Fear and clothing: separating the soul from the shoe
A weekly reflection on the vagaries and charms of style
A long, long time ago back in fashion history Christian Louboutin was toying with his assistant’s red nail polish. “What if I paint the sole of this shoe this sexy red?” he thought – and the rest is a signature. His signature. Louboutins are always red-soled . Other shoes are not. On Tuesday the European high court said perhaps not. Louboutin cannot trademark the colour red – Pantone 18 1663TP to be precise – because you cannot divide the shoe from its sole. And you cannot trademark a shoe design. So you cannot trademark the sole. This sounds almost existential.
Meanwhile in Paris Demna Gvasalia, the Georgian designer of Vetements (label of choice for street-smart fashion editors), showed his menswear Fall 2018 collection in a flea market. “Everything starts in the flea market,” he said. The mixed-gender models walked in multilayered repurposed genderless clothes that looked like he had sourced and thrown them together there and then.
This reappropriation of street style and other references is “the elephant in the room” – the subject of his collection and the central idea that he grapples with in his design . Gvasalia worked for Martin Margiela for many years and the close association also reflects in the ideas and clothes the younger man now presents as his own. But not. Some are direct copies like the classic Margiela Japanese split-toe boots. The originals in turn copied from the Japanese split-toe sock.
“We live in a world full of references. They are there to feed us — not to copy, but to create something new from them,” explained Gvasalia in an interview after the show. “That’s the challenge.”It is a challenge. Just ask the many groups of people who resent their culture being appropriated for someone else’s gain. The European court would be hard-pressed to draw a conclusion on whether it is possible to trademark afros, or certain kinds of beads, or even hoop earrings. How do you separate the new creations from the initial cultural inspiration? Where do you draw the line? Do you look back in history or forward in time for some defining moment to say thus far and no further? How do you excise the bits you are certain are your cultural heritage and domain and not for sharing? How to separate the sole from the shoe?You may think this is esoteric fashion pedantry or just woke thinking – but hundreds of thousands of Greeks marched against the appropriation of their culture and their name by a neighbouring state last Saturday. It seems that there is no trademark on place names either and if you as a newly independent former Yugoslavian state like the name Macedonia – you use it. And in time it becomes yours, and perhaps you forget how you came to appropriate it in the first place and so defend your right to appropriate it as your own. It’s a challenge.In the great flea market of the world, all the cultures and clothes and names and ideas wash up in great piles of flotsam. And sometimes people choose bits of them and rework them and wear them as their own. Some people like it and others object and get possessive and angry and sad. Some sue for damages. Gvasalia asked the kindergarten next to his studio to get all the children to draw their interpretation of the idea of the elephant in the room. He showed the drawings on a series of T-shirts at his show. I think it may be the T-shirt of the season.