Why Fashion Doesn't Care For It's People
I don’t know if you have heard it by now but the day before I started writing this, on the last day of SPFW, or São Paulo Fashion Week, Brazil’s biggest fashion week ever, the 26th of April, a model died on the middle of the runway. Yes, he was walking a fashion show for a brand called Oksan on the fashion week that is considered the most important in the whole South America (or even Latin America) by many people and media outlets, people were watching, he went to make a turn on the end of the runway and he seemed very dizzy and fell to the ground, paramedics ran to help him and took him to the ambulance, but it was later reported that he died arriving to the hospital. There are videos of it, but it’d be too disrespectful to put it in here, or even on the internet, profiting of someone dying. The first reports of the doctors (without doing an autopsy) said that he seemed to have died of what is called in Portuguese a “mal súbito”, which is basically suddenly fainting and then for some reason your heart stops beating, mostly caused by epilepsy. But, as people were very questioning on why someone who didn’t have a single epileptic episode before and no history on the family would simply die at the middle of work the authorities asked for an autopsy, which is yet to be revealed and concluded.
The paramedics came, took him out of the runway and the fashion show simply continued, just like that, very few people left the venue, most of them just enjoyed the rest of the show as nothing had happened. After some two or three hours of what happened the SPFW instagram account released a statement, saying that the model Tales Soares (popularly known as Tales Cotta, his artistic name) who had fainted on the runway just hours before, had died on the hospital.
People saw it, got quite sad, and then proceeded to their next runway show (in SPFW they are mostly at the same venue, only really big brands have different venues but then they have a more differential schedule), just as the show Tales (26) had died in was not cancelled or postponed, or they didn’t even release a statement after it, only after the news of the death, the last day of SPFW continued as scheduled, and in my opinion, would have continued for a whole week if it wasn’t the last day.
Now, I could talk forever about how, knowing people who were actually working there at the time or only watching the fashion show, knowing how it would implicate so much to the SPFW team actually say that a model had died on his job, that he was performing for them and also being pretty aware of how Brazilian model agencies normally treat their models, it wasn’t a “mal súbito’ or anything like that, in my opinion it was just a result of the way the fashion industry is treating models today, forcing them to work even in the most extremes circumstances, not paying them enough, always telling them that this next opportunity that goes against every single belief they have is “the key to their success” and if they miss it they won’t ever succeed. But, I do not have proof that this actually killed him, besides his family being very frightened and saying that he never had a history of epilepsy nor fainting, it’d all be just conspiracies theories, so I’ll talk about what I know and it’s proved to be a fact. No wild guesses.
The first topic obviously should be the pressure they put on people. Models have been battling for years with their self image problems caused by their own industry and how they pressure them, and this is a problem even today. Even with the famous ones. Even on big brands and agencies. And this pressure isn’t only on models, the sizes are way too small for many of the world population, even Karl Lagerfeld, from Chanel and Fendi passed through that, but he didn’t even care about it, he just told everyone in a very casual way that he lost over 92 pounds (41 kg) in over 13 months to fit into a Dior Homme by Hedi Slimane suit!
Karl Lagerfeld (1933-2019) before and after his diet. Photo from starschanges.com
He published a book on the diet and he said that dieting has to be a “sort of punishment” and, in his opinion, “fashion is the healthiest motivation to lose weight”.
“I had got along fine with my excess weight and I had no health problems (or — which would be worse — emotional problems), but I suddenly wanted to wear clothes designed by Hedi Slimane, who used to work for Saint Laurent and now creates the Dior Homme collections. But these fashions, modelled by very, very slim boys, required me to lose at least [eighty pounds]. ... I did not think that it was possible to lose so much weight in one year. ... [But] in fact, it took me exactly thirteen months.”
— KARL LAGERFELD IN AN INTERVIEW FROM THE 2000’S
Shocked? He also said that “it wasn’t a diet, it was healthy eating” even though he told about the close to only protein he ate “chocolate mousse” and he basically only drank diet coke to stay slim and cut off his appetite.
