Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Decoding : Fashion and Religion makes strange bedfellows

Lord, forgive her : Gaga dit it again. Her last video, directed by Steven Klein, is heavy on blasphemy. Alternately Joan of Arc, Virgin Mary and a nun, the provocative singer seems to be running out of ideas, and her Alejandro is a genuine visual disaster.
Indeed, doesn't it sound you familiar ? Oh yes, Madonna, which stage name says it all : the Like a Prayer singer already surfed on the wave of religious provocations back in the 80s. So, bad decision for Lady Gaga ? It seems so : we still cannot make fun of religion in the world of entertainment and fashion. Quick topical outline.
In 2005, French designers Marithe and François Girbaud broke the news with their last advertising campaign. The picture recreated the painting The Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci, substituting women to the apostles and supermodel Ruslana Korshunova, dead in 2008, to the Christ. Immediately, a Roman Catholic association brought a lawsuit against the creators and won. The posters were removed.
Across the Atlantic, it is the same old thing. In 2008, the Boston Magazine published an ad for a fitness club that depicted nuns sketching a naked man. Once again, outcry from the Catholics.
Chilean fashion designer Ricardo Oyarzun 2009's collection was not better received. His designs, inspired by the Virgin Mary, were worn by revealing clad models. Shocking !

Then, is the Catholic religion personna non grata in fashion shows ? In fact, it does shy apparition : in the Spring/Summer 2006 collection of Dior, models in bright red and black wore crucifixes and veils. Last year, Jean Paul Gaultier turned his models into ethereal icons with white dresses, halos and chalice's prints. It was the first use of Catholic religion in fashion that was of good taste, but we still heard teeth grinding.

What about other religions ? Islam is a taboo, but Hinduism and Judaism are often used by designers and photographers. Incidentally, Madonna turned to Kabbalah : it must be a sign ...
Used for ecumenical matters, religion is often employed in ad campaigns to show the tolerance of a brand and to encourage respect. For example, the American fashion designer Kenneth Cole's campaign "We all walk in different shoes" showed an Hassidic Jew and a Sikh among others.

It is a shame that in 21st century we are still that cautious with religion, and even more disgraceful that it is mainly used for cheap provocation. Yes, designers should be free to use their beliefs and to borrow from religious art, but there's no need to turn it into a disgusting show.
With taste, fashion and religion can make a very interesting and beautiful combination. The proof being a campaign made by Indian photographer Suresh Natajaran for the jewellery brand Tanishq.
We can dream of a more open-minded world, but meanwhile, images like those we can see in Alejandro are definitely not helping the cause.
Sources :
Times Online

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