When we pull back the luminescence of high fashion, a world of sins is encased.
Patriarchal claws are embedded so deep it seems the limitations and cages society impose might prove to be endless. Beauty has become a reclaimed asset by those who possess it, with society as always, feeding off this pursuit for perfection. In many ways, however, the rhetoric we have been fed is a construction. The definition of beauty continues to experience an ongoing metamorphosis.
If someone possesses beauty, many perceive them to “have it all,” but even this is unable to protect some.
Beauty allows one to walk through life with a sense of privilege. Yet sadly for women, this transmutes into a double-edged sword, satisfying one’s need for aestheticism but also becoming a yet undefeated malediction of endangerment, ironically.
Are we ever safe?
Examining the representation of minority backgrounds in the modelling industry in and around the ‘90s is the perfect vessel through which to unpick how the fashion industry has moulded societal perceptions of beauty. It sheds light on how even the most objectively beautiful women, who influence trends, are not protected by the societal Armor beauty provides. Women of colour who found purpose within high fashion were not met with the same respect as their white co-workers, both within the industry itself and when interacting with the media and the public.
Elitism was and is very much rife within the world of high fashion and used as a justification for racism.
Grace Jones was an enigma if the world had ever seen one. She became an emblem of unapologetic individuality, representing those who simply want to be nothing but themselves and utterly transcend categorization. During the height of her fame, the media attempted to portray her as somewhat crazy, a cowardly and prejudiced reaction to her alluring uniqueness. Jones remains, as ever, uncomfortable with “different.”
This sheds light on the poisonous way in which those in power, notably the backward and elitist, manufacture a damaging and false narrative, cyclically binding ethnic women to the “colonial other.” This underlying tone cuts deep when the media attempted to label Jones as “aggressive.” It is fitting then, that when met with patriarchal prejudice, Jones educates those individuals with class and confidence, exposing their backward and boxed-in notions and rightfully casting them in a light of embarrassment. Her elegance and reclamation approach to any attempt at stereotyping are some of the many reasons we will never forget her mark on the fashion industry and society.
In her words; “I think being aggressive in a positive way is very good and it protects me as well, it puts everyone on their guard”
When questioned about her sexuality, Jones never gave in to pressure to define herself in a way that satisfies societies need to label. Instead she chose to deconstruct the very rhetoric upon which the question is built. She stated “I find women attractive, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t find myself attractive. One has to begin first with themselves and go from there”
Toxic and fragile masculinity is seen to feed many of the warped perceptions of gender, highlighting how everything is constructed and defined by personal perception. Anyone who feels the need to box people in should answer the following question, “Can you tell me what is being masculine, what is that?”
Echoing through time itself, anyone who has dared to be nothing but themselves has seemed to strike fear into those who influence. Simply put, it is hard to control and influence the masses when people no longer fear being themselves.
When it came to fashion, Jones utterly rewrote the rules: rules that shouldn’t have even been written in the first place. Simply put, she dressed to match her mood, a role model for us all.
Another unapologetic trailblazer was Yasmeen Ghauri. Ghauri’s explosion and influence on fashion and beauty through runway reverberating into the present and across our Pinterest boards. Born to a German mother and a Pakistani father, Ghauri was brought up Muslim. As expected, her beautiful ancestry meant that she was faced with uneducated prejudice her whole life, unfortunately also reflected in her life within high fashion.
She herself highlights how “racism was kind of a problem in school and then on top of it, you know, religion is also quite a heavy thing”. We are often confronted with issues racism presents with everyday life, but to have someone so high profile within high fashion also dealing with the effects religion imposes, provides one with even more to dissect and also relate to. It is a testament to the pervasive extent of these societal forces.
Ghauri explains how her “look” was met with more and/or less opposition depending on where her work would take her, shedding light on how societal perception is different across continents and countries. “Going to Europe, you know I did much better there, but even then I think it was the start of the acceptance of the ethnic look”. Clearly, tolerance is shown to be more rife within different cultures and societies, but the key thing to take away from this is that tolerance is not enough, acceptance and celebration of uniqueness and difference is what should be the ‘norm’.
Even with Ghauri’s profile, “for an ethnic look, it’s kind of difficult to get a contract”, a challenge she noticed especially when getting her career off the ground.
However, despite being open about battling with the internal limitations and conflict coming from a religious background, her father being an Imam, she has found her own path through it all;
“I think that what my father tried to teach me, beyond religion, has stayed with me, and I’m happy the way I turned out”.
Her class, intellect, and entrancing physique meant that she illuminated any room she walked into, and took the runway by storm because of the way she would command and shift the energy when wearing a designer’s work.
Campbell is a figure in the industry who will unarguably go down in history as an idol. After 36 years and counting in the fashion industry, she is one of the icons we look up to when attempting to source what really goes on behind closed doors within the world of high fashion.
The queen herself has said “I feel that in general, in the fashion industry, we have not had the seat at the table that we deserved. We are capable and that’s the insult. We have the same qualifications. It’s not equality and that’s what has to happen in our business. It has to be equal and it has to be equal pay too. It took me decades to get equal pay. Not complaining, I’m just stating a fact”