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I Tried to Sell Cybergoth and Steampunk Gear to ‘Wavey’ Streetwear Kids
In Britain today, subculture is largely a thing of the past. The vast majority of young people just don’t seem interested in seeking out New Rock boots or Moschino-print trousers any more. Now, they just seem to sling on whatever they can find in the high street. They’re less likely to buy a shirt because it says something about who they think they are as a person than they are because it keeps them warm. In a way, you can understand this—being young’s tough enough without people spitting on you because you’ve developed a teenage obsession with The Crow. But by and large it’s a sad fact that comfort has replaced controversy as the order of the day, shopping centers filled with young people happily wandering around, taking selfies, and buying each other muffins and shit from the Disney store, like a bunch of fucking Americans.
Perhaps it’s because KoЯn went dubstep, perhaps it’s because rappers started wearing tight red jeans and glasses without lenses, perhaps it’s because Camden Lock is now just a massive Starbucks and a few stalls selling “Keep Calm” hoodies. Whatever the reasons, youth culture is now undeniably a lot fluffier and nicer than it was in previous generations.
But walk down any high street in any town with a population greater than 10,000 and there is one subculture still kicking against this Hollister-led style pogrom: streetwear culture. Not the one that involves 30-year-old blokes in Bape going to see DJ Vadim at KOKO, but the one that fetishises Snapbacks, bucket hats, North Face, King Krule, post-dubstep, knockout weed and very expensive shoes. The OFWGKTA influenced, Supreme-loving, Palace-worshipping marriage of American skate fashion and British rudeboy attitude. Which, oddly, are two things most people in their mid-twenties could probably never imagine coming together, having spent their teenage years watching skaters and rudeboys attack each other at bus stops.
Saudi Arabia Isn’t Having a Feminist Revolution
When it comes to women’s rights, Saudi Arabia takes baby steps to a whole new level of infancy. (In utero steps? Spermy steps?) Sure, the King Khalid Charitable Foundation launched the country’s first ever anti-domestic-violence ad last month, but women are still unable to defend themselves against those same domestic-violence cases in court. In 2013.
One other huge breakthrough that I’m sure would have Susan B. Anthony setting off streamers in her grave is new legislation that allows women to ride bicycles. Granted, they still have to be supervised by men—but bicycles! Think of the endless freedoms that come with finally being able to cycle around Riyadh, a city not built with cyclists in mind whatsoever!
Oh, also, girls in private schools are now allowed to play sports, but girls in state schools still can’t. So, much like in other parts of the world, the amount of rights a person gets depends entirely on their wealth.
Despite these forward-thinking changes, Saudi Arabia was still ranked 131 out of 134 countries for gender parity in the 2012 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report. So recent, optimistic reports of Saudi Arabia going through a “feminist revolution" seem a little off the mark.
I spoke to Nouf Alhimiary, a 20-year-old photographer from Jeddah, about the challenges she faced when trying to put on an art exhibition about Saudi women in a country where basically every minutely inflammatory art piece gets banned from public display.
VICE: Hey, Nouf. How come you were only allowed to display half of your exhibition?
Nouf Alhimiary:You know that thing where you take a picture of your outfit every day and post it on Instagram or Twitter? I thought it was interesting that a lot my Saudi friends do that when they’re out of the country, but can’t do it here because they have to wear the exact same thing every day: the abaya. I wanted to create a parody of that by photographing women wearing the same thing in different places. I wanted to call it What She Wore/ What She Wore Underneath. The plan was to take pictures of all these women in the abaya, take pictures of whatever they were wearing underneath, and then display both pictures together.
But you weren’t allowed to do that?
The curator for the Mostly Visible show told me I couldn’t do it because the government would have rejected it. In Saudi Arabia, the government has to look at every art project that’s going to be exhibited to decide whether or not it can be displayed. The curator told me that if I included pictures of women outside their houses not wearing the abaya, they wouldn’t display it.
