(Warning: this is going to be a long post. Feel free to skip down a few paragraphs if you don’t need the background information I’m going to provide in the beginning.)
MAC Cosmetics has been known to collaborate with fashion designers often; usually once a year. This year, we’re lucky enough to get 2 designer collabs–alice + olivia for MAC launched in July, and Rodarte for MAC launches this fall.
When I first heard about MAC’s collab with Rodarte, I was excited about the collection and, as a former employee and a long-time customer, I definitely “approved.” I really felt that it was a perfect and appropriate brand collaboration, and I knew that the products would reflect both the high-fashion, inspired perspectives of Kate & Laura Mulleavy, as well as MAC’s interpretation of the F/W 2010 make-up trends.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, and the preliminary information about the collection was released, along with what appears to be the promotional image for the collection. For reference, I’ll post the relevant information here:
Ghost Town Lipstick
del Norte Lipglass
Bordertown Mineralize Eye Shadow
Sleepwalker Mineralize Eye Shadow
Softly Drifting Pigment
Quinceanera Powder Blush
Juarez Nail Lacquer
It seems as though the inspiration for Rodarte’s collaboration with MAC is the same as their inspiration for Rodarte’s own Fall 2010 Ready-to-Wear collection, which was presented in New York this past February. This is unsurprising, as it is perfect timing for the launch of the MAC collection in September. Nicole Phelps’ review of the collection on Style.com explains that before the New York show, the sisters clarified their inspiration:
“Before their show, the sisters explained that a long drive from El Paso to Marfa, Texas, got them thinking they might like to explore their Mexican roots. From there, they became interested in the troubled border town of Ciudad JuÃ¡rez; the hazy, dreamlike quality of the landscape there; and the maquiladora workers going to the factory in the middle of the night. And that, according to the designers, who certainly know how to romance a pitch, led to this conclusion: They’d build a collection off the idea of sleepwalking.” (more at the source)
As I’m sure the Mulleavy sisters have now discovered, there is a big difference in culminating this inspiration into fashion and in creating a collection of make-up. And that difference is, namely, the naming of the products.
See, runway collections don’t have to be named. And even if they are, the individual pieces that walk down the runway certainly aren’t named. The trouble with make-up, and with collaborating with a brand like MAC who has individual names (and not just numbers) for all of their products, is that each piece must be named. And this is where the controversy started.
Above, I listed the more controversial of the product names. For those unfamiliar, I hope to shed a little light on why they’re controversial before I jump into my dissection of the situation. So, briefly: Juarez is located in Mexico, just across the border from El Paso, Texas. The bordertown’s prime location, the site of millions of crossings every year, has resulted in a city overrun by drug cartel and gang violence. Many believe it to be the most dangerous city in the world. But what is particularly disturbing about the murderous city is the femicide that has been taking place over the last almost 2 decades. Official reports claim that the bodies of 400 women have been found violently murdered and usually sexually violated in Juarez since 1993; many Juarez locals believe the true count to be well into the thousands. Most of the 400 women on record, generally aged 12-22, have been employees at assembly plants, of which Juarez alone has more than 300. A large majority of these cases remain unsolved. (more at the source)
Perhaps this explains why there is controversy surrounding the naming of products in Rodarte’s collection for MAC. Ghost Town, del Norte (Juarez is formerly known as El Paso del Norte, El Paso of the North), Bordertown, Badlands, Quinceanera, Juarez, and Factory all resonate a little differently when juxtaposed with statistics of the horrible and tragic violence in Juarez, Mexico. As for Rodarte’s own claim that their Fall 2010 RTW collection is inspired by the state of sleepwalking, there are products which also arguably corroborate that: Sleepless, Sleepwalker, and Softly Drifting.
