America’s Double Bind: Using Fashion to Discuss our Cultural Schizophrenia

America’s Double Bind: Using Fashion to Discuss our Cultural Schizophrenia

 I might sorta kinda be, just maybe... schizophrenic. I don’t say that to belittle, demean, or be insensitive towards those suffering from the disorder, but hear me out. You might be too.

As a photographer, casting, and visual director for many brands like Public School (whose designers now helm DKNY) and organizations such as the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), my creative path has taken me around the world, and believe it or not, fashion-although a seemingly superficial industry (who needs another pair of jeans?)-has the capacity to reflect our deepest fears and desires.

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BLACK DESIGN MATTERS: The Invisible Men and Women of Black Fashion.

 BLACK DESIGN MATTERS: The Invisible Men and Women of Black Fashion.

Consider Ann Lowe, the mid-20th century designer of dresses for America’s social elite and “society’s best kept secret,” according to the Saturday Evening Post. In 1953, when admirers asked Jacqueline Kennedy, Lowe’s most famous client, who had designed her beautiful wedding dress, Kennedy replied, “a colored woman dressmaker.” Likewise, The New York Times went on at length and in detail about the opulent dress, its tucked bodice and circular designs, and its 50 yards of ivory silk taffeta. The one detail the Times neglected to include was Lowe’s name.

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Kanye West’s Full Frontal Assault on Fashion.

Kanye West’s Full Frontal Assault on Fashion.

Kanye West is an undeniable cultural powerhouse. He is just as surely one of our culture’s most polarizing figures. Whether he’s claiming on television that President George W. Bush “doesn’t care about black people” or producing the visual magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, his undeniable brilliance is countered at nearly every turn by the tantrums and unfiltered utterances of a spoiled child. His Nietchschean will-to-power has even gotten him on New York’s runway calendar, and his wife, Kim Kardashian, on the cover of Vogue, despite a rumored blackout against the West-Kardashians at the publication. But who needs whom? Is Kanye truly in charge of his fashion prowess, or is he merely treading water in new triple-filtered, rarified pools of tokenism?

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