So what did you do?
I settled for What She Wore, which I actually like because it makes you ask, “Why do all these women look like they’re wearing a uniform?” But even though I only displayed pictures of women in the abaya, a lot of people at the exhibition came up to me and asked, “Why are you trying to change women?”
Meet Sohel Rana, the Most Hated Man in Bangladesh
Mayday in Bangladesh: “The serenity of Jurain graveyard seems more than other days on Wednesday as 32 workers whose bodies remained unclaimed made their final journey,” is how the local Daily Star described it.
And now begins the sideshow. It’s much more engaging than the main event, it must be said. Yesterday, theNew York Times’ Jim Yardley, who has been excellent on the subject of labor abuses in Bangladesh, delivered a short and amazing profile of Sohel Rana, the 35-year-old owner of Rana Plaza, the massive factory outside Dhaka which collapsed last week, killing at least 400 workers.
Rana appears to be typical of a certain type of Bangladeshi garment magnate: crass, vulgar, nouveau-riche, and involved in equal measure in organized crime and high politics. He rode with his entourage on motorcycles, he’s accused of dealing in guns and drugs, he seized the land where he and his father built Rana Plaza from small landowners by force and through illegal paperwork, and he was protected by corrupt officials.
He was involved in the youth league of the governing Awami League. Which, to put it mildly, is not quite the same thing as being involved in the Young Republicans. The youth wings of the national parties in Bangladesh often function as nothing more than massive gangs: the two main parties are crony organizations at the top and depend in large part on intimidation and politics-at-the-end-of-a-brickbat at the bottom. Every few months or so they call “general strikes” to protest this or that policy or as a pure show of force—the country largely shuts down and any unlucky auto-rickshaw driver caught violating the strike risks a beating or murder.
Your Clothes Are Making Indian Cotton Farmers Commit Suicide
In the same month that 125 Bangladeshi fabric workers died in a factory fire, a film aiming to expose the tragedy of unrestricted globalized fashion called Dirty White Gold reached its Sponsume target of £18,000(about $27,000). The film begins by examining the hundreds of thousands of Indian cotton farmers who, saddled with economic hopelessness, have taken their own lives. It’s a jolly little piece.
A Center for Human Rights and Global Justice report describes the root of the problem: At the turn of the millennium, Indian farmers who had been given access to a wider range of products after India’s market liberalization started buying genetically modified Bollgard Bt cotton seeds from the Gates Foundation-backedMonsanto corporation. The seeds were able to resist and kill the common American Bollworm cotton pest, making them an instant hit, with 85 percent of cotton grown in India being Monsanto-controlled Bt cotton by 2009.
However, the seeds were expensive, and spiralling prices (coupled with planting restrictions from the multinationals selling the seeds) led to farmers approaching money lenders for hefty loans that eventually turned into unmanageable debt. Almost 300,000 cotton workers have committed suicide to date, some of them by drinking the same insecticides they were sold by multinationals. And those suicides also bring up wider questions about the ethics of the fashion industry as a whole, in that this cotton is used in the clothes that end up absolutely everywhere.
India’s embrace of the free market opened the floodgates for international money and, perhaps predictably, the corporatization of agriculture vanquished the need for the small-to-medium scale farmers who used to own and control the productive process. For roughly 100 rupees per day (about $1.80), these people are now contracted to spread toxic insecticides and fertilizers, often with little or no protective clothing. I called up the director ofDirty White Gold, London-based journalist Leah Borromeo, to see if the situation could possibly get any more depressing.
Leah Borromeo interviewing Hanuman, an indebted cotton farmer
VICE: Hi, Leah. How far along into the film are you at the moment?
Leah Borromeo: Some days I feel like I’m a quarter of the way done, and other days I feel like I’m only an eighth of the way done. It’s going to be out in 2014, toward the end of summer. I’ve got a deadline, so I’m trying to get everything done by then, but I can’t rush nature—quite literally, in this case.
