9.16.2014

BraveGentleman Pop Up show for Fashion Week

Last week Joshua Katcher hosted a pop up event for Fashion Week which showed his new season and was kicked off by a talk about animals in fashion.  Since I still can't wear any of Josh's menswear even though I desperately want a pair of sharp trousers and delicious tassel loafers I will selfishly focus on Josh's talk and forthcoming book.  (You can see some of what was shown on Brave GentleMan's Instagram here for apparel and here for shoes - including slim monk strap shoes and tassel loafers not at all in my size -- and the collection will be online soon at Brave GentleMan.)

I am excited that Josh Katcher has a book in the works about the grisly intersection of fashion and animals.  We got a sample of materials he's collected and some of his writings on the subject at the event and the photos are jarring. The slides started out with current-day examples of animals in editorials -- often with a live animal being used in the spread next to clothing made of animals.  Or, as Josh words it "whatever item that animal disappeared into" which I think is a great way to describe that practice.  The question he asked through all of those magazine spreads featuring both alive and dead animals was, "who do we love...and who do we wear?"  And why?  You know...how does one animal get pulled through the compulsory fashion machine and end up as a clothing item with all the unseen abuse...and others get hugged, petted, walked, played with and so on?

^ cover of the preview booklet ^ 

Whenever I see pictures of animals (alive or as apparel in fashion photos, in vintage circus pictures, people riding camels, swimming with the dolphins, as rugs, as trophies, etc) I always think of the animals' experiences.  It's why I am such a bummer to be around even if you're showing me a picture from 1950 where a bunch of show cats are dressed up in costume or there's an orangutan in a movie and so on.  It's just where my mind goes.  I'm hardwired to think about animals.  So when I see those fashion spreads with live animals and animal-derived apparel it always dumbfounds me -- because of the very question Josh posed.  Why does the magazine or brand think that one animal is adorable or exotic but the other one is fine to be dead and dismembered now, to wear?  It seems like you wouldn't even want them in the same picture.  Like when people who have pet potbelly pigs get asked if they eat bacon around their pets.  But I feel like it happens so often that for the general public there must not be a disconnect. They must not see the dead animal in the picture.

So the really interesting thing about some of the older illustrations and photos in Josh Katcher's collection is the really clear connection between how that dead animal was once alive and dies to make this fashion item.  Pictures of dogs with offers to have it made into a hat or a fur muff for a nominal fee.  Trading cards featuring the animal on the left, and the coat or accessory that can be made out of it's skin on the right.  Full birds, taxidermied, sitting atop society ladies' hats.  Stuff that's not all that common any longer.  We're much better at divorcing ourselves from the animal's body that makes the clothes nowadays.

photo.JPG 

^ Josh Katcher addressing the
misinformation that leather is eco-friendly ^

Besides not thinking about that animal's life before it became just a "thing" (the breeding, the housing, the handling, the harvesting, the absence of enrichment or medical treatment and, finally, the method of killing, including transport if not done on-site) we also do a bang up job of not considering that animal's life in the impact that item has on the earth.  Many people insist wool or leather is environmentally friendly because it's "natural" and not chemicals -- but a recent study on mink fur vs faux fur shows that mink is 3x worse for the environment than faux fur products, or more.  No one seems to want to factor in the resources that come with raising, housing, feeding and dealing with the waste management of animals into that footprint. 

While the topic is pretty grim, it was satisfying to hear someone talk about seeing the same thing I do when they look at these images -- to see expired animals and not clothing.  To see the whole chain of events and impact and not just the end product.  To see the big picture of what happens when animals are used as commodities behind the scenes in the fashion industry's dank underbelly.  And to try to thoughtfully posit how others who don't see it as we do might reconcile this information for themselves.  What's the narrative for people who love animals but buy leather, wool and fur?

I don't have the answers but I'm glad Josh Katcher is tackling this topic and I look forward to reading his thoughts and seeing what he unearths in his research. 

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this, it's something I think about often. A similar thing that annoys me on the web is the huge uproar in the blogosphere with a blogger so much as doesn't have the "optimal" care for their animal (like not having the tags on their collar or not having their indoor-only pet collared at all, petting a dog that could have been from a puppy mill in a photo- just some stuff I've seen) yet they eat factory-farmed animals daily. Do the people in whale wars, the ones responsible for Black Fin (Free Tilly!) and The Killing Cove eat animals other than the ones they're trying to protect? Likely? It's interesting to consider and challenge people with.

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    1. I think everyone I know who works with Sea Shepard is vegan, actually! I'm pretty sure their chef is vegan. But I hear you. I work in cat/dog animal welfare and the majority of my coworkers are not vegan and only care about a few animal issues.

      I am well aware that I personally have cognitive dissonance in this area, too, given that I have 5 cats and they all eat meat food (my boyfriend's two cats eat half vegan/half meat but it's dry food and my guys have some digestive medical issues that prohibit them from eating dry food). But at least I know it and I've thought about it and I admit it's a choice that I made.

      Thank you so much for commenting, Van!

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    2. Interestingly, this quote on vegan SS ships has a part about cat food/consumption!

      http://www.seashepherd.org/commentary-and-editorials/2008/10/26/frequently-asked-questions-286

      " Then why are your ships vegan?

      Captain Paul Watson: My ships are vegan because we are conservationists. There are simply not enough fish in the sea to continue to feed the ever expanding populations of humanity. By 2030 every single commercial fishery on the planet will have been destroyed. We have already seen the destruction of the Northern cod, the bluefin tuna, the orange roughy, the Patagonia toothfish and so many more species. There is a major biological holocaust being waged against life in the oceans. More than 50% of the fish taken from the sea is converted into animal feed making pigs and cows the largest aquatic predators on the planet. Domestic chickens eat more fish than all the world's puffins. Domestic cats eat more tuna than all the world's seals together. We catch 50-70 fish from the sea to raise one farm raised salmon. We are vegans because it is an ecological crime to eat fish; we are vegans because we are marine conservationists and not because we are animal rights activists."

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    3. Whoa, that SS quote is fascinating. I've seen SS merch around here, but never knew what it meant.

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  2. Damn, I just typed a long, long comment and accidentally deleted it when I was trying to rearrange my sentences. Long story short: in my comment I tried to explain somehow why I wear a leather skirt but not a fur coat, but the reality is that I can't explain it in any sensible way. I guess at least I don't go around telling others that my choices are somehow environmentally friendly, morally justifiable or anything. Might have to write a blog post about this at some point...

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Hey there! Thanks for leaving a comment. Please don't apologize for writing a lot - I like long thoughtful comments so bring on the "wall o' text" if you wish and have no shame.

Short comments are, of course, also always welcome.