The noose necklace: when fashion goes too far
Fashion is unlike any other art form; its omnipresence in popular culture seems to foster controversy. Can designers approach social taboos without causing offence? Siobhan Bahl explores the recent debate surrounding the Givenchy noose necklace and discusses how brands should tackle sensitive topics.
The fashion industry revolves around spectacle, attention, and drama. Designers seek to push the boundaries of what clothing can do and say about people, their bodies, and their identities. It can be a deeply powerful tool of expression, but also of appropriation.
Each Paris Fashion Week, the world watches as controversies unfurl around the strutting manicured models. Catwalks are as much about seeing new collections as they are about being seen, with star-studded front rows often overshadowing the clothing on display.
The fashion industry revolves around attention and, as a result, designers curate collections that subvert expectations to distinguish themselves from their competitors. Shock is what will draw in the cameras and media channels, get the piece featured in the key places and, ultimately, sell products.
Shock is what will draw in the cameras and media channels, get the piece featured in the key places and, ultimately, sell products
Fashion giants, however, have a responsibility towards their audience and consumers, and sometimes the price of fashion goes beyond the numbers on a label.
This Paris Fashion Week, Givenchy was criticised after models wore noose-shaped necklaces for the 2022 spring/summer show. The necklaces were part of creative director Matthew Williams’ first in-person catwalk. Just two years ago, Burberry came under fire for a hoodie featuring a noose drawstring. Watchdog Diet Prada noted that “you’d think the industry would’ve learnt not to put things that resemble nooses around a model’s neck”.
Givenchy has not commented on the necklace, but even if they do it seems too little too late. The noose necklace, some argue, contributes to the glamorisation of suicide. Using a symbol that embodies both the rising global suicide rates and the dark history of lynching is deeply problematic.
It would be unfair to say, however, that fashion shouldn’t comment on pressing social issues, or that this hasn’t been done successfully in the past. Clothing has played an important part in many of the last decade’s social movements. In 2017, the Women’s March across America saw women wearing pink “pussy hats” in response to Trump’s infamous comment. In 2019, to celebrate Pride Month, Nike released their “BETRUE” collection, inspired by the LGBTQ+ flag colours. In 2020, Balenciaga‘s Winter 2020 show took place on a flooded runway to draw attention to climate change.
Fashion is often about being noticed and, in many cases, this is what social movements need to further their cause. A line must be drawn, however, between the fashion industry allying with such causes, and the appropriation of associated symbols, motifs, and silhouettes for their own financial gain.
Cultural appropriation, unfortunately, has long been rife in the fashion industry, as certain ways of dressing, hairstyles and traditional garbs are usurped with no credit given to the community they originated from
Cultural appropriation, unfortunately, has long been rife in the fashion industry, as certain ways of dressing, hairstyles and traditional garbs are usurped with no credit given to the community they originated from. In June of this year, Mexico’s ministry of culture accused brands such as Zara, Anthropologie, and Patowl of cultural appropriation. The ministry stated that traditional designs from the south-western state of Oaxaca had been used repeatedly without the original creators’ consent.
In a statement, the ministry said that the clothing “reflects ancestral symbols relation to the environment, history and worldview of the community”. By profiting off of indigenous designs and selling their products to thousands of customers, fast-fashion companies repress indigenous people’s voices. This recreates colonial hierarchies, as indigenous communities are reduced to resources that the hegemony can extract without any apparent consequence.
There is a time and place, though, to stand up for historically marginalised peoples. Model Quannah Chasinghorse has used her position as a rising star to champion her indigenous ancestry. Chasinghorse is redefining beauty standards through her striking face tattoos (honouring a 10,000-year-old tradition) and her incorporation of traditional jewellery and indigenous brands. At her first Met Gala, Chasinghorse’s gold dress, adorned with chains and turquoise Navajo jewellery, dazzled onlookers. In this case, fashion puts a culture that has long been suppressed into the limelight.
Fashion is a potent force and, like any weapon, who wields its power is crucial. I am not saying that the fashion industry cannot celebrate and use the worlds’ rich cultural tapestry. Instead, the industry should use its immense wealth to elevate communities onto a platform from which they can showcase their individuality.