Dangerous Fashion for Dangerous Times
Fashion's new It-boy, Richard Quinn, has been on my radar long before I knew his name, thanks to Tumblr. Images of women covered in fabric from head to toe, resembling surreal human-shaped furniture, appeared out of nowhere on my dashboard. I had no idea who devised these images, but they were arresting and unforgettable.
Now I know all about Richard Quinn. A recent MA graduate of Central Saint Martins, his 2016 show earned him a deal with H&M, and he launched his own line a year later, debuting at Liberty London. Just last week, he became the first recipient of Her Majesty’s British Design Award, an honor concocted by the British Design Council and the Queen's dressmaker, among other entities.
But whenever I read about his unique aesthetic, I wonder why they left out the word "creepy." While his designs are colorful, structured, and meticulous, most of all they are disturbing. They obliterate the woman who wears them, turning her into a couch wearing curtains, or a faceless fetish doll.
Asked if he tried to tone down his characteristic bondage theme in deference to the Queen, who attended his show (another historic first), Quinn said no. "She's known for her sense of humor, and she's seen a lot in her life," he observed. "I don't think a gimp mask will shock the Queen."
Indeed, Her Majesty seemed amused by the parade of swathed models, some wearing last-minute designs made from floral-printed scarves as a salute to the Queen Herself.
I'm glad for Quinn's success and recognition. But I don't want to see his pieces coming at me in a dark alley.
Still pondering Quinn's LFW show, I was startled by Gucci's latest circus of styles for autumn 2018. Besides the usual references to grannies and royalty, Gucci threw in everything he could think of, including models carrying replicas of their own heads. The effect was grotesque and scary, but just cheap theatrics when compared to Quinn's staunch erasure of the entire woman.
Nice try, Gucci.
Matches.com is carrying a few of Quinn's pieces, introducing them like this: "Fusing art with fashion, his elegant dresses, full skirts and velour leggings will bring a fresh verve to your everyday look." I don't know about fresh verve, but the piece that sold out immediately is a huge floral coat-dress with a gigantic bow at the neck. Looking like a frightening clown wearing upholstery is not for everyone, obviously. It's more performance art than clothing.
“We are all Doctor Frankenstein of our lives,” Gucci's Alessandro Michele said, trying to explain the severed heads and the fake operating tables scattered around the fake clinic setting for his show.
I would like to differ! We are all traumatized, from war and displaced refugees, from the resurgence of far right politics and from Brexit and Donald Trump. We don't need more horror in our lives. We need escapism, sure. But in the age of "Me Too," we need to remember that we are individuals with faces, not severed heads. Neither are we furniture.
For the creepier aesthetics to take hold, we must submit to the angry tribalism of our times, and to the depersonalizing of all our most intimate experiences. We've all shared our rapes and abortions and eating disorders, and we've marched wearing pink knitted hats. It might be healthy to preserve some sense of self and sanity going forward.
Personhood is valuable. When fashion asks you to surrender it, just say No. No to gimp masks. No to Dr. Frankenstein. We are not furniture! We are human beings!
One fashion expert raved about Richard Quinn's vision of "strong, confident women." I don't think a strong confident women wants to be an object. Quinn's love of textiles is lavishly apparent throughout his work, but whether he even likes women is yet to be decided. There's an online subculture known as "full coverage" enthusiasts (or burqa fetishists.) Their photos of themselves shrouded in table clothes or yards of drapey fabric are strikingly similar to Quinn's women, but in reality they are men.
Maybe Quinn was inspired by burqa fetishists? Let's not mention this to Her Majesty though. She's been through enough.