Valentino, which produced a clearly African-influenced collection, was castigated for not using enough models of color. (Thibault Camus/Associated Press)
First there was heroin chic. Then there was poverty chic. And now comes … migrant chic? It sounds too distasteful to contemplate.
Yet this past fashion week in Paris both Valentino and Junya Watanabe produced clearly African-influenced collections at a time when immigration from that continent as well as the neighboring Middle East has become the subject of controversy and existential self-questioning throughout Europe. Mr. Watanabe even held his show in the Museum of Immigration History in Paris.
Around the same time, Norbert Baksa, a photographer, posted pictures on Instagram of a shoot he had done featuring a model wearing luxury brands against the background of a Hungarian refugee camp.
All three fashion moments featured beautiful clothing. And all three came in for different kinds of criticism. Both Valentino and Watanabe were castigated for not using enough models of color, and the former was also taken to task for the naïveté of its show notes. Mr. Baksa sparked an even angrier response, accused of glamorizing and exploiting a global trauma.
We tend to toss around the words “fashion statement” the way we toss them on a T-shirt, but how much of a statement can fashion actually make? Increasingly, such efforts — or indeed, anything that seems to touch on a political or social issue — seem to end badly, exciting a flurry of outrage on social media (some of it legitimate, some less so) that itself becomes a story.
But what is the alternative: not to engage at all?
(L) A look from Jean Paul Gaultier’s 1993 Hasidic show. (Karl Prouse/Catwalking, via Getty Images). (R) A look from John Galliano’s “homeless” Dior couture in 2000. (Jean-Pierre Muller/Agence France Presse/Getty Images)
(L) Junya Watanabe's spring collection was criticized in much the same way as Valentino's was. (Bertrand Guay/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images) (R) A look from Hussein Chalayan’s 1997 chador collection. (Dan Lecca for The New York Times)