What made you want to work on this topic in particular?
I was doing it as a straightforward magazine article, but I ended up bringing a camera with me and found so many stories within that surface story. Then I found there was a real, genuine chance to express globalization, capitalism, consumerism, and all the wider political and social arguments through the medium of this story.
Yeah, you could look at it as a single issue, but obviously the problem is vast, and arguably a consequence of global capitalism.
It embodies absolutely everything. Fashion is the one piece of art that people tend to consume either consciously or unconsciously. The two best foils for relating to consumerism are through food or fashion. Food is quite a niche thing, because not everybody eats meat, but everybody—for the most part—seems to wear clothes.
Bob Mackie Has Dressed Almost Everyone
Bob and Carol Burnett in her home, 1967)
In the pantheon of American fashion designers, Bob Mackie stands alone with his singular focus on sequined, bejeweled, and hyperbolic custom-made outfits for the world’s most ostentatious personalities. And even if you’re unfamiliar with his name (which wouldn’t be surprising, considering Bob’s never had a mass-marketed brand of his own), if you’ve ever looked at a photo of a famous person, chances are you’re familiar with his work. Over the course of his 50-year career, Bob has made clothes for the likes of Cher, Liza, Barbra, Britney, Michael, Madonna, Oprah, Dolly, Whitney, Tina, and just about everyone else who has reached first-name-only status.
Bob, 72, started his career in Hollywood in the early 60s, working in various wardrobe departments. As a costume designer, he pioneered the over-the-top look that has dominated the flashier corners of American fashion for most of the past half century, earning him nicknames like the Raja of Rhinestones and the Sultan of Sequins.
Along the way, Bob designed fancy costumes for Barbie dolls, won nine Emmys, was nominated for three Oscars, started a furniture line, dressed the Mob, designed fragrances, developed a couture line, and accomplished a million other spectacular things. Currently much of Bob’s energy is focused on his QVC line of “wearable art,” which is much more in line with comfortable, consumer-facing fashion than its name and Bob’s previous work would suggest.
VICE: What are you doing right now?
Bob Mackie: I am just outside of Philadelphia. I’m doing a televised-shopping thing.
For QVC, right? Is that what you’re mainly working on these days?
It does take up a lot of time, but I’m also always working on other projects.
Well, there’s a cosmetics line I’m working on, and also a furniture line. Which is good, because during the recession, I wasn’t making a new line of furniture because people weren’t buying it. You know, if you’re losing your home, why would you buy furniture? But now it’s all changing.
Obviously, you’re a pretty busy guy, but are you so busy that you can’t even keep track of what you make? Do you have any idea how many different looks you’ve designed over the years?
[laughs] No! I’ve been in the business over 50 years, and I haven’t kept count.
Do you ever see a piece that you designed without any recollection of doing so?
Sometimes I see old tapes of television shows that I did a long time ago, and I see something and know that I did it because I designed the show, but I have completely forgotten it. It’s always a strange feeling. But it’s very hard to remember because I used to do two to three hours of television shows a week, and I just worked 24 hours a day. Once it was over, we’d just move straight on to the next one.
The television shows you designed wardrobe for back then were classic big productions like The Carol Burnett Show. It all seemed so cohesive. Were you responsible for designing every costume and look?
Well, not everything was designed. I would rent a lot of stuff like uniforms and period pieces, but we were doing 50 to 70 costumes per episode, and we had a show every week.
I watched an interview with you during which you said that to get inspiration for sketch-comedy wardrobes, you’d walk around the mall and people-watch. You also said that you couldn’t believe what people thought they looked good in. Is strolling around malls or other public places something you still do?
I don’t do sketch comedy anymore, but I definitely still walk around malls and airports—especially airports—and I think, Oh my God, look at her, or, Look at those ugly shoes! Today, a lot of women are wearing very unflattering clothes.