Obviously, people are offended. It’s not a comfortable topic. It definitely doesn’t deserve to be exploited, but that is what appears to be the consensus among MAC addicts, some of whom have chosen to boycott the collection altogether. Some defend Rodarte’s glorification of Juarez as a social commentary; but many feel that glamorizing the femicide is insensitive and inappropriate. As a make-up artist and a feminist (did you know those things could be combined?), I feel that on a larger scale it brings up some interesting topics, particularly the subjects of expression and commentary, and to what extent they are accepted, and in what forms, in the fashion world.
Traditional artists (painters, drawers, photographers) are considered exempt, it seems, from the boundaries of inspiration. They are free to capture the ugliest of human condition, the cruelest of human behavior, the most forgotten and neglected of our societies. They are triumphed for commenting upon and drawing attention to the deterioration of our humanity. They are applauded for their ability to depict these things in a beautiful way. They are permitted to be expressive.
Why are these same allowances not permitted in the world of fashion? Why is being inspired by tragedy, violence, and human suffering unacceptable in fashion? Because it has the potential to make it beautiful? No, because that is possible in all art, and is not necessarily the case in fashion. Because it is typically made for public consumption, and therefore allows the producer to profit from it? No, because that is also possible in all art.
Make-up and clothing, the fashion industry as a whole, are viewed as materialistic, superfluous and inconsequential to the lives of most human beings, especially by most feminists. After all, they are luxuries and are most appreciated by the richest of society. But those who create clothing and who do make-up consider themselves artists. They have different, sometimes living, canvasses, but they are still expressing themselves, their opinions, and their critiques through their own form of art.
The real failure, I think, in what I perceive to be Rodarte’s attempt to raise social awareness of the tragedies in Juarez, is that the reputable news outlets who cover their collections have almost completely, if not totally, failed to even mention their source of inspiration. It is precisely in ignoring the femicide that these outlets exploit it, or at least make it appear as though Rodarte is exploiting it. By writing extensive reviews (Vogue, style.com, I’m looking at you) of these collections and totally failing to recognize that Juarez, where possibly thousands of girls and women have been violently murdered in the last two decades, has on some level ‘spoken’ to the creators, the outlets don’t give due “credit.” Not the kind of credit that expresses some appreciation of the source, not even the kind of credit that points to some sort of originality, but the type of credit that neutrally acknowledges and then responds to the source. (I hope this is making sense.) Not, “thanks for the femicide, Juarez, because without it I wouldn’t have two collections here,” not, “thanks for the femicide, Juarez, nobody else does it like you,” but this: “the tragedy of Juarez’s femicide does not go unnoticed by me, and this collection is designed to tell you how it makes me feel.”
I understand that make-up and clothing are more commercialized these days than traditional art. I understand that so many people fail, or simply don’t care, to understand where the intent lies in the creation of the make-up and clothing they buy. But art, in any form, will always be plagued by those who are ignorant of the meaning–most likely precisely because those people aren’t artists themselves. I don’t mean that it’s then not important to discuss it. I simply mean that we, as as a community, should pride ourselves for understanding. Afterall, what percentage of the people who would recognize Andy Warhol’s famous paintings remember or ever knew about the social commentary he was making? As long as some people do, does it matter if it’s suddenly all the rage amongst twelve-year-olds? I think not.
In an admirable and fitting move for the socially conscious corporation, MAC has announced their intent to donate a portion of the proceeds from this collection to “those in need in Juarez” (source). I find the timely response by MAC to be unexpected but exemplary of MAC’s dedication to both its customers and social consciousness. Even if this means that the collection will be launched without any changes (which, for a September launch, is almost guaranteed), and any donation to Juarez is, in my opinion, a good thing. I don’t retract my statements about the Mulleavy’s right, as artists, to be inspired anywhere, but I think that this is a solid move on MAC’s behalf.
Thank you so much for sticking around, if you’ve read all of this, and I hope it was navigable. I definitely don’t want to appear to dodge multiple bullets and resort to BLAME THE MEDIA BECAUSE THEY ARE AT FAULT FOR EVERYTHING. I encourage discussion in the comments, if you’d like to respond, and I will definitely be participating in any potential future conversations on this topic.