Wednesday, March 01, 2006

How It Will Happen

Fashion creations by Rolf & Viktor (left) and Vivian Westwood (right)

ABJECT SURRENDER. The Drudge item refers to it as "Beheading Chic," but it's worse than that. The world of high fashion may seem immaterial to everyday life. It isn't. As a cultural bellwether, it's probably more significant than the editorials in the New York Times or the leading newspapers of Europe. The latter can be challenged in the arena of reason. Fashion circumvents reason and re-landscapes the culture by a top-down process of osmosis, altering what we accept as commonplace by redrawing the boundaries of acceptable experience in the eyes of young people before their parents are aware that anything significant is happening. The most outrageous couturier runway stunt can become a popular hit at your local 'Hot Topic' with amazing speed, reconfigured perhaps, but with the underlying message of the original intact. The recent mode of middle-class girls attiring themselves as streetwalker Lolitas began on the runways of Paris, Milan, London, and New York. Now a new process is underway.

Westwood dressed up for her show. Horns?

The article linked by Drudge seems a rather jolly celebration of Vivian Westwood, the British designer who rose to prominence defining the punk look for Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols. Characteristically, she is portrayed (more than a little disingenuously, to be sure) as a mischievous rebel who -- like so many artistes -- delights in shaking us up with her irreverent perspective. Whatever blows your skirt up, right?

A flying penis, voluminous robes and a call to release a convicted prisoner -- British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood brought it all to Paris in a shrill show on Tuesday.

In an autumn-winter collection inspired by Greek themes, 64-year-old Westwood paraded models in long, gold shimmering coats and girls showing off colorful tights under bright purple layered dresses with the word "Innocent" printed on them.

"I think it is terribly important to have opinions, and to think. We live in a world of action without thought," said Westwood, who has kept her eccentric edge since her bondage- inspired creations for the Sex Pistols punk band in the 1970s.

Westwood, who is famed for using British fabrics such as tweed and tartan for her daring clothes, has not been shy to add a political touch to her clothes. Last year, she presented tops reading "I'm not a terrorist. Please don't arrest me" to protest against a tightening of anti-terrorism measures.

Wearing two sparkling little devil's horns in her bright red hair, Westwood told reporters she wanted to raise attention to the case of Leonard Peltier, a American Indian activist convicted for the 1975 killings of two FBI agents...

Westwood's collection included a golden suit with a wide hood, toga-style dresses in pink and purple and accessories such as a police-man style visor in sparkling gold.

In fact, the article did not touch on the real subtext of Westwood's newest creations, which are revealed by the slide show linked from the piece and confirmed by the work of other designers as well.

"An autumn-winter collection inspired by Greek themes." Right.

The inspiration is not Greek, but Islamic, and fundamentalist Islamic at that:

The Westwood "toga-style dress in... purple" is on the left.

Are we still thinking this is all cute and harmless? Combine the eyehole-less hood above with the "toga-style dress" and we are all the way to burkha. Beyond actually. The hood really does suggest the grisly hostage exhibitions we have seen on television courtesy of al Jazeera, and Westwood adds a further touch that underscores her message in bold strokes. Note the blown-up detail below, which appears twice (at least) on the outfit -- above the printed eyes of the hood and underneath the "Greek" geometric border on the "dress":

This is not at all subtle. The Greek letters are a straight transliteration of the English word "Future." What are we to make of the neighboring circles? Sightless eyes -- the blinders of the burkha, the blank stare of a decapitated head? Or merely empty crocodile tears for an ineluctable fate we no doubt deserve? It hardly matters. Westwood has incorporated the barbaric iconography used by the sworn enemy of her license to shock into her design esthetic. She might as well have come truly clean and used her Greek letters to spell "thanatos," which to the Hellenes meant love of death.

An isolated instance? No. She is joined in her perverse fascination with the death of the west by at least two other designers featured in the same fashion-photo slideshow. A Frenchman named Castelbajac responds to the current climate of Islamist threat to the nation states of Europe by transforming his models into visual ridicule of Christanity and European nationality and history. How cool.

The dead hand of Christianity

Most of his creations are explosions of color and Warhol-like pop motifs. His use of starkly simple imagery is reserved for the outfit that places a medievally outsized crucifix at its center. One might think of this piece as his philosophical base, the vision that "informs" his treatment of individual countries in other designs.

An affectionate pop tribute to the Brits?

Campy and fun, right? Wrong. Cued by the discrepant Christian concoction, we can recognize the same ideas at work. The Union Jack is, of course, a concatenation of three Christian crosses, and despite the primary colors, the context is still death. The face of the dead cast-off princess is framed, literally, by skeleton gloves in playful (or blood-drenched) red. The other two outfits are feminized permutations of Brit military uniforms, also linked to death: more skeletal gloves on the first and a cartoon rendering of a long-dead queen with downcast eyes on the second. All three of the models are presented with blackened or concealed eyes. The busby borrowed from the Welsh Guards is here, in fact, pressed into service, burkha-like, to cover one eye completely and eclipse the other. Notably, the symbols of the lost British Empire translated into women's clothing do not so much endow them with female strength as emasculate them. From the vantage point of the designer, the models are not to be seen as women, emblematic of the advance of equality and participation, but as symptoms of pathology, proof of compleat castration. As western women, the models do not even exist.

