The new sobriety: Covering up the bodyYes, I've no doubt at all that having a religious maniac standing behind one with a scimitar can have wonderful, magical effects on one's creative processes.
Paris: The forecast for the new fashion season is as somber as it is certain. It is going to be a long dark winter.
After a decade of free-fall hipster pants, bared midriffs, bras on show under sheer dresses and naked legs, fashion has started on its great coverup. Forget girlie frills and celebrities flashing flesh on the red carpet. The typical outfit in the current international fashion collections is in any color as long as it is black with a silhouette long, lean and layered.
The mood is now for a chaste sobriety, with sturdy fabrics, thick leggings and even ankle-length hemlines.
The world's leading designers have no doubts as to where fashion is headed as they talk about "restraint" and "sobriety."
"I think 'modesty' is a beautiful word today - and a beautiful attitude," says Lanvin's Alber Elbaz, who has built his career on designing dresses with a respectful attitude to women.
Marc Jacobs, founding father of the girl-woman aesthetic, shocked the audience at his New York show last month with hefty knits, leg warmers and thick layers of clothes shrouding the body.
"The leg thing was a conscious decision," says Jacobs. "Early on I knew I wanted to show pants under skirts - and I didn't want to do pink and frills."
As Karl Lagerfeld, whose New York show debut featured entirely long, dark, layered clothes, puts it: "If you read the daily papers, you are not in the mood for pink and green."
Various influences are pushing fashion away from bare-it-all vulgarity - not least that there is nowhere to go but up from low-slung pants and strapless gowns. But among themselves, thoughtful designers are putting the change of mood into a different context, as they talk about the "Muslim-ization" of fashion. They are referring both to drawing, deliberately or unconsciously, on a culture of female sobriety. In a world clearly in turmoil, cocooning clothes are a response.
With the wearing of Muslim headscarves in school an abrasive issue in France and after the violent reaction in the Muslim world to the Danish cartoons considered disrespectful to the prophet Mohammed, few designers want to speculate openly about the influence of visual exposure to constant news reports on the Muslim world. Jacobs describes how his multicultural references included snap shots of Arab women with only eyes uncovered, but that he deliberately effaced the shrouded Muslim women in the corner of the collage.
"It looked a little scary to us because of what has happened in the wider world," he said.
As with any artist, the creative process of fashion design is complex. Lagerfeld said that he surprised himself by designing ankle-length white shirts, only realizing afterwards that they looked like a fashion take on Arabian culture.
"It was very strange," Lagerfeld says. "It goes in your mind and out of your fingers. You don't do it on purpose. It is about sensitivity and one cannot escape this kind of influence. It also has something mysterious, a mood of danger - something exciting."
Anyway, it's time for the journalist to start explaining why this really isn't craven dhimmitude on the part of frightened fashion designers:
There is nothing new about designers sampling foreign cultures. The caftan has been a staple beach coverup since Yves Saint Laurent, born and raised in Algeria, made it a part of his collections. Djellabas are considered vaguely exotic, but have never previously been seen as an overt reference to the Muslim world.Sure. It just came out of nowhere!
Many liberated westerners might be dismayed at the idea of fashion absorbing any form of dress that suggests the subjugation of women - or of discussing a subject that has so many connotations and overtones.
"We have talked about the Muslim-ization in fashion, but I don't want to be quoted," says one Paris-based designer, referring to conversations between himself and his partner. "I remember what an idiot Tom Ford looked when he raved about Hamid Karzai's robes, with all that was going on in Iran. It just makes fashion seem so dumb."
Nobody is really suggesting that the winter 2006 shows are covering the body for political reasons, although Olivier Saillard, program curator for fashion at the Paris Musée des Arts Décoratifs, said at this week's Yohji Yamamoto show (where the clothes were over-size, body-concealing and with giant crosses, as for crusaders) that "fashion is much more political" than it was 20 years ago.
The Japanese Yamamoto, a designer of poetic, romantic clothes for a quarter of a century, said backstage: "I am very bored with tiny, sexy little fashion and with T-shirts and jeans - I want women's clothes."
Asked about the Christian symbol, he said: "I don't know what it meant. I don't know why I did it."
Just like the guy with the big knife and gun who shot and sliced Theo van Gogh to death for making the wrong kind of documentary, I suppose.
But wait... this is weird... the Paris-based reporter hasn't yet found a way to make America look like the real misogynists!
A visceral reaction to the ultra-sexy and over-exposed is often behind the change of fashion faith. Jacobs talks of listening to the singer Pink and her disc "Stupid Girls" - and then putting Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson in the context of America not yet having elected a woman president.Phew. I really thought they'd forgotten, that time.
Oh, and in case you'd forgotten, the designers really, really aren't dhimmis. Honest.
Elbaz says: "Fashion is about the moment, about what is relevant. Every day wherever I go, women are in charge. You cannot play with women; they are serious about themselves."Uh huh. Fashion designers scorning vulgarity and encouraging dignity. This sounds very normal and not at all inspired by fear of Muslim violence.
For a new generation of designers, covering up women is an aesthetic choice. The Belgian Olivier Theyskens, 29, the creative force at Rochas, was one of the first to practice a delicate restraint.
"I have always had a problem with vulgarity," says Theyskens. "I like a certain sobriety. It is above all a way of looking at a woman. I don't want to push the barrier of dignity. I think it is vulgar to display skin, although I like bared backs - there is a certain sensuality. I am not interested in sexy glamour. I want something more poetic and romantic."
