Fear and clothing: Why we secretly love hate couture
A weekly reverie on the vagaries and charms of fashion
The First Sphynx aka Melania Trump has bothered me since she first appeared in my timeline and consciousness. Back then she was wearing a pussy bow. The interwebs had gone balls to the wall with meta interpretations of her sartorial choice. Was she wearing the pussy bow to subtly undermine the pussy grabber in chief? Or was she cheerfully poking fun at the peanut gallery? Nobody knows because like all successful cyphers Melania is the silent type.
Then I saw the most recent Diesel T-shirt slogan campaign, Hate Couture, whose payoff line is “The more hate you wear the less you care”. I was suddenly freshly reminded of her fashion semaphors. Also, Melania just visited Africa in a pith helmet. Really . So she is front of mind. Just before this pith helmet incident she caused international ructions by wearing a Zara jacket bearing the slogan “I really don’t care, do u?” This while visiting a concentration camp for migrant children forcefully separated from their parents at the US border. What did the slogan she was wearing mean? Was she railing against her personal trolls? Was she ironically taking on Trump’s child separation policies? Who knows? Who cares? History is littered with opaque statements attached to opaque women. Some in pith helmets.
Take Marie Antoinette- it transpires she never actually said “let them eat cake”, but you would never know because popular history and the trolls of her time have made it historical fact. She had no way to answer back. Melania on the other hand had a handy slogan at her disposal. She chose to wear this mystifying message during a historical period that is arguably just as fractious, divisive and fuelled by misinformation as the French Revolution. Her symbolic value, like Marie Antoinette’s, is huge, especially during an incident that recalls the very worst moments of US history – the forced separations of slave families and the decimation of indigenous American families. This was messaging at its very worst. Or she was just being ironic. (Like wearing a pith helmet on safari - colonial references be damned - because in the words of her immortal jacket " I really don't care do u?"
Slogan T-shirts starting with Katherine Hamnett’s “Choose Life” to Maria Grazia Chiuri’s “We should all be feminists” have always trod roughly in that awkward space between the sign and the signifier. They say one thing but what do they really mean? They are broad statements that pick up on the zeitgeist of the moment. They sound good, they reflect the times, but ultimately they are also just items for sale. How much stock can you put in that?
This Diesel campaign riffs cleverly on slogan clothing history. They too have captured the moment. Trolling is the great contemporary leitmotif. The slogans they have printed come from the real messages trolls leave on the social media profiles of celebrities like Niki Minaj. These “hate” slogans are meta messaging at its boldest. Hate Couture is all about the random hatred coming at all public figures (and lately everyone – four in 10 Americans have been trolled). You can be sure that Melania and every other slogan-wearing celebrity has experienced malicious blowback on the social networks. And Melania despite close proximity to the troll in chief, has set up a campaign to curtail online bullying. Is she just being ironic? Or her slogan choice was the first salvo in her battle? Perhaps Melania too is just playing with her trolls? Marie Antoinette never lived her trolling down – sadly she also never had a slogan T-shirt at her disposal.