Fashion is one of the most important industries on the planet. Each year, North America alone spends over $250 billion on clothes, shoes and accessories. The fashion industry has exploded in recent years, and is now worth a staggering $1.2 trillion worldwide. However, the nature of the fashion industry is to be cutting edge and in the process of breaking taboos, fashion has its fair share of slip-ups. Every year, hundreds of controversies and shocking stories make their way into the media, concerning fashion designers, fashion models or the designs themselves.
Tom Ford’s 2008 advertising campaign sent shockwaves through the media upon it’s release with images like a woman pressing a bottle of cologne against her private parts. Everyone knows that sex sells, and that certainly seemed to be the ethos behind the Tom Ford campaign. Many women were outraged and said that the revealing images of the oiled-up, hairless models were tasteless and degrading. This campaign was shot by Terry Richardson, who is undoubtedly one of the most controversial photographers of the 21st century. After numerous allegations of sexual abuse, many fashion brands are boycotting Richardson. Change.org even set up a petition in order to encourage fashion houses not to work with him, which currently has over 25,000 signatures.
It should be of little surprise that in an industry so large, popular and trend-setting, mistakes are going to happen. Because the fashion industry is global, misjudgements can be made. Often, fashion controversies seem to stem from oversights by designers or photographers who didn’t consider the fact that their idea might offend a certain demographic of people. The list of fashion controversies is endless, but we’ve narrowed it down to the 5 Most Shocking Fashion Controversies with some of the most unbelievable stories of recent years.
5. Cultural Misappropriation
The debate over cultural appropriation has grown enormously in recent years. The definition of cultural appropriation is as follows: the adoption of certain elements of one culture by those from a different culture. In fashion terms, this relates to the increasingly popularised donning of Indian head dresses, saris, bindis and kimonos, as well as the use of religious symbols such as the crucifix or images of the buddha on jewellery and clothing. While there is nothing overtly offensive about admiring and wearing something from another culture, concerns have been raised about whether it can trivialise significant cultural traditions.
Firstly, it has been argued that items and symbols that are sacred to certain peoples, that have a huge amount of meaning associated with them, should not be used purely for their aesthetic by those who do not identify with them. Secondly, it is seen by many as immoral to market holy or culturally significant items, making them profitable objects in a culture outside their origin. H&M were recently forced to pull the plug on a line of feathered headbands. This is no doubt a very sensitive and personal issue, yet it is understandable for someone to be angry if their faith is marketed as a cheap accessory.
4. Depictions of Assault
Grotesque and/or shocking imagery is being used more and more often in fashion campaigns. According to research, consumers will not stop flicking through the pages of a fashion magazine just because they’ve seen something pretty: they need to be stopped by the forcefulness of an image. This, and the ever-growing competition within the fashion industry to be ahead of the curve, has led to the production of some rather bizarre and often offensive advertisements.
Above is a campaign produced by fashion royalty Dolce & Gabbana in 2007. Soon after this advertisement was released, 13 senators and the Italian Equal Opportunity Minister demanded for it to be banned. They called for it to be withdrawn as they believed that it was overtly degrading to women. The image of a woman with a vacant expression being forcefully held down by a man as other men look on is obviously going to be a recipe for controversy. The image quickly went viral, and is now infamous for its depiction of violence against women. Dolce & Gabbana are not the only guilty party- Calvin Klein Jeans also came under fire for a similar image.
3. Lack of Diversity in Major Global Fashion Weeks
Fashion Week is a huge event for the fashion biz, with New York, Paris and Milan being the most publicised globally. Over $20 million is injected into New York’s economy during fashion week each year. However, in the past year there have been growing concerns about a massive lack of diversity during fashion week. In short- white models dominate the catwalks. In 2013, only 6% of models in the entirety of New York Fashion Week were black models. A staggering 83% of models were white, while Asian models made up less than 10%.
Such figures have given rise to the Diversity Coalition, a campaign which was founded by models Naomi Campbell and Iman, along with model agent Bethann Hardison. They’ve appealed to major worldwide fashion councils to end what they view as racism on the runways. “The absence of people of color on the runways and photography reinforces to our young girls that they’re not beautiful enough, that they’re not acceptable enough… The diversity that we live in, the world that we live in, is not what is shown on the runway. That to me is the concern” stated Iman when asked about the issue. These three women are taking on quite a tough challenge, but improvements have been seen in 2014’s NYFW. Calvin Klein led the way, adding five black models to his recent show. However, there is certainly a long way to go before a real difference is observed.
2. French Vogue’s Child Models
Back in December 2010, French Vogue ran one of the most controversial advertising campaigns of all time. It featured 10-year-old child model Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau, draped in designer clothing and jewellery. While child models are extremely common, many felt sickened by this campaign. Rather than portraying a child who had raided her mother’s closet to dress up, the images have been deemed as extremely sexualised images of a prepubescent girl. Other images portray Blondeau lying on a leopard-print bedspread wearing heels and a very low-cut dress, or lying on her front with her high-heeled feet in the air. As a whole, the campaign painted a disturbing picture.
Blondeau’s mother hit back at those who criticised the campaign, saying that she sees nothing shocking about the images. While this may be the case, there is concern over the fact that sexual predators are able to access these pictures and others like them. The sexualisation of children in the media is an area of huge concern in the 21st century. According to the American Psychological Association, it is essential that children have enough time to develop physically, emotionally and socially before they begin to learn about sexuality. However, children will not get that chance if they are being subjected to images such as these. Cases like this are closely linked to child beauty pageants, which have also been subject to a growing amount of controversy.
1. Fat Shaming by Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO
If you’re familiar with Abercrombie & Fitch, you’ll be aware of the preppy clothes, the saccharine perfume, the grinning six-packs standing at the door of the store… but you should also be aware of the store’s shockingly opinionated CEO Mike Jeffries. Jeffries made waves when he stated in a 2006 interview that he only wants thin, attractive people to wear A&F clothing. The CEO stated “That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.” At the heart of this controversy lay the fact that the retailer does not stock XL or XXL clothing for women, even though they stock these sizes for men.
Needless to say, a huge backlash followed. The media worldwide scorned Jeffries’ remarks. Some people became involved in ruthless campaigns to hit back at A&F, such as Greg Karber. This man actively began to give A&F’s clothes to the homeless after hearing Jeffries’ comments, calling for a readjustment of the brand’s values. A size-22 blogger named Jes Baker also hit back at the brand by posing in A&F-style photo shoots, using the logo “Attractive & Fat”. Abercrombie & Fitch broke under the pressure late last year, and stated that larger women’s sizes would be available (online) in 2014.