Fun with Switzerland

 It's the same with Switzerland: blackened eyes, skeletal gloves, and a comical reconfiguration of the bustline as the tesselations of a castle surmounted by a regnant red crescent gaily flaunting the obviously dispensable accessory of an archaic Swiss flag-cum-cross. The effect of the whole is like a puzzle of Fashion Pictionary that reads: "Come on, Islamists! Breach our ramparts, and smite the bloody hands of our bankrupt faith!" Unconvinced? Take a gander at this closeup of the model's 'balcon':

A Templar and a Nun

They're still swinging their bloody swords, all right, but their position has already been overrun. The crescent has already conquered and is their backdrop. There's more one could say, of course, but the point has already been made sufficiently. Castelbajac is jeering at the fait accompli of a vanquished Christian Europe. In fairness to the purity of his anti-patriotism, it should be noted that Catelbajac doesn't spare his own country, either. (Just for fun, find the red crescent below and interpret the one western symbol employed in his joke on the tri-color of France.)

The third designer working this theme is actually a two-man Dutch team consisting of Rolf Snoeren and Viktor Hosting.

No. They do NOT look like 9/11 hijackers.

Their contribution to the mix is especially interesting and timely in the context of an item linked yesterday by Glenn Reynolds. In an essay published in the Sunday Times of London, author Douglas Murray sounds an alarm about the Netherlands. I apologize for the length of what seems a digression in our little fashion rotogravure, but the following quote is intensely relevant:

"Would you write the name you’d like to use here, and your real name there?” asked the girl at reception. I had just been driven to a hotel in the Hague. An hour earlier I’d been greeted at Amsterdam airport by a man holding a sign with a pre-agreed cipher. I hadn’t known where I would be staying, or where I would be speaking. The secrecy was necessary: I had come to Holland to talk about Islam.

Last weekend, four years after his murder, Pim Fortuyn’s political party, Lijst Pim Fortuyn, held a conference in his memory on Islam and Europe. The organisers had assembled nearly all the writers most critical of Islam’s current manifestation in the West. The American scholars Daniel Pipes and Robert Spencer were present, as were the Egyptian-Jewish exile and scholar of dhimmitude, Bat Ye’or, and the great Muslim apostate Ibn Warraq.
Both Ye’or and Warraq write and speak under pseudonyms. Standing at the hotel desk I confessed to the girl that I didn’t have any other name, couldn’t think of a good one fast. I was given my key and made aware that the other person in the lobby, a tall figure in a dark suit, was my security detail. I was taken up to my room where I changed, unpacked and headed back out — the security guard now positioned outside my bedroom door.

The event was scholarly, incisive and wide-ranging...  we tried to discuss Islam as openly as we could. The Dutch security service in the Hague was among those who considered the threat to us for doing this as particularly high. The security status of the event was put at just one level below “national emergency”...

Where Holland has gone, Britain and the rest of Europe are following. The silencing happens bit by bit. A student paper in Britain that ran the Danish cartoons got pulped. A London magazine withdrew the cartoons from its website after the British police informed the editor they could not protect him, his staff, or his offices from attack. This happened only days before the police provided 500 officers to protect a “peaceful” Muslim protest in Trafalgar Square.

It seems the British police — who regularly provide protection for mosques (as they did after the 7/7 bombs) — were unable to send even one policeman to protect an organ of free speech. At the notorious London protests, Islamists were allowed to incite murder and bloodshed on the streets, but a passer-by objecting to these displays was threatened with detention for making trouble.

Holland — with its disproportionately high Muslim population — is the canary in the mine. Its once open society is closing, and Europe is closing slowly behind it. It looks, from Holland, like the twilight of liberalism — not the “liberalism” that is actually libertarianism, but the liberalism that is freedom. Not least freedom of expression.

All across Europe, debate on Islam is being stopped. Italy’s greatest living writer, Oriana Fallaci, soon comes up for trial in her home country, and in Britain the government seems intent on pushing through laws that would make truths about Islam and the conduct of its followers impossible to voice.

I don't believe there will be any doubt that Rolf and Viktor are taking a position and sending a message about the Islamicization of Europe. In stark contrast to the political context just described, the Islamic images they employ are not censored or intimidated into silence. They are out in the open for all to see, and we are permitted to read their message while the ideas of real thinkers are being locked in an opaque strongbox. The question I will leave for you is what this particular message consists of. Here is the evidence:

The last one does look as if a wedding is being contemplated. But how eagerly? In aggregate, the collection is so scary -- so evocative of the entombment, even the erasure, of women that one is tempted to believe a challenge is being mounted to the ideas being embraced by Westwood and Castelbajac. Yet the whole purpose of fashion is to attract, to propose the esthetic appeal of new influences, however difficult, and to begin the process of inseminating the popular culture with those influences. Are we being warned or inured? It's anyone's guess which is the intent here. Regardless, the once alien images and concepts of the world's only philosophically bellicose major religion are being smuggled into our everyday consciousness. If Europe becomes, as Mark Steyn predicts, Eurabia, this will have been one of the incremental steps along the way.

The United States is less endangered than Europe by Islamic cultural absorption. I do recommend, though, that American parents keep closer track than they have so far of the fashion trends that sweep through the teen and pre-teen boutiques where their daughters shop for the latest and greatest in chic attire. Be on the alert for variations on the theme of headscarves and veils and desert robes. I know it will be argued that especially here fashion is mere frivolity, a kind of witty commentary on matters unserious and impermanent. In reply I'd suggest it's worthwhile to take a closer look at the life, career, politics, and public statements of Vivian Westwood. She thinks fashion is more than that.

Vivian. What exactly does blow her skirt up?

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