Thursday, January 03, 2013

fashion politics, 2002

From an article by Duncan Campbell in The Guardian way back in September 2002.

Kenneth Cole, the New York clothing, footware and accessory company, has launched a major advertising campaign based on statements on key political issues. In the most controversial advert, carried in leading US newspapers this week, a young man carries a newspaper headlined 'Holy War' under his arm while wearing the company's pinstriped suit, brown shirt and blue tie. The slogan reads: "Mideast peace is the must-have for fall." 

Another advert shows a model in jeans, sweater and scarf with two small boys playing with toy guns behind her. "Gun safety... it's all the rage," it reads.

"There seem to be a number of companies doing this now," said James MacKinnon, senior editor of Adbusters, the Vancouver magazine which describes itself as "the journal of the mental environment" and specialises in deconstructing advertisements and media messages. 

"They usually use very softball, very mild social messages," said MacKinnon. "Kenneth Cole clearly recognises that people want to feel as though they are buying into some social value as they buy belts and shoes. Who doesn't want Middle East peace? Putting something like 'Ending the occupation in Palestine is the must-have for fall' would be actually saying something." 

MacKinnon said that the trend of using social messages to sell fashion was started by Benetton, which ran an a series based on the idea of a multi-racial "united colours of Benetton". One advert featured a dying Aids patient. 

"This is just an empty stunt to stir up an empty controversy to sell an empty brand," said MacKinnon. 

A more thoroughgoing analysis can be found in "Gendered Security/National Security: Political Branding and Population Racism by Patricia Ticineto Clough and Craig Willse, writing in Social Text, available here.

Borrowing from the advertorial genre, the Kenneth Cole photos and text make the theme of security a matter of fashion, just a year after the attacks on the World Trade Center, and a few months before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Through the gendered codes of fashion, the photos and text link national security to personal security, proposing that the for-mer is essential to the latter, and that the latter might be gendered in sucha way as to concern women in particular and — in the visual treatment of the white woman and black woman as equivalent and interchangeable — all women in the same way. 

Alas, I cannot find the images referred to, but here's a more recent KC "gun control" ad, from 2011.

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