Sunday, 12 April 2009
Beauty and the beast
No Bibliotherapy this week; well, there is, but only in my head; am re-reading The Four Quartets -- and I can't find the words, because Eliot says them so much better. And am feeling somewhat incoherent.
But here (below) is my column from the Sunday Telegraph, and also, today's discovery (for me -- but it demands to be shared) of the work of Su Blackwell. I've posted a picture (above) from her website, which also includes details of her exhibitions.
You’d think that fashion and nature are diametrically opposed; for fashion demands artifice, control, the imposition of imperious demands on the natural form, at the very least, and at worst, its destruction. Thus the closest that many designers come to nature is when they use dead animals for adornment – furs and snake-skins; alligator handbags and mink coats; as if covetous of a majesty that will always be denied to our poor, naked, hairless bodies. As Angela Carter wrote in her version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ – ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’ – “lions are more beautiful by far than we are, yet they belong to a different order of beauty”.
So what, precisely, was Alexander McQueen’s message in the catwalk show of his spring collection, with a video backdrop of a revolving earth, and a stuffed lion beside the runway, flanked by a zoo of taxidermy (an elephant, a polar bear, a giraffe, amongst other endangered species)? His programme notes mentioned Charles Darwin, the survival of the fittest and the damage caused by industrialisation; the clothes themselves used prints that drew on nature (delicate flowers, birds and wood grains), tailored into strict hourglass silhouettes. Thus, like an 18th century landscape gardener, McQueen proved his mastery over the wild, pruning and training and shaping it as his own.
Christopher Kane’s spring collection was more ‘Jungle Book’ than “Origin of the Species’; inspired, in his words, by ‘Planet of the Apes, The Flintstones, Racquel Welch in One Million Years B.C, and Dian Fossey and her gorillas.” Hence a dress emblazoned with a roaring gorilla’s face, that drew applause from the fragrant fashion editors at Kane’s London Fashion Week show (did they identify, on some primal level, with the display of raw gums and tongue and ferocious black teeth)? And if you really want to get into the simian look, there’s an even scarier version of the frock with gorilla bicep sleeves.
As for me: I’d be happier wearing t-shirts from the new Edun collection (an ethical clothing company established by Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, in 2005, under the guiding principles of Fairtrade). I like two in particular, each printed with a photograph taken by Hewson in the Masai Mara. One is of a tree, another of a lion; both are suggestive of the Edun credo of respectfulness. All of which reminds me, again, of Angela Carter’s story of Mr Lyon. Lions, she observes ‘have no respect for us: why should they? Yet wild things have a far more rational fear of us than is ours of them…’