Seymour Glass dissects ‘Revolutionary Chic’ and fashion’s relationship with youth culture, politics and cultural change.
Studded berets, utilitarian pockets galore, and mixed radio signals on the guerrilla station overhead. Through the label’s characteristic language of fun, color and youthful wit, Marc by Marc Jacobs’s new collection touted a revolutionary message, summarized throughout on embroidered patches which read, “Solidarity,” “Suffrage,” and “Unite.” But as the models marched to T.Rex’s 1972 teen rebel anthem, “Children of the Revolution,” the question arose: Are we a generation of revolutionaries – or impostors?
Revolutionary chic is no new concept. Just last season Chanel staged a pseudo-feminist protest for SS15, with tweed-clad models bellowing into megaphones, waving signs like, “Ladies First”; and we all know Vivienne Westwood has made a career of backing political messages with her Brit-punk aesthetic.
But the irony of revolution-themed fashion is fairly obvious: A sweater might say “Solidarity” on the outside, but if it also says “Marc by Marc Jacobs” on the inside, then to purchase it propagates a multibillion dollar fashion industry – and really, how revolutionary is that? In other words, what does it mean to buy a sweater that makes you LOOK like a revolutionary, when the single act of buying it reaffirms your identity as a cog in the capitalist machine?
Of the collection, designer Luella Bartney brushed off serious political implications, explaining, “It’s more about youth culture than it is about politics. It’s about harnessing the energy and the positivity of youth and that feeling that when you’re young, you can change the world.” Politically correct reasoning, perhaps, but despite her apparent willingness to evoke suffrage as a mere fashion trend, she and co-designer Katie Hillier seemed to have tapped into a very real and powerful characteristic of our generation.
In the past, youth fashion has frequently had a symbiotic relationship with cultural change. Just look at young women in the twenties, for whom boyish dresses and bobbed hair represented support for women’s liberation, in the midst of the suffragette movement. Ditto for the sixties counterculture, in which flower garlands and bell bottoms became ‘groovy’ trends at least in part because hippy fashion supported an anti-war ideology.
Our modern high-fashion incarnations of revolutionary chic, however, exist merely for the sake of fashion. If the twenties had women’s rights, and the sixties had Vietnam – what do we have? An aesthetic?, committed neither to cause nor action? Unless you count our adoption of social media a ‘social cause,’ when was the last time you heard our generation regarded as the forebears of a significant cultural revolution?
There’s a constant feminist dialogue, of course, and thanks to Occupy Wall Street – that short-lived, vaguely articulated attack on the so-called 1% – an occasional murmur over deeply felt economic crises – but those battles play out passively over blog posts, and can hardly be considered ‘movements.’
Maybe that’s why designers still turn to a 60s aesthetic to signify ‘revolution’ – because the modern equivalent has yet to materialize.
All of which is to say that new season of Marc by Marc Jacobs has tapped profoundly into the pathos of our apolitical generation. On some level, we do seek to ‘make a change’ – this impulse explains our fondness for crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo – yet how far do we really go? Do we start a revolution for the causes that we believe in?, or do we buy a sweater that reads boldly, ‘Solidarity’ and wear it while we click away at our laptops, and occasionally ‘Like’ a political cause on social media?
Either way, nice berets, and we look forward to seeing them on the street-style set, maybe paired with a megaphone as a fashion accessory.