Consuming Fashion As An Art Form
Today I was most amused by a Facebook post by a classmate of mine in which she shared several photos from a supposed recent men’s fashion week. The photos were of a men’s fashion show where the male models were wearing all sorts of getup from women’s clothing articles like high heels and fishnet stockings, to more effeminate, or some might argue, emasculating attire, to more daring shapes like strips of wood, or hulking non-human forms.
My friends lamented the state of men, and that they felt sorry for the models as if they were trapped or tricked into such hilarious and demeaning attire.
They laughed. I did not.
I found myself actually bemused by their bewildered nature and realized they had only just cracked the surface of what they were seeing; what they were experiencing.
Arguments on gender roles, inclusivity, and sexism notwithstanding, having been in many fashion shows and fashion weeks, I can honestly attest to the mindset of the models backstage as being entirely ambivalent. Most professional models know their roles well: they are simply a blank canvas, devoid of most thought or sometimes rendered without unique characteristics. Models are, more basically stated, simply moving coat hangars. Models are not paid for their opinion (which if they had one and marketed it correctly, they could be called influencers), they are paid for their time and their image, which are in effect, rented out by the designer or brand who chose them. Models have no more stake in their look than a piece of art hanging on a wall chooses for that wall to be in a palace or double-wide.
I’ve walked the walk, and talked the talk. I’ve been that piece of art charged to wear a burlap sack as a statement piece of the designer, to standing in storefront windows in an impersonal act called “freeze modeling”. Some people thought I was a mannequin, but I felt like a monkey at the zoo. I wasn’t paid for my thoughts though, I was paid for that assignment — which to those on the outside, looks like standing around for a while. I’ll take that check, thank you.
Art is, by its creation and appearance — provocative.
No matter what medium an artist creates in — whether it be paints and pencils, marble, music, or textiles — their art is meant to evoke an emotional response. A person might even be able to articulate why art makes them feel a certain way, but for the vast majority, people simply like it or not, and move along with their day.
For those that can sit in their discomfort or joy long enough to admire it, art can help you answer questions that are in your subconscious. Art helps you to think. It helps you to internalize or can be revelatory. Art is many things, but it is always, ALWAYS subjective and deeply personal. You may experience it and get nothing more out of it than a smile, while another person will find that same piece so moving that it brings them to tears.
So reading their responses and emojis of crying laughter, I had a moment to reflect on what it was I was seeing, and what I was feeling. I didn’t take it personally. I felt grateful for being able to know what it was like to be a part of so many designers’ visions over the years, no matter how unusual or socially acceptable that vision was. For a few moments, I was part of something special — a shared collaboration of expressing art. Even if it was in high heels down a catwalk with a flower bonnet on my head that looked like it was designed for a first-grade play. There was a statement being made, and I happily and knowingly helped make it.
So here are my thanks to the many designers and artists who have or had a vision, and let me and other models join you in expressing it. Art is an act of bravery in itself, knowing full well that only a few will understand your vision, while others will misinterpret or belittle it completely. Conceptual fashion is like wearing your heart on your sleeve as you try to show others your reality, knowing it might be mocked or derided, rather than celebrated.
I want to personally thank every designer that chose me for their campaigns, runway shows, or photography, and most especially to the student designer who had me wear a burlap sack for a photoshoot in Dallas Texas in the early 2000s. I wore the heck out of that outfit, and I enjoyed bringing your vision to life. I hope I made you proud, because for me — even though it’s not what I would have chosen to wear personally — it’s still a great memory and moment that we got to share. And I’m very humbled by that thought.