H&M have recently been criticised for their selling a vest top which juxtaposes the Jewish Star of David with a skull, for which they have received complaints of being ‘anti-semitic’ (cosmopolitan.co.uk). Consequently, all of these vest tops have been removed from store and taken off sale with a sincere apology for any offence caused. Why the fuss?
There is an entire segment of the fashion industry that thrives off of religious imagery. Often, the religious references are themselves lost within the the aesthetically pleasing design or the humour they elicit, a sign of the drastic fall in Biblical literacy in the West, but it will rarely be the case that offence is intentional. Of course, harm done is not always harm intended, and the success of the industry suggests a greater acceptance than rejection of it. It cannot be the case that every aspect of fashion should be scrutinised so as to account for any possible cause for offence, otherwise all clothing would be below the knee, high-necked and SnapBacks wouldn’t exist (at least if I had it my way).
What of the fashion trends that abuse the religious significance of symbols? It’s a daily occurrence to see crosses on jewellery and embellished onto garments, with not one consideration as to whether the wearer is at all religious and merely advocating their faith – and most likely is not. High end fashion designers have repeatedly incorporated religious imagery into their collections with no further role to play than looking elegant and expensive. For example, Dolce and Gabbana’s Fall 2013 collection was rife with holy imagery as “they incarnated icons and saints” (Vogue.co.uk), only to the purpose of creating luxurious, regal and flamboyant evening wear. Although the religious imagery and undertone have not been twisted into comedy, this collection is comprised of imagery and artefacts that were, and still are, intended as objects of faith and considered holy.
I’m unconvinced that H&M should be penalised and accused of anti-semiticism, and I personally think the design alone is aesthetically offensive enough to be withheld without its negative connotations. Religion is a sensitive issue, but as such an integral feature of culture representation and misrepresentation of it in other mediums is unavoidable. My opinion? The last thing designers want is to do is isolate and disengage with consumers, so causing offence is not going to be on their moodboards. Religious imagery has got to the point where it’s no longer considered exclusively connected to a Deity, holy book and teachings, but is just another part of popular culture for the consumer to consume. As much of a shame as that may be, it’s only complimentary of the beauty and universal accessibility of religious imagery that allows it to be so prominent in fashion year after year.
I’d love to hear about your thoughts on the fragile relationship between religion and fashion! Is there a line that should be drawn?