I'll spare our readers the next dozen paragraphs, which are taken up with egomaniacal designers defending their decision to 'modify' their attitude to design, in a manner that is eirily familiar to the editors and journalists who recently twisted and turned to explain away their sudden disinterest in freedom of speech.
But it doesn't take long before all of the denials, misdirections and claims of political disinterest turn into something we've all seen before in liberal social circles - a thinly disguised admiration for the religion of peace:
The sensuality, even eroticism, of a veiled woman was the subject of 19th- century photographers. And even designers whose connection with Muslim coverups is oblique, can see the appeal of what Saillard calls "a certain elegance after over-exposure" and the idea of beauty as hidden, secret and interior, in contrast to what the 1990s dubbed "porno chic."Not like a big black bag does, at any rate.
The irony is that in countries where the culture demands that women are covered, the robes are often in contrast to the extravagant sexiness of what is worn underneath and in private. Now, in the shopping malls of Dubai, the flash of a high-heeled shoe or the embroidered edge of fraying jeans has the same sexual charge as the Victorian era when "a glimpse of stocking was something shocking."
But those who know and understand the Muslim world are quick to point out that there is no single and absolute vision.
Sheik Majed al-Sabah of Kuwait, whose Villa Moda stores have brought international brands to the Middle East, says that Muslim countries have different approaches and that there are generational changes.
"Covering up is our culture and tradition. It is something we have always seen as a challenge when we first starred the retail business," says al-Sabah, who describes Lebanon, Syria (where he will open a store in April) and North Africa as the exceptions, because of the French colonial and Christian influences.
"I'm very proud of our women," he says. "I don't think cleavage and tight jeans are sexy. It doesn't keep the mystery of a woman."
But let's get back to how those designers have always secretly yearned to dress women in garments which strongly resemble the large blankets trainers hurl over horse's backs.
Saillard believes that an atavistic urge for "a sort of cocoon" is behind the need for covered-up clothes.There's something spooky about him, all right, but it probably isn't his deep personal spiritualism.
"People need to be reassured," he says. "There is a pervasive concern - bird flu and the disturbing feeling that the world is at war."
John Galliano's dramatic, disquieting Dior couture show, which featured Marie-Antoinette and the bloody terror that followed the French Revolution, was directly connected to the riots spawned by the grievances of immigrants, many of them Muslims, in the Paris suburbs.
Does Galliano, a deeply creative designer whose vision is so often a precursor of things to come, believe that his austere vision, with giant crosses worn like badges of martyrdom, is significant? "I am not a prophet," says Galliano. "But suddenly veiling is sexy - to evoke the sense of a woman. And often, when I look back at my inspiration, I find it really spooky."
The death of Europa and birth of Eurabia is, I must admit, a fascinating (and agonising) thing to watch, but it's certainly not anything new, by historical standards. Once again, the way of the invader is being paved by - you guessed it - the liberal intelligensia.
The leftist willingness to abandon their most dearly-held beliefs in the face of naked, violent opposition has been done before, most notably in the cases of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In both totalitarian (see: socialist) utopias, the forms which 'approved' art took was dictated by the state vision of what was aesthetically beautiful.
Hitler, for instance, hated postmodern art. So the artists of Germany happily cranked out lots of lovely landscapes and heroic teutonic images. Fashion designers produced clothes with the Hitlerian ideal woman in mind; modest, sober and (most of all) German. Had the Nazis repulsed the D-Day invasion and continued their occupation of France, one imagines you would have seen a similar process take place in Paris (it already had been low underway all over Vichy-controlled France).
It doesn't matter if it is cartoons, news stories or fashion. In the end, if you chop enough heads off, liberals will do precisely what you want, and eventually, get so good at knowing what you want that they'll do it before you can blow anything up.
And all the while, they'll assure themselves (and us) that that's precisely the opposite of what they're really doing.
Think this is an isolated incident? That it won't happen again?
Think again. It already has.
What? You didn't know that artists working as teachers in art schools have always secretly yearned to avoid painting and drawing anything other than nature scenes and geometric shapes?:
The Art of CompromiseNote the similar way in which the despicable reporter spins the story, attempting to find a positive side to the fact that children of non-Muslim backgrounds are no longer able to draw or paint what they like in art class.
[That title makes me want to be sick. Is it really compromise when Muslims dictate the terms, and dhimmi weakling teachers give in to them? - Ed]
As violent protests over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad continue around the world, a St. Paul charter school is quietly negotiating the delicate question of how to teach art to Muslims.
Any depiction of God and his prophets is considered offensive under Islam, and disrespectful representations are even worse, as the recent worldwide outrage over the Danish cartoons has shown. But some Muslims also refrain from producing images of ordinary human beings and animals, citing Islamic teaching
Out the window right away went masks, puppets and that classic of elementary school art class, the self-portrait, said Sara Langworthy, an artist with ArtStart. Revamping the curriculum "definitely requires stepping outside of the normal instincts that you fall back on," she said.
In their place came nature scenes and geometric forms and patterns, said Carol Sirrine, ArtStart's executive director. This week, the class was cutting out shapes to make into cardboard pouches. Another project involved taking photographs and mapping the neighborhood around the school.
The conversation about what is appropriate is still open.
Can you imagine the tone the journalist would have taken if this had been a Catholic school which forced non-Catholic students to stop painting God, Jesus or angels?
Any leftists who continue to obfuscate on behalf of Muslim encroachment, I feel, are behaving in the same manner as those treacherous Frenchmen and women who were shot at the end of the war for collaboration.
Because that's what this is. Plain and simple.
Cross-posted from FoJ.