Monday, March 07, 2011

Obvious, but nice to see it in the Times.
High Fascism
While fashion has moved far beyond the worst of the Vichy years, the role of the stylized, quasi-mythical celebrity-designer remains in the form of figures like Mr. Galliano and Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld; Mr. Galliano has been known to costume himself as a pirate or a Proustian dandy, while Mr. Lagerfeld sticks to a somewhat Goth interpretation of an 18th-century Prussian officer.

At the root of the whole system is the most elusive myth of all: the impossible promise that fashion can vanquish physical inadequacy and aging, conferring the beauty and youth we see on the runways and on every page of Vogue — a cult of physical perfection very much at home in the history of fascism.

And although we insist on the racial diversity of fashion’s current standards of beauty, the fascists’ body ideal has persisted and expanded far beyond Europe. The hallmarks of the Nazi aesthetic — blue eyes, blond hair, athletic fitness and sharp-angled features — are the very elements that define what we call the all-American look, still visible in the mythic advertising landscapes of designers like (the decidedly non-Aryan) Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein.

Which brings us back to Mr. Galliano in the Paris bar. His was not a generic anti-Semitic tirade, but the self-conscious pronouncement of a world-class arbiter of taste (“I am John Galliano!”). Not only did he use ethnic slurs, he accused the woman of being unattractive and unfashionable, associating both with ethnicity, with being Jewish (which she happened not to be).

The link is clear: like a fascist demagogue of yore, he was declaring that she did not belong to the gilded group who wear the right boots, and from this Mr. Galliano slid effortlessly to a condemnation of her very flesh, and a wish for her death
Couture at its most banal is a kitsch memorial to Monarchism. It offers one fantasy of art as life. The model of art or ideology as life, in any form, is at the root of fascism and all reactionary anti-humanism.

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