On Feb. 19, model Liz Kennedy accused Burberry and its chief creative officer, Riccardo Tisci, for designing and featuring a hoodie at London Fashion Week that had a drawstring which resembled a noose. Kennedy’s post claimed that the look left her “extremely triggered” and that the dressers jokingly hung the drawstring from the ceiling. In response to the online backlash, Tisci pulled the item from the collection and apologized for featuring something so insensitive and distressful in the show. Tisci claimed that the design, as the rest of the collection, was inspired by a nautical theme.
While perhaps Kennedy is right in that the coincidental resemblance of the drawstring is unfortunate, claiming that the design glorifies suicide in any way shape or form is not only entirely inaccurate and unfair, but also ignores the real issues of youth suicide and self-harm.
The hoodie isn’t designed to glorify suicide, contrary to Kennedy’s claims. The drawstring doesn’t go around the neck and stops at the collarbone like a normal drawstring. The “noose” is tied to resemble rope that is commonly used to moor ships, as it ties into the nautical theme of the show.
Even if Tisci knew from the beginning of the similarities between the drawstring and a noose, he shouldn’t have to apologize and get punished for including the item in the show. If Kennedy’s claims about the jokes are accurate, then perhaps the resemblance and the jokes are outlets for expressing dark humor. Whether the jokes were in poor taste is an entirely separate issue, but it’s ridiculous that Tisci is forced to pull an entire item because of simple misinterpretation.
The criticisms also undermine the idea that artists aren’t allowed to push the envelope and express ideas creatively. Kennedy argued that “there is a bigger picture…of what fashion turns a blind eye to or does to gain publicity.” Fashion by its very nature must be provoking, and fashion designers therefore have to constantly push themselves artistically so that their clothes can sell.
The idea that fashion designers have to be restrained by teams of people is not only ridiculous on the artistic side, but is also ridiculous on the business side, as clothes that stay within very limiting boundaries don’t sell as well as clothes that don’t.
This has proven to be true time and time again, especially since much of high fashion is worn by celebrities. A 2016 study done by survey company NPD found that fans of a given celebrity are 50 percent more likely to buy and use the same products as the celebrity. Many of these products relate to fashions that often expresses the celebrities’ outrageous styles, such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Under Armour shoes that sold out within 30 minutes of release in 2018 and Kylie Jenner’s Cartier Love bracelets, which became the most-searched jewelry item online within the same month.
Of course, this isn’t to say that fashion designers should design whatever and however they want, as seen with the recent blackface controversies across multiple fashion brands, but current market and fashion trends dictate what types of clothes people wear, not PR teams.
Finally, while Kennedy may see herself as an advocate for the youth — especially since they were the target audience for the “Tempest” collection — it’s difficult to see her (and other Burberry models) as a good representative, since Burberry’s primary target consumer group is women with high disposable income. Sure, the collection includes street clothes that cater towards younger audiences, but the sheer high prices and more mature clothing styles still exclude young people that were supposedly there at London Fashion Week. Thus, it isn’t exactly accurate for Kennedy to claim that “the impressionable youth” are and will be influenced by the hoodie’s design.
It is unfortunate that we live in a time where unreasonable rage is spread around even the vaguest offensive resemblance. If we really want to be more “woke” and discuss artistic intentions, we need to think more critically about the thing being outraged over before jumping to conclusions. Otherwise, we end up ignoring the people who are experiencing the real harm.
Ashley Zhou is a second-year software engineering major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.