It’s never out of fashion to prey on the homeless, it seems; or draw stylistic inspiration from the hard times these individuals have endured. “I want to involve the privileged people of the fashion world in the homeless scene,” Vivienne Westwood told Elke Swart of Street News Service, an international news agency that financially supports homeless populations. The London fashion designer, often credited (along with Malcolm McLaren) for mainstreaming punk and new wave fashion in the 1970s and early 1980s, unveiled her 2010/2011 “homeless chic” men’s collection this week, um, last year*, during Milan Fashion Week (view images).
[*UPDATE: It turns out Westwood released this collection last year, not last week. Oops. As one observant commenter pointed out: “This collection is a year old. I love this site but y’all could fact check sometimes maybe.” Touché, NINA. Incorrect release date aside (Curse you Street News Service and my blind trust in your time stamp system!), the passage of a year does not invalidate the argument. If anything, it’s a topic worthy of more detailed discussion. -Matthew Newton]
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On the runway in Milan, male and female models with matted hair and smudged makeup, pushed shopping carts and sashayed amidst empty cardboard boxes. The whole scene evoked a sense of déjà vu, channeling an aesthetic straight out of the film Zoolander, when Ben Stiller’s inept male model attempts to mount his fashion world comeback as the face of Jacobim Mugatu’s homelessness-inspired Derelicte line. Except for Westwood, her depiction is no comedy.
In her desire to “involve the privileged people of the fashion world in the homeless scene,” Westwood has apparently confused the actual state of being homeless (i.e. the real-world experience of having no place to live) with involvement in a scene, which I assume is in reference to cultural cliques such as the “art scene” or “punk rock scene” (both of which Westwood has exploited for monetary gain). According to The Sunday Times, Westwood’s husband, Andreas Kronthaler, suggested the line’s theme after being inspired by “a lawyer friend who works for a homelessness charity.”
In other words, Kronthaler saw that his friend was doing pro bono legal work for the homeless (an admirable act) and was drawn to the vagrant aesthetic of his friend’s clientele, and how that look might inspire his wife’s upcoming line (this man’s heart obviously bleeds rivers). Oh the transcendental magic of fashion as high art! Or, as Swart writes, “This year [Westwood] gave many a fashionista an uncomfortable feeling by rubbing their noses in homelessness.” Oh right, that’s what happened. Now that Westwood has forced fashion’s highest authorities to face the harsh realities of homelessness, this deeply complicated societal issue will no longer confound us as a people. Those in the homeless population struggling with mental health issues can now get on the road to recovery; the veterans turned out of state institutions in the 1970s, who have spent a lifetime living on the streets and in and out of group homes, will at long last find peace from the horrors of war; and government officials will finally take a look at all the men, women, and children who have fallen through the cracks and bring them back into the fold. A happy ending for all is on the horizon. And there is one singular figure to thank, Vivienne Westwood, champion of the people. Strike that, “hero” of the people:
Perhaps the oddest of heroes to emerge this season, Vivienne Westwood found inspiration in the roving vagrant whose daily get-up is a battle gear for the harsh weather conditions . . . Quilted bombers and snug hoodies also work well in keeping the vagrant warm. (from Westwood’s press release via The Sunday Times)
While every word from Westwood’s mouth sounds like a bad joke, it is the vocabulary of a woman who has spent a lifetime cashing in on the culture that surrounds her. In this case, The Vagrant has replaced The Punk. Next season, a new subject will catch her eye from the window of her luxury sedan. To get a sense of how absolutely out of touch Westwood is, this quote from Swart’s article is a fitting end point: “If I were homeless, I would steal a bike and visit all the art galleries. Through culture homeless people can also participate in society. In London the museums have free admission, so they can be shelters for the homeless.”