Another shocking statement by him was that “fashion designers shouldn’t talk about their suffering because people buy dresses to be happy, not to hear about somebody who suffered over a piece of taffeta” which makes us wonder how many people have that mentality in fashion and stay quiet about what really happens in there, the part that bugs me the most is the one saying that “people don’t want to hear about someone who suffered over a piece of taffeta” which makes me wonder: is he saying that workers shouldn’t say anything about their horrible conditions “working” at sweatshops?
But not only workers from fast fashion brands that are suffering and shouldn’t be even called workers at all, if that’s not relatable enough for some, It’s workers from our very own favorites Chanel, Prada, Fendi and Hermès and much more! But I am only citing the most outrageous ones. The “Fashion Transparency Index” one that evaluated the transparency that brands said they gave and the real, unknown ones, showed that 40% of the companies on the report don’t even HAVE the system to monitor if what they are saying is really true and even compatible with labor standards.
And people even go to lengths of buying the very overpriced clothes instead of food or their rent! Don’t tell me they aren’t overpriced or anything like that, the brands also charge you for buying from their brand. To make it more “especial”.
“Brand positioning also needs to be taken into account. Stakeholders set up prices to differentiate the market. There’s high street, contemporary (Kenzo, Carven, Tome, MSGM, etc.), lower luxury (Proenza Schouler, Altuzarra, Victoria Beckham) and high end (Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermes). The chosen prices put a brand in a certain bracket so retailers know how to categorise it and decide which designers sit next to each other. Basically a brand is as good as the company it keeps.”
— CARLOS FIALHO FOR MEDIUM.COM “ WHY ARE DESIGNER CLOTHES SO EXPENSIVE?” (SEPTEMBER, 2017)
The “fashion problem” is getting out of the industry and affecting other people too, and of that doesn’t worry you. I truthfully don’t have a single idea of what will.
And, to get even worse: the most talked about of bad working conditions are usually the ones with most transparency!
Image taken from the “Fashion Transparency Index” by fashionrevolution.org
But I guess we should have seen it sooner, even if Prada. A really respected and supposed to be professional and transparent brand when Miuccia Prada, the brand’s creative director and whose family owns Prada made a very interesting statement for “The Wall Street Journal”.
“Sooner or later, it will happen to everyone because [Chinese manufacturing] is so good.”
— MIUCCIA PRADA IN AN INTERVIEW FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2011
People's devotion to fashion, to the point of putting their own safety and safety of others too, is very old. But it hasn’t stopped. Recently, at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival the actress Elle Fanning (21) fainted during the Chopard Trofée Dinner for wearing a too tight corset, in 2019! She recovered but still had to leave the star-studded party.
It might be like a very iconic moment, and very fashion (I even tweeted about it) but, at what cost? If you don’t know, but I think you’ve provably already heard of it. Many women died, yes, died, from wearing corsets until the 19th century, they also died from wearing crinoline, the fontange, lead (yes, lead) makeup, stiff high collars, footbinding and some more horrid fashion trends, in the name of beauty and style!
Eating Disorders are not the only mental illness problem in fashion. Depression due to extreme pressure, fear of failing and general unhappiness with what they are doing is a big thing. To the point that it even takes lives! And it’s not only designers, from models to fashion journalists and more. Drug abuse is also very big, which often causes deaths.
Since 2010 three (3) famous high profile designers have died from suicide, the first being Lee Alexander Mcqueen (41) in 2010, the second L’Wren Scott (49) in 2014 and the most recent one Kate Spade (55) on 2018’s ending, only months ago.
But still, all those deaths and we haven’t really seen a change on how things are going. Some people make a few tweets, but that’s it, usually not the ones with a voice that can be heard.
Yes, fashion is an art. It tells you history of the world, of the peoples and of a single person. It makes you express yourself easily. It gives you confidence. But, sometimes it doesn’t. You have to be critical about everything, you can love it (like I do) but you can’t be silent about it’s problems. Everything has it’s dark sides and fashion isn’t excluded from it.
Not everyone in the industry is like that, and not everyone that is like that isn’t trying to change it. But even a “no one” with help of other “no ones” can make a big change. So don’t be quiet, don’t be blind. Hear every version of the story, don’t believe in the first thing you hear. Look for it on different sources. Don’t be the Marimbo Temple’s three monkeys.
Love fashion, but don’t become ignorant for it.
Main Image: Credit to Getty Images.