I’ve been going to London Fashion Week for 6 years now and I’ve always had a problematic relationship with it. I love watching the show and seeing a designer’s latest work; if I have the chance to talk to the designer after and listen to him or her describe their inspiration and process, all the better. But there’s a whirling, stressful spectacle that goes along with fashion week that I don’t enjoy. There is pressure to look a certain way and wear the latest ‘must have’ piece, that the street style photographers will go nuts for. This can be a massive boost to the ego, especially when you rock up somewhere and they’re climbing over each other to take your photo. However, at the next event, for some unknown reason, a different gaggle of photographers will completely ignore you. It’s hard to stay detached and not take their interest, or lack there of, as anything more meaningful than the caprices of a flock of birds. Then there’s the business of who sits in the front row; I’ve sat in the front and the back and observed the proceedings from both sides. The traditional runway show has a toxic hierarchy based on fame and influence. The people who the fashion industry deem important are in the front row, a reflection of our celebrity obsessed culture.
This format has been the same for years, but I think the industry is waking up to the fact that it needs to change and sending models down the runway with a political slogan emblazoned on a t-shirt doesn’t cut it anymore. The whole system needs to be shaken and disrupted in order to for fashion to reflect the sea change that is sweeping society. People who might have been politically apathetic before 2016 are pushing back against the rise of racism and populist nationalism, that Trump and Brexit validated and perpetuated. Also, in the era of #MeToo world, fashion’s preoccupation with an extremely narrow and damaging representation of beauty feels out of touch. The assertion that one has to be young, white, able bodied and very thin to be valuable is not only outmoded, but symptomatic of patriarchal oppression and should not be tolerated. Audiences are now hungry for body diversity, and want to see themselves represented by the media.
This is all fine and good, but it takes a brave designer to dare to challenge the status quo. When I received the invitation to Teatum Jones’ SS19 show, titled ‘Global Womanhood Part Two, 16 Days Of Activism’, I was surprised that Catherine and Rob (Teatum and Jones respectively), were returning to a presentation format, considering their runway shows have been growing in status and size for the last few seasons. This time they chose a relatively small venue and only presented a few of the pieces from the collection. The clothes were, as always, glorious. TJ have honed their signature look and continue to produce beautiful, vibrant pieces that are made for confident, strong women. Even though SS19 is fashion forward, nothing about it feels girlish; Teatum Jones is a label for gown ups.
However the clothing took second place to the film the collection was inspired by, titled Round Table not Runway. Teatum Jones have been been appointed by the BFC as the ‘Positive Fashion’ representatives for London Fashion Week SS19. They have also partnered with Youtube, Google and The British Fashion Council in support of United Nations Women. In the film, a group of activists and advocates answer the question: what is fashion’s responsibility and role in the protection, unification, inclusion and equality of women? The group discuss diversity and equal representation in the industry and how it needs to change in order to be a positive force in the world. One of the most striking moments of the film is when Marai Larassi, Executive Director of Imkaan, speaks about how the word diversity connotes a normality, to which people who do not fit that normality are added in order to increase interest. I wrote about my problem with the word diversity last week. To me, it’s associated with crass tokenism but I don’t know what it should be replaced by. Hopefully the new wave will reclaim the word and it will become meaningful again.
I’ve often felt exasperated and troubled by the fashion industry. But there is so much about fashion that is positive and I believe that self-expression is always a good thing. Nonetheless, we still have a very long way to go in terms of representing a healthy and varied standard of beauty. Not to mention attempting to reverse the catastrophic effect fashion has on the environment. Also, it is now imperative that brands make clothes for everyone, not just for women who vary from a size UK 6-14. This is actually a very narrow group and fashion is missing out by not making clothes that women of all shapes and sizes can buy. But the change is coming, slowly and surely. It requires courage to challenge and alter a long established the narrative, and I’m glad that Teatum Jones are at the forefront of the new positive fashion.