Yes, I think the worst-dressed people can be found at the airport because somewhere along the line everyone decided that unabashed comfort trumps any sort of decorum whatsoever. It’s crazy. You have people going on two-hour flights in pajamas with neck pillows and their bare feet stinking up the cabin.
I know! But the thing is, you can be comfortable without looking like a pig. When I fly, I sit there and I watch people board the plane and I think, Where are they going when they arrive? Where can you go when you look that ridiculous?
A Sweatshop of Our Own - An Exploration of Post-Slave-Labor American Fashion
Monday’s shower-curtain dress. Photos by Jill Thompson and Courtney Turnball.
I’m Canadian, but if there’s one thing I know about Americans, it’s that they love buying products manufactured by impoverished foreign people. Hardly any of the clothing sold in the United States is made there; everybody knows it and no one really has a problem with it except for a few uptight weirdos who dress either really well or, more likely, like an incontinent grandmother’s shitstains. But what if, one day, the crap-manufacturing industry collapses, and all of the indentured servants the US employs there are no longer able to produce an endless supply of cheaply manufactured flashy garments? What sorts of atrocities would Americans be forced to wear?
To illustrate this hypothetical predicament, I committed to hand-making my own wardrobe from scratch and wearing a different outfit each day of the week. Like most Americans, I know very little about fashion design or sewing, so this process was overwhelmingly tedious and took approximately 5,000 times longer to complete than it would have taken anyone who works in an actual sweatshop (that’s why the system exists, duh). I did attempt to make decent-looking garments so that I had a chance of passing as a sane person. If one of the Olsen twins can walk around in a furry trash bag, what did I have to lose? So I pressed on and am happy to present to you a rough approximation of how shittily Americans and other spoiled Westerners will be dressing in a future where sweatshops don’t exist and we are forced to improvise our own clothing.
MONDAY: SHOWER-CURTAIN DRESS
I thought it was important to use as many recycled fabrics as possible in this experiment, so the shower curtain I selected to make my first outfit with had been hanging in the bathroom of my parents’ house for several years. This explains why the inside of the dress was coated with furry black mold, but I just pretended it was lined with rabbit fur so it wasn’t a big deal.
It took a lot of cutting and sewing (which, again, I had no idea how to do), but I’d say the end product was quite a success, especially if you happen to be into the whole Sears-maternitysadness type of look.
Speaking of maternity sadness, my mother invited me out to dinner the night I finished the dress, and when I walked in the door she insisted that I change. I told her that it wasn’t a possibility because it was “my job, Mom.” A family friend dined with us and told me that my shower-curtain couture reminded her of when she was pregnant. My mother, of course, chirped in and said that I looked like I was on welfare and that she was embarrassed to be sitting across from me.
TUESDAY: TURTLENECK/OWL VAGINA
I know people are divided about wearing realistic pictures of animals and animal prints on their bodies, but fuck those toilet bugs. To me, wearing animal-themed clothing is the same thing as wearing a band shirt, because I’m a big fan of animals—I want to be around them, I want them on me, and I want them inside me, all the time, forever. This owl-print pillowcase was also unearthed at my parents’ house, where it had been banished to the back of a closet. My grandmother bragged about how she had bought it before there was a Walmart in the city, which seemed appropriate considering Walmart goes with sweatshops like owls go with my vagina.
The combination of the turtleneck and the owl skirt worked really well and made me feel more confident than anyone probably ever should, although I did catch myself in a mirror and for a second thought I had a pillow resting on my lap. I wore the outfit to a nursing home, where I felt extremely sexually attractive (if you’ve never felt like you’re hot stuff around a bunch of old people, you’re really missing out).
For the last few years, prisoners in Romania have been able to dress however they want as long as they maintain minimum standards of decency. This got our Romanian counterparts wondering: What do chicks wear when they’re surrounded by the awfulness and heartbreak of prison life? VICE Romania decided to pay a visit to the country’s only women’s prison, Târgșor, to check out the fashions behind bars.