Friday, January 23, 2015

BEAUTY: Clothing--Walter Van Beirendonck

When I first looked through Walter Van Beirendonck's '15-'16 FW collection shown at Paris Fashion Week, I flashed on something I posted here on "Oh, By The Way" after the Paris terrorist attacks during London Collections: Men a few weeks ago.  It read in part (if I may quote myself, ahem...):

"The world is a tighter, uglier, more volatile place than it was, say, even ten years ago. But there is also such tremendous hope and potential. And art plays a part in this potential, whether it is a satirical political cartoon, a film, a play, a painting, or a sculpture. And couture at this level and in the hands of artists who work in cloth and fabric, is certainly an art whose concepts and execution can either offer a mirror to our troubled times or a soothing balm to remind us that there is still beauty to be had."

And it seems that Walter and I were thinking the exact same thing after the Charlie Hebdo office was attacked. But, take your pick, there are plenty of other near-daily terrorist attacks and if one is paying any attention at all to the world, one might come to the same conclusion. The first look of the collection sported the manifesto: "STOP TERRORISING OUR WORLD." Can't get clearer than that.

The larger, overarching message was about censorship, whether it involves a political/religious cartoon, or a piece of art: Van Beirendonck referenced the highly controversial art installation/sculpture entitled "Tree" by American artist Paul McCarthy which was shown, very briefly, this past November in Paris. The enormous inflatable sculpture could have been a very simplified green tree, but taking into consideration McCarthy's catalog, the shape was intended to be a butt plug. Who knows if the piece generated so much hatred because it was situated in the Place Vendôme, home of the fabled Ritz Hotel, or if it would have provoked the same reaction had the giant inflatable sex toy been placed anywhere else in Paris? McCarthy was physically assaulted and "Tree" was destroyed within two days of its debut. But as many Americans understand--and it seems that an equal amount don't understand--you can't pick and choose who gets to speak. If free speech exists, it exists for all, not just for messages we agree with. It is a bitter pill to swallow--and there's a fine line between free speech and abuse or violence directed at individuals or groups. But for Van Beirendonck, the issue is about stifling creativity.

To this end, he created large lapel pins of eagles (the symbol of freedom) with butt plugs dangling from chains. Some may find that shocking, but there is a reason for its presence in the collection. Freedom is beauty. Other slogans on clothing in the show: "DEMAND BEAUTY," "WARNING EXPLICIT BEAUTY," and most tellingly this marvelous Gandhi quote, "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind," a direct rebuke to the radical Muslim-led terror sweeping the globe. This served as a springboard for an eye motif that showed up on sweaters and shirts, and in an ethnic looking (Guatemalan?) woven fabric. Even the models sported a black line around a single eye, emphasizing the quote.

The concept of freedom seemed to express itself in clear plastic sleeveless tunics, pieces that were both jacket and poncho, and some fascinating coats in a typically fearless mash-up of fabric, plastic, leather, and faux-fur.

Creativity and creations can be anything and can come from anywhere. One may not like a creation, but one does not have a right to destroy it. In that case, it is best to simply move on to something one does like. The only world you can control is your own. Surround yourself with what you find beautiful.

Here is Paul McCarthy's inflatable sculpture before vandals destroyed it:

Photograph: Bertrand Guay / AFP/Getty Images

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