A Feminist Scholar Weighs in on the Chanel S/S 2015 Show

Critics, namely, fashion bloggers, have taken to their sites to discuss the feminist rally that Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld staged on Boulevard Chanel (the faux-street on which his Spring/Summer 2015 runway show was set) yesterday. Some likened it to the controversial Native American headdresses he showed for Pre-Fall. Others brought up the many misstatements he has made in the past (think: Adele is fat, etc.). Many put the word feminist in quotations. Critics of Karl Lagerfeld’s rather bold choice to invoke retro feminist protest imagery at the conclusion of Chanel’s Spring/Summer 2015 show may have sadly missed his point.

The show’s purpose, it seems, was not to advocate for women’s rights or advance new ideas about gender equality, but something far more subtle and brilliant -- it was to connect fashion to the powerful affects of urgency, excitement, and liberation, all feelings the 70's protest landscape illicit and incite. In other words, Lagerfeld is not working for OR against the feminist project; he is participating in the careful curation and rearticulation of our own cultural memories of political bonding between women. However, where some feminist critics might argue that Chanel, and Lagerfeld as a man, especially, is out of line, I think that he taps into a wonderful place where fashion and feminism can meet: beauty.

Whereas fashion creates art out of everyday objects, rendering them beautiful, women working collectively and ending silence surrounding the female existence, turns everyday actions into beautiful and radical opportunity for change. Why wouldn’t fashion want to pick up on this glorious energy? Not to mention, France has a long history of student organizing and feminist knowledge production that Chanel should be proud to perform in a show like this one. Some feminists might not want to see images of their history on the runway, but they should take it as the highest compliment: their struggles have become art.

JULIETTE ARICO is a PhD candidate and activist at the University at Buffalo in Buffalo, NY. Her work lies at the intersection of feminist, queer, and literary theories and addresses the emotional experience of reading. She is currently teaching an undergraduate Introduction to Feminist Theory course.