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Most fashion shows target women, but most fashion designers are men. The fashions they design often seem aimed at an impossible female body type, encouraging anorexia and/or drug use, if not outright contempt for and exploitation of women.
The fashion industry comedy Zoolander featured one such designer in archvillain Mugatu (Will Ferrell). He may be more of a misanthrope than misogynist, but in one scene he berates a female model when he accidentally sticks her with a needle during a fitting. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he says. “Did my pin get in the way of your ass? Do me a favor and lose five pounds immediately or get out of my building – like now!”
Also in the film, Mugatu announces his new fashion line Derelicte with a fashion show featuring models wearing plastic garbage bags, rolling around as if legless on carts and generally looking and acting like the homeless. It was tacky, tasteless and not politically correct or even humane. But it wasn’t that far off the truth. In fact it was based on an actual fashion show by John Galliano in 2000.
It’s not just the homeless inspiring designers. So are drug addicts. Just last year Moschino designer and creative director Jeremy Scott unveiled a “capsule” collection – a see-now, buy-now collection of essential mix-and-match items, released simultaneous with a runway show – that was “pill-centric,” featuring bags that looked like blister packs of cold capsules or oversized prescription pill bottles, and dresses, sweat shirts, pants and tops with prescription capsule motifs.
The runway theme was an homage to (some would say exploitation of) Jacqueline Susann’s The Valley of the Dolls, a novel and later film of drug abuse among young women in show business and the fashion industry, then observing its 50th anniversary. “Dolls” was slang for the pills the protagonists took. In addition to carrying pill-adorned bags or wearing pill-adorned clothing, the runway models wore paper tags meant to suggest they were paper “dolls” to extend the metaphor.
For an industry that had embraced “heroin chic” and its rail-thin models – until a second generation male photographer and addict died in 1997 of heroin-related causes – and didn’t blink twice at a 1999 fashionshow called “Cocaine Nights” – where the stage was covered with white powder and at least one model wore a dress made of steel razor blades – it was nothing new, nothing thought of as too provocative or in bad taste, at least not enough to censure it.
But the culture, in general, had changed to an opioid epidemic raging and the need for preventing and fighting drug addiction a presidential campaign issue. The fashion line was in effect killed when Nordstrom decided to pull the fashions after an online petition took off. All that’s left on Nordstrom’s website are a couple of relatively innocuous match and cigarette accessories.
It can be argued that such runway shows don’t encourage drug abuse or substance dependency – though it can’t be said to be fighting drug addiction either – or misogyny, but it’s insensitive not only because of the wider opioid epidemic in society, but the drug abuse problem within the fashion industry and its encouragement of body dysmorphia.
Models are pressured to be thin, and drugs – amphetamines, sedatives, and opioids – are one method they use, along with starving, purging, laxatives and exercise. Models – and photographers and designers – also use drugs to cope with stress and stay awake during the hectic fashion show seasons (sometimes they have to do several fashion shows per day, sometimes for several weeks straight, with added hours of fittings and rehearsals), and come down when they are done. It’s not healthy, but it’s seen as necessary.
Not far from the United States, the violence associated with the drug trade is much more pronounced and the consequences are much more severe. Still, so-called Narco Fashion is popular and big business south of the border.
Narco fashion can mean dressing like the male drug lords or wearing clothing that features marijuana leaves, drug paraphernalia, firearms, or all of the above. Some of the appeal is similar to rap’s gangsta fashions, getting a vicarious thrill from dressing like gang members, wearing the same brands that the drug lords wear, whether the fashion labels like it or not. When a couple of prominent kingpins were arrested wearing Ralph Lauren Polo shirts, “Narco Polo” became a hot trend. There are at least 10 registered trademarks for the drug kingpin nicknamed “El Chapo” alone. It seems to be all about vicarious thrills or whistling past the graveyard.
Narco fashion doesn’t seem to be making many inroads in the U.S. but marijuana fashion, in general, is and it generally hasn’t featured the same kind of exploitation or experienced the same kind of backlash as caused by the Moschino collection. Among the labels and designers who have dealt in cannabis couture are Mara Hoffman, Alexander Wang and (of course) Jeremy Scott.
The increasing legality of cannabis has created a need for handbags that are not only fashionable but also provide a space to carry your weed and conceal the aroma (though I doubt they’d fool a marijuana-sniffing dog). AnnaBis and Asche are two brands. Other accessories include decorative jewelry that double as cannabis grinders.
It might be as simple as prescription pills (opioid epidemic) on fashion is bad, but cannabis (29 states and the District of Columbia now allow the medicinal use of marijuana, even if the federal government still opposes it) is good. The entire nation of Canada is following suit. And there’s increasing evidence that cannabis can help in fighting drug addiction, chronic pain, and other ailments. While there are concerns about its effect on young, developing brains, it can’t kill you. Prescription pills can, even when used as directed.
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