Aspasia Karras, editor of the Sunday Times Fashion Weekly, has recently come under fire for suggesting that refugees should be wearing denim, sparking a debate on the romanticisation of poverty in the fashion industry.
In an article, Karras wrote that denim is a suitable material for refugees as it is “hardy, durable, stylish and can dry on one with pleasing results and instantly recognizable as a contemporary of marker of modernity. For refugees from Syria, Iran and Afghanistan it was the garb of choice.” This was condemned as “poverty porn” and an illustration of how frivolous fashion can be.
Fashion is a reflection of society’s zeitgeist. Indeed, the current state of fashion seems to echo the current turmoil faced by the world. The fashion industry is fast-paced and has been a repeat offender of cultural appropriation. Oftentimes, the subject of appropriation is poverty.
“Fashion and poverty have always had a relationship,” said Nicola Cooper, senior trend researcher and analyst at Nicola Cooper and Associates. The Japanese influence of the 1980’s, such as Rei Kawakubo’s “sack dress”, characterises the aesthetic of poverty.
The current world of anxiety under the threat of upheaval and violence has been “translated into different styles of clothing,” said Cooper. This can be seen in “deconstructionism fashion”, identifiable by distressed fabrics, tears, frays and holes. A recent example of this is Kanye West’s Ready to Wear 2015 fashion collection, which received heavy criticism. Renowned fashion journalist Anna Wintour described this collection as “migrant chic”. This illustrates Cooper’s view of fashion as being linked to observations in society and mass consciousness.
Karras could not be reached for comment, but has taken to Twitter to say that she “unreservedly apologise[s] for any offence caused” and that she is “sincerely humbled by the corrective power of social media.”
Cooper offered some insight on the matter, stating that the connection between refugees and fashion was not made clear. According to Cooper, it is important to view the fashion industry as a chain of equally important elements, from seamstresses to journalists to buyers. While each have a valuable space in the industry it becomes “problematic” when those lines are blurred. Cooper went on to say that the harsh reality is that respect in the fashion industry is gained by being good at your job, not by taking on tasks that fall outside of your skill set, such as writing about refugees.
Many have taken a stand against romanticising poverty, not only in fashion but in all aspects of society. This has been heightened by the increase in worldwide atrocities and the sentiments will continue to be reflected through fashion.