VETEMENTS X POVERTY FW'18
Maybe I was the only person who was…lets say, unsettled (lets say very unsettled) by the Vetements Fall 2018 Menswear show which took place just north of Paris in the Paul Bert Serpette market. If you’ve never heard of it or visited, thats probably because you, like me (and 95% of the rest of the global population), are not rich. This leads me to my dilemma surrounding the Vetements show.
If you saw it, you could absolutely take the designer, Demna Gvasalia’s, explanation that “We took it to the flea market because thats where it always begins” on face value. However, after viewing the show, and thinking about what a show like this means in regards to culture, and fashion in 2018, it struck me as problematic, and I will GLADLY tell you why.
What some may view as an artistic dalliance with the “flea market” aesthetic, I see much more perspicuously as ‘poverty tourism’.
There I said it ok? YES I SAID PERSPICUOUSLY because thats the power of a thesaurus.
But also poverty tourism. I also said that.
Remember that time that Gwyneth Paltrow, in an ill conceived attempt to bring attention to the hunger crisis in America, lived for a week on $29 (the weekly allowance for food stamps)? Do you also remember how wildly shortsighted it was for Gwyneth fucking Paltrow to try to draw a parallel between her —one of the most privileged women on the planet — and a person who does not have the choice to live on food stamps? Who doesn't have the same access to fresh fruits and vegetables, the luxury of free time, education, and experience? Then do you also remember when she photographed herself on her $29 a week with a shopping cart of rice, beans, and lots of green leafy vegetables as if she alone had discovered its actually not that hard to live a completely balanced and healthy life on food stamps? Like what are all of these goddamn poor people complaining about am I right? Well if you don't you can read the Times article about it here.
Now when I say poverty tourism, Im referring to the phenomenon of rich people choosing to act, look, or behave as if they in fact live in poverty. The OBJECTIVE word in that previous sentence being choosing. I know what you're all thinking “well what about privilege tourism? Im SICK of poor people pretending to be rich” Well you can read more about what I have to say on that here.
Now, if you're sitting there asking yourself “well, so what if rich people like to act poor sometimes? who does it hurt?”
WELL LET ME TELL YOU.
The problem with poverty tourism, and which is what I feel that Demna and Vetements most recent collection is doing, is profiting off of a group of people without the decency to acknowledge their struggles as valid. It is a deficiency of empathy and an aversion to self reflection that perpetuates the incorrect assumption that poverty is the result of a singular failure as opposed to a very deliberate and systematic institution created by the wealthy elite whose goal it is to keep those in poverty in poverty. *deep exhale from saying that in one breath* Further, the naive thinking that, for much of the industrialized world, the luxuries and comforts we enjoy do not come at the very real, very violent, and very 2018 costs to the most poor and most vulnerable peoples across the globe.
Ok, really though, you look at the Vetements collection and seriously consider the possibility that for a brand who’s most inexpensive items starts somewhere in the range of $400 USD, there may be something problematic going on here.
"It's not called fashion its called poverty tourism, and Demna Gvasalia needs to look it up"
I want to be clear that Im not on some crusade against luxury by any means — nobody wanted an Hermes H belt in 2006 more than me, and I would potentially still consider wearing one around the house— and Im not even on a crusade against Vetements in particular. What I am on a crusade against is the shift in the fashion zeitgeist (will this be 2018’s most overused word? stay tuned!) where privilege is going unacknowledged, and is supplanted with a self righteous indignation and entitlement to belong everywhere under the veil of creative liberty. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but fashion does not exist in a vacuum, and the creative inspiration derived from the very blatant references to the poorest in society do not come without the responsibility of acknowledging your role in their continued struggle. When rich people make a mockery of poor people, it slowly is making it ok for poor people to remain poor.
Liiissssttteeeen, I’m not saying that Demna should be giving all proceeds from the collection to the needy, or even using it as a tool to highlight the plight of the poor/homeless. I think its pretty well know that people know that poor people exist — if this is your first time hearing about the concept of poverty well then you are in for quite the shock if you ever saw me in person. Just as with Gwyneth, Im also pretty confident that the larger population knows that hunger exists, the problem is both cases is that they are blithely unaware of how their actions, intentional or not, are contributing to keeping the cycle of poverty turning.
So, how DO you solve a problem like Demna Gvasalia? Where is the line between the glorifying “everyday people/garments” and appropriation? and discrimination? What responsibility do brands have to the people who inspire their collections? Especially if those same people are excluded in being able to participate in the outcome?
I don't have the answers (surprise!), but, in a way, I don’t think the answers are nearly as important as beginning to ask the questions.