On Wearing Black on the Red Carpet

As a devoted ego-surfer, I was pleasantly surprised today to finally get the notification for an article in the LA Times which contains a handful of quotes from a conversation I had with its author, Karen Yossman. The conversation focused on the campaign to wear black on the Golden Globes 2018 red carpet in protest against sexual harassment and in support of the #metoo movement. The conversation actually lasted for almost 40 minutes, and of course only some bits of it made it into the final piece. But it’s the LA Times, so I am happy about that. Who knows, maybe Vanessa Friedman and Robin Ghivan will take note?

The quotes attributed to me seem to be correct, although perhaps taken a bit out of context. As for the effectiveness of  wearing only black on the red carpet at the Golden Globes, I felt, and still feel, productively ambivalent. On one hand, it is easy to appreciate the dramatic gesture of black dress after black dress appearing on the carpet. This in itself is certainly an effective moment in terms of ‘drawing a thick black line’ (Meryl Streep), thereby expressing solidarity with a very significant movement and signalling a ‘henceforth no more’. At the same time, I remain sceptical about the campain’s somewhat contrived dismissal of fashion through the actors’ refusal to answer any questions about their dresses and their designers. First, it’s still fashion, and my comment about the stunning nature of what on display also extends to many of the garments on display. Secondly, as Christian Siriano explained in his ‘New Line’ interview with Robin Givhan last year, there is in implicit deal between designer and actor: the latter gets the clothes for free, and in turn mention the name of the designer on the red carpet as a way of free advertisement. Sounds like a fair deal to me… So the somewhat holier than thou attitude expressed by the affected dismissal of fashion strikes me as unconvincing. Also, as Robin Givhan has argued, and in my view convincingly, this attitude underestimates and undersells the power of fashion as a means of protest itself. Designers such as Calvin Klein contributed to the legal defence fund of #metoo, and fashion itself, as a sartorial semiotics, can do more than just decorate. Writes Givhan, “fashion can best be weaponized when it’s allowed to speak boldly and loudly. Not when it’s muffled.” And finally, given fashion’s inherent logic of constant change, how ‘sustainable’ is this sartorial strategy of muting colours and voices? I think this is what I referred to with the argument that fashion can only incite and act as a catalyst. This is not to be underestimated, but we should not expect fashion to be a reliable and steady ally of social causes. Next show, next runway, next fashion. At the Oscars, fashion was back with a vengeance.

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