February 01, 2010

Russian skaters bad, Gaultier good

A good explanation of why the Russian skaters' outfits are objectionable while Jean Paul Gaultier's dresses aren't.

Olympic Games' tortured relationship with fashion won't change in Vancouver

Raising eyebrows: The taste level of Russian ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin is being questioned.

By Robin GivhanThe ice dancers have chosen to emulate the dark skin of Australian aborigines by wearing unitards in varying shades of brown. The costumes have white swirls to mimic body paint. Faux leaves dangle from their limbs and torso. They're also wrapped in bits of red fabric that are supposed to represent loincloths but that resemble poorly made skorts--a garment that no man should ever wear, not even male figure skaters who, over time, have managed to get away with everything from gauntlets to ruffled epaulettes. Serious folks who represent the aboriginal culture have announced to the media that they are offended. As well they should be, if for no other reason than the costumes are hideous. But the bigger issue is whether the idea itself is offensive. Should Russian skaters be using Australian aboriginal culture at all? Is any sort of appropriation inherently mocking?

It's one of those questions that comes up with frequency in the fashion industry where designers believe they have the creative license to borrow freely from everyone and anything. The list of cultures that have been ransacked in the name of style is long and includes African American, Jewish, Indian, Caribbean, Native American, Middle Eastern, African and so on. No one is off-limits. Occasionally, designers have been inspired to glorious effect. Almost a decade ago, Jean Paul Gaultier debuted a ready-to-wear collection in Paris that was a pastiche of African and black American style. His models looked glorious and noble. And the clothes, in velvet and jewel tones, were breathtaking.

Gaultier's wisdom was in using the specific cultures as merely his starting point; his creative process took flight from there. He wove an elaborate and enticing fantasy out of reality. He created something wholly new that was, itself, worth celebrating. In contrast, the ice dancers' costumes attempt to re-create something that they simply cannot. Cultural markers are etched out over generations. They can't be stitched up in a few hours. These costumes don't embellish on reality; they don't transform it. The unitards, with their ridiculous greenery, are like cheap, lazy Halloween costumes without the plastic mask.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Russian Skaters Should Rethink Routine.

Below:  "Raising eyebrows: The taste level of Russian ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin is being questioned." (Ivan Sekretarev/associated Press)

No comments: