For centuries culture has caused controversy. In the 1300s Dante's 'Divine Comedy' invoked uproar due to its inclusion of then living politicians in its depiction of hell, in 1850 'Wuthering Heights' became the topic of conversation when it was revealed that its author was not a man but a woman and throughout the 1900s George Orwell's literature not only raised eyebrows but was banned for its not so subtle satire of European politics. Controversy was a cultural pandemic.
And, whether it's Michelangelo's David being banned from study in American high-schools for its 'pornographic' nature or the question as to whether Lana Del Ray is manufactured or not - controversy is even more apparent within culture today. It has become somewhat innate to it and this couldn't be more evident than in 2003 when Madonna performed at the VMAs. The performance was seen as both vulgar and brilliant. It was controversial...but, like most controversy, it was useful, it garnered attention – it put Madonna on everyone’s lips.
Fashion like any culture is controversial. From its designs to its designers and its photographers to its photo-shoots, it is both praised and put down, both celebrated and criticised. That is after all what makes it so interesting; it is subjective. Whilst many deemed Alexander McQueen to be some sort of misogynist due to his array of dark women's designs, others saw him as a visionary who interpreted women's pain and subjection through the means of clothes. He was not a misogynist but an artist and his clothes, like many works of art, split opinions.
And whilst 2011 was filled with its fair share of fashion controversy: FHM’s embarrassing Andrej Pejick misunderstanding, Rihanna’s Vogue ‘whitening’, Lea T and Kate’s LOVE cover...not to mention John Galliano’s anti-semitic remarks - it looks as though 2012 is set to be no different. It has after all already got off to a controversial start at this year’s SS Jean Paul Gaultier couture show. A show which was very much Gaultier, extravagance to the extreme displayed in the form of ball gowns and stylistic boldness.
However, there was of course something particularly unique about this show because among the ball gowns and boldness were beehives and barbershop quartets singing the likes of Valerie. In the midst of the show there was Winehouse, Amy Winehouse. The show was a tribute to her and her style and whilst for Jean Paul Gaultier and many a magazine editor this was a fun celebration of her life and fashion, for her family and friends the show was seen as distasteful and offensive - an exploitation of her image and death used solely for monetary purposes.
Yet celebrity celebration and endorsement is nothing new to fashion. Gaultier himself has used Madonna as his muse, whilst Pamela Anderson has been the focus of many a Vivienne Westwood collection. Celebrities inspire designers. Winehouse inspired Gaultier. Thus, whilst the collection is too soon for Winehouse's family, Gaultier's actions were not money-driven; his intentions were good. He is a talented designer after all - he needn't use celebrities. In creating this collection he has not shamed Winehouse but honoured her public image just as designers do Monroe, Hepburn, Kelly and more.
I found Gaultier's actions endearing, enthusiastic but endearing. For others they weren't. The collection was and still is controversial. Its presence and execution is subjective. However, as with Madonna's kiss, the controversy is not solely created in Gaultier's design but people's response to it. It is the negative backlash of the show which has made it newsworthy outside the fashion world and it is this which has actually detracted from what has otherwise been a wonderful week of couture for both Gaultier and his counterparts.
The event has seen couture veteran Lagerfeld both take air-hostess chic off of the ground with delectable uniform inspired numbers and present a selection of beautiful bold gowns perfect for taking overseas. Versace has in contrast made its longed for comeback to the couture catwalk in the form of head-turning maxis and vibrant bodices, whilst Tisci has in turn stepped out of his comfort zone at Givenchy and produced an array of ornate yet modern looks for the season. Alexis Mabille on the other hand, has finally begun to establish his name alongside the greats with his floral inspired delights.
So couture has been at its best and as a result the year is already looking rather fashionable, be it in terms of couture or controversy. However, it is up to us not to gormlessly watch the year unfold but face each controversial issue we hear of and collection we see with a critical eye. Examine them and work out where we stand on the matter. Do we like it, do we dislike it? Do we agree with it, do we disagree with it? Observing fashion is of course fun but engaging with it is so much more.