: Ironically, Coco Chanel was a vociferous anti-Semite and a Nazi agent during WWII, who took advantage of her Jewish shareholders’ imprisonment into the concentration camps by profiting off of their shares. Evidently, she didn’t mind the combination of fashion and war quite so much.” — is false. Absolutely false. Chanel’s shareholders in Parfums Chanel were the majority shareholders, two brothers, surname Wertheimer. They were NOT imprisoned in concentration camps. They emigrated to America, leaving Parfums Chanel in temporary ownership with a Christian associate. Before the German occupation of France, and throughout the ’30s, Chanel fought the brothers for a greater share in the company but had little recourse due to an iron-clad contract. Born a peasant and as wily, foxy, naturally distrustful and bitter as they come, she attempted to use the new Nazi-regime laws concerning Jewish emigres and their businesses. She did not do so out of anti-Semitism — after all, she had already been in business with the Jewish brothers for years — and quite happily during the ’20s once the Wertheimers made Chanel No. 5 a bone-fide success — and had many Jewish associates, such as her personal physician. Indeed, she exhibited truly despicable and even pathetic behavior to attempt to use the law (though to no avail) in order to gain control of a company she in fact did not create. Parfums Chanel was created by the Weitheimers, owners of Bourjois Cosmetics, a powerhouse cosmetics brand by 1920s standards. Her collaborations with the Nazis were not based on antisemitism, but rather, romantic entanglements and boredom. Unlike many Parisian couturiers, Chanel closed her house in 1939, anticipating occupation, and declaring war was ‘no time for fashion.’ Characteristically and opportunist, Chanel blew the way of the wind, with the only goal: Her own survival, and the survival of her business — not out of character for a poverty-stricken orphan who rose to stellar internationals success as a fashion designer. I don’t excuse Chanel’s behavior, but since the bloggerati has joyfully taken to distorting the facts of her wartime activities, I do feel the need to set the record straight.

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