Wednesday, July 12, 2006

fashion victim...

image from

in the ten years i worked in the garment industry, i would have to say the only people i ever saw who wore the wares we manufactured and peddled (and didn't work for the company) were the models who came in for the fittings. which is not to say that we didn't have our fair share of fashionistas running thru the halls, in every department but, they were stylish people, trendsetters - not fashion victims.

and really, that's the thing - whatever you do - DON'T be a victim to fashion, in any way, shape or form. the very first thing i was taught in my humble fashion design program many moons ago, "fashion isn't an art form, it's a business." and that just about shattered my naive little designer dreams. and the longer i worked in "the business", the more that lesson rang true.

so, i'm trying to formulate a cohesive thought about these articles/posts that were mentioned in the blogs - She's Like A Rainbow, miu miu's Fall Winter 06/07 advertising campaign, Bubbles & Bling) that have contributed to all this conversation about race, racism, diversity and fashion at mixedmediawatch (a blog that "tracks media representations of mixed people") and almost girl (a fashionista meets basically everything blog, "where plato and prada meet")

maybe i should start with the original post "Why the fashion industry desperately needs some diversity" at mixed media watch... hopefully, a cohesive thought will evolve... (advance mea culpas - i'm a mom of two, who doesn't get enough sleep.)

first of all, i can only speak from my own experience in the fashion industry in chicago and san francisco that the rag trade looks pretty diverse to me. granted, there were fewer POC in upper management, but the design, marketing, sourcing, sales, technical, production, even shipping departments were all "balanced". but, like the greater melting pot that is our country, examples of ambiguous racism and nebulous prejudice were more than abundant.

i still can't believe that i was a part of the industry sometimes that i didn't just up and walk out. well, actually i did once - it was my very first job in SF too - that shoulda clued me in i suppose.
the "us v. them" conflict was as tangible and slender as the fabric we were all cutting and sewing together in seamless harmony - it was the american born v. the foreign born, or the filipinos v. the chinese, thailand v. turkey v. guatemala v. mexico or white people v. the... well, everybody else. it was f*cking world cup meets ab fab meets poorly produced after school special about prejudice.

i remember how excited i was to see so many asian faces in SF and thinking, "no one here will ever ask me if filipinos really eat dogs." and then, i think i was there a whole week before another asian person (the first of many people POC and otherwise) actually asked me if i was a filipino and if i'd ever eaten a dog.

so, anyway, imho - i don't know if hiring a diverse staff can necessarily prevent a company from looking spectacularly stupid - look at the advertising campaigns for american apparel, the stupid racist t-shirts that abercrombie and fitch used to sell (in 2002, even after "they asked their asian staff if it was ok to sell it in the first place"), and when are we EVER going to free the gwenihana four 'cause they're not looking remotely interested in walking out on their own!

my impression is that since fashion is a business, fashion companies will hire people who emulate/represent/mimic their business (to grow/expand) principles not necessarily their design philosophy or target customer. and they have the opportunity to hire a rainbow of people, especially in SF. so, is it possible that it's less about hiring diverse races of people and more about hiring diverse races of people with a conscience and who are aware of the global consumer. (...btw - all i know about the NY businesses is that they all slammed their doors in my face when i pounded manhattan pavement in '93.)

re: the NYT article about kimora lee. that reporter was an *sshat & totally pulled a "whitneymcnally" (i have previously never had a reason to use that phrase - so, wow). but, that's the NYT, a newsaper, not a garment design/manufacturing company. and well, i don't know squat about publishing...

re: miu miu and their advertising campaign.... the last time i checked, miu miu is a division of prada. and i believe that prada is an italian company. the last time i was in italy, i was the most "exotic" thing in town, the chinese food in the chinatown (in florence) SUCKED MAJOR *SS (and they didn't even HAVE chopsticks at the place we ate), and the single italian straight men that i met in italy were still living with their moms (not that there's anything wrong with that!). i guess i'm just saying that i'm not surprised that their advertising campaign is well... what it is. i'm not saying it's right. i guess i'm just saying it's italian. we have enough ignorance to deal with in america - are we really going to try to battle it out all the way over in italy too? not that we shouldn't or can't but... at least they're hiring asians to represent their company - do a google image search for american fashion houses like DKNY, CK, RL, american Vogue, etc... - you won't see a POC anywhere except for the sweatshop boycotts.

the only POC supermodel (who doesn't fit "the mold") that comes to my mind who has crossed that boundary with american designers is alec wek (who i think is absolutely stunning). but, i always wonder was alec wek chosen because of her beauty or because she's sorta the anti-tyra, iman, and naomi - and "tokenized" as such.

and another thing - re: magazine layouts. at one of my old jobs, a few times people from marketing would come by production looking for samples to send out because such and such magazine was shooting a layout and wanted something... i dunno... "pink". and so, we'd hand over whatever it was they were looking for. they'd stick it in an overnight envelope and be done with it. it seemed like that was usually the extent of our involvement. it's a shame that designers/design companies aren't more interested in how their stuff is photographed in magazines. it's too bad for them that it has to get to the printed/published stage to actually get noticed as good or bad publicity. so, in some cases it's not active racism, just it's counterpart - lazy ignorant ambivalence, "what? racism still exists? oh, you mean, OUTSIDE of san francisco, right?"

finally, there are the comments made by louis roderer's managing director, frederic rouzaud, in the economist's article "bubbles & bling" about the relationship between "the bling lifestyle" and cristal - here's how the comment originally appeared in the article under their editorial header "Unwelcome Attention", "In fact, the attitude of the house of Roederer to the unexpected popularity of Cristal among rappers is considerably more circumspect. Frédéric Rouzaud, who took over from his father as managing-director of the winery in January, says that Roederer has observed its association with rap with “curiosity and serenity”. But he does not seem entirely serene. Asked if an association between Cristal and the bling lifestyle could actually hurt the brand, he replies: 'That’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Pérignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.'"

the way i'm reading it - the reporter's painting the comment and the company in a bad light. it really sounds to me as if the managing director is saying they are delighted to have the business as would Krug or Dom Perignon. again, wine makers and newspapers and magazines are not fashion houses. the dude is FRENCH - i know i'm making a HUGE generalization here but when a french friend of mine speaks to me - i ALWAYS think she's condescending to me 'cause she just sounds like she is in her "outRAGEous frAnch AKsant" and lastly, hey, is it hot in here or is that another race riot in France?

but then again, i am a sleepless mom of two... i'm not the brightest light in the harbor either which doesnt bode well for my children's genetic makeup.

but then another thing caught my eye in the article, "Both Dom Pérignon and Krug have had their share of unwelcome attention, too...." it's the magazine that's calling it "unwelcome attention" - not the wine makers. puts a whole new "spin" on "spin the bottle", don't it? :P

anyhoo.... i think that's all my little pea brain can regurgitate. i have some thoughts about almost girl's reply, but i have to pretend to get some sleep.... but one thing that TOTALLY sticks out like a sore thumb - almost girl is a "former chicago south sider".... please PLEASE PLEEEEEASE, let her NOT be from beverly. puh-leeeeze!


Amanda said...

I enjoyed visiting your blog

Julie said...

Mamazilla, glad to have found you!

This is the first reasonable response I have yet read in this debate. I am not from Beverly. But yes I lived in Hyde Park for university.

I was pleased to see someone do some expository writing on the idea of branding, business, and the bling culture and from someone in the rag trade! HOORAY!


mamazilla said...

amanda - thanks for stopping by! when i get a few minutes to myself, i'll reciprocate. :)

julie - thanks! i actually did get some sleep and i did have a few things to add, when i get a chance to update, i will. :)

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