Rodarte Fall 2010 collection review
I read this article at some point during the weekend and when I found myself still thinking about it hours after reading, I thought maybe I should look deeper into it.
So it all started last week when the pr for Rodarte's collaboration with MAC started. One of their lip glosses had the name "Juarez" and some bloggers took serious offense to it. Since the 1990's an alarmingly high number of young women have been reported missing and/or found dead, most of them being young factory workers (maquiladoras, which is the name of another one of their products) and as young as 12 years old. It's clear how this would be something that would upset some people, but this post is not about that.
The article that Jenna Sauers wrote for Jezebel upset me, I think, because it completely took the situation out of context, and into a next-level of hysteria. The good thing is that it really got me thinking and in the process, it made me question how we look at "creative freedom" and re-awakened the ole' debate of "can fashion be art?"
Let's start with the title, shall we? "4,000 dollar dresses inspired by violent Mexico town". You don't know what happened, but ALREADY you are outraged. What kind of sick people make such a HUGE profit off of murdered minorities?, you will think. Nothing will be able to change your mind. Especially not when the first thing you read says:
"For fall, Rodarte presented a collection inspired by women factory workers in Ciudad Juárez. Juárez is the world's most violent place, outside of active war zones. Hundreds — some say thousands — of women have been murdered in Juárez."HORRIFYING.
But, if you manage to keep reading just a few lines, you will see that the inspiration behind their fall collection was not REALLY the homicides of women factory workers. According to Style.com's Nicole Phelps it was
"a long drive from El Paso to Marfa, Texas, (that) got them thinking they might like to explore their Mexican roots. From there, they became interested in the troubled border town of Ciudad Juárez; the hazy, dreamlike quality of the landscape there; and the maquiladora workers going to the factory in the middle of the night."Sauers ends the quote there. But on Style.com, Phelps continues:
"And that, according to the designers, who certainly know how to romance a pitch, led to this conclusion: They'd build a collection off the idea of sleepwalking."The collection is actually inspired by sleepwalking.
Is their romanticizing of the maquiladoras a bit off? Perhaps, but since when does inspiration need to respond to anyone but the one being inspired? If you remember the collection the whole thing was built upon layers and layers of thin chiffon, floral prints and their signature chunky knits. There were no "interpretations" of maquiladora uniforms, no grotesque use of smeared makeup or multiple shades of red to convey blood and murder. It was hazy, with smoke machines, lit candles and melted wax everywhere but it was definitely not violent or even "provocative". Their inspiration and creative process does not really need to be justified to anyone but themselves, but in any case, it is hardly a literal interpretation of the events.
Sauers goes on to say that when the collection came out back in February something about it seemed a bit off to her. Not that she wrote anything about it back then, a search through the Jezebel archive shows a tightly edited slideshow of the show and the celebrities in attendance with funny captions by Sadie Stein. In fact, it seems that no one had a problem with the collection until the MAC press release came out last week so it seems a little disingenuous to go back and try to denounce editors for not responding to their "transgressions" when she actually didn't either. She makes a reference at the disparity of the models with the actual women that work in Ciudad Juarez, but it's a moot point; they're not SUPPOSED to look like them. Natalie Portman is quoted commenting on the beautiful ghost-like make up and then gets totally Debbie-Downered by the author:
"Maybe the women were turned into ghosts because they were brutally murdered and their bodies were dumped in the desert and their killer(s) were never pursued by a dysfunctional and corrupt police force, let alone prosecuted?"Wah Wah Waaaah.
Way to take it to a brutal level.
(Disclaimer: On the Style.com video interview Kate Mulleavy admitted to Tim Blanks that this is something that she thought about (not in such a graphic way, I'm sure. They're just really into spirits! Laura did not see it that way but she thinks you can if you want to.)
Then of course, the notion that just because bad things have happened somewhere, a place is incapable of containing beauty or being able to inspire someone to create beautiful works of art. There are still many people that live and work there and I'm sure they are tired of everyone thinking they live in "murder town" and are working hard to improve the image of the city. As so, they have one of the highest literacy rates in Mexico and their education system is one of the broadest, making education available to a variety of different incomes. When Sauers says it's "icky" for us to ask the maquiladoras to "provide inspiration" for $4,000 dresses, it strikes me in different ways. First, why not? Why shouldn't these hard-working women be the inspiration of something beautiful? Isn't that kind of a wonderful thing to be a part of? And second, if the Mulleavys were traditional artists, and painted their ideas instead of creating clothes, would it still be "icky"? No, it would probably be lauded by critics for finding the "diamond in the rough" or seeing the "true souls of the women that work there". Sauers is unsure about whether fashion can inspire the same spark of conversation that art can. When she talks about the real problem being a "failure to engage", she's referring to the editors and celebrities that praised the collection but failed to mention the brutal violence (because it wasn't really there). If most people see the collection without ever talking to the designers or realizing one of the many aspects of its inspiration, are they in the wrong for judging the product solely on its own merits*? Or should people put as much weight behind intent as they do with the finished product? If we insist that fashion cannot be seen as art, then the answer is obvious, object before idea.
So yes, naming the lipsticks made some of their inspiration obvious and made many of us uneasy, but they ARE donating a portion of their proceeds to a charity in Ciudad Juarez. And just imagine how many more people now know about the things going on just south of the border. In the end, although the subject matter is dark, the result is not so. It's not so much about the ghosts of the women that have passed, but about the resilient spirit of those that live on.
* Like, yesterday I was watching one of those Food Network competitions where they had to re-make a classic dish. A contestant had to re-vamp "pigs in a blanket" and so she made breaded shrimp. Should I hate the breaded shrimp because I don't like "pigs in a blanket"? Or should I just eat the shrimp because it's probably delicious. And may I please remind you that it does not say RSVP on the statue of liberty.