THE GUNS AND AMMO CLUB
NEW YORK — Please don’t kill the messenger, but fall fashion is getting deadly.
There were a lot of potential political time bombs to be found in the fall collections, which included a sweater knit with the phrase “The Right to Bear Arms” down the front and “Waco” and “Ruby Ridge” on its sleeves at Pierrot; Daryl K’s print of the Unabomber on the back of a shirt, and T-shirts by Michael and Hushi printed with prorevolution graffiti in Farsi from the 1979 Islamic uprising in Iran. Miguel Adrover’s collection, meanwhile, provocatively explored the treatment of women in Muslim culture, while John Bartlett’s men’s presentation, featuring models lying stiffly in cots, also raised questions about why designers would glamorize a uniform associated with war, death and destruction.
Perhaps it was an extension of their enlistment in the military trend. Or maybe it was a reaction to Sean “Puffy” Combs’s ongoing weapons trial, during which he staged a fashion show infused with messages about racism and injustice. It could be that designers are trying to make a political statement of their own about our times. Or maybe they’re just trying to get attention.
But what this all has to do with fashion, and whether the runway is an appropriate venue for such inflammatory statements — open to any number of vague interpretations — became two of fashion week’s most-wanted answers.
Daryl Kerrigan has a number of explanations for her interest in the Unabomber and why she chose to reproduce the FBI sketch that was widely publicized prior to the 1998 conviction of Theodore Kaczynski for a 17-year string of bombings that killed three people and injured 29. She was particularly interested in the irony in the image of the sketch versus the reality of the killer.
“It’s not even the Unabomber, the guy in the picture,” she said. “So the joke is that he’s ‘still at large,’ because the FBI sketch looks nothing like the Unabomber.”
Asked if she was trying to make a political statement, Kerrigan replied instead that many people are interested in Kaczynski’s philosophy of preserving humanity and nature from the onslaught of technology and exploitation, published in his “Unabomber Manifesto.”
“They think his message was interesting, though his methods were abhorrent,” she said. “His hatred of technology is interesting. Many people feel that way — there was the whole year 2000 scare, but no one speaks out about it. And if you’re going to do something punk or New Wave, it’s good to have an image out of our time, rather than something from another time — Che Guevara or someone like that.”
Guevara, the Latin American revolutionary theorist of the Sixties who became an icon of rebellion and revolution, has also had his fashion moment, appearing in sweaters and T-shirts in several recent collections. But where Guevara was a hero to the poor and oppressed, Kaczynski has found little support other than in the Luddite community.
While the image will offend some people, others are apt to consider it an artistic statement intended to provoke thought and perhaps change, much as they did a decade ago, when Paul Smith created a men’s shirt, on which the buttons featured pictures of famous serial killers as children.
“[Am I worried] that it would be offensive?” Kerrigan said. “It could be considered dangerous, and that’s interesting.”
In his Pierrot collection, designer Pierre Carrilero said he intended to investigate an issue, specifically the right to bear arms and its consequences on modern society, rather than make judgements or statements about who is morally in the right. His collection was inspired by wildlife and visits to Michigan, where he accompanied friends on hunting trips, but did not kill any animals himself.
“It’s kind of an interrogation that I have,” the designer said. “Fashion is only a medium to me because, you might have noticed, I’m thinking a lot and asking a lot of questions. I’m always in the process of learning things. I’m interrogating myself even through fashion. If someone can come up with an answer that will make me think more, I will always be happy.”
Carrilero personally supports the Constitutional right to bear arms, but he doesn’t own a gun. He feels the Branch Davidian sect members abused their rights in the circumstances that led to the 1993 crisis in Waco, Tex., but he also questions the response of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
“I have no real clue about arms,” he added. “I am against violence. That’s how I was raised. I read what Charlton Heston and Rosie O’Donnell have said about it, and I’m a little confused. I don’t know where the answer is. I don’t even have a point.”
Hushi Mortezaie and Michael Sears, partners in Michael and Hushi, which operates a four-year-old shop at 120 East 7th Street, staged their first fashion show this season. It focused on imagery from Iran, inspired by Mortezaie’s first visit there in October since emigrating to the U.S. when he was three.
“This was about showing one side of the beauty of Iran,” Mortezaie said. “I photographed a lot of the remnants of graffiti and murals leftover from the revolution. To me, it was like Pop Art.”
The 1979 Iranian revolution established an Islamic theocratic state led by Ayatollah Khomeini that violently rejected both Western civilization and Communism in the East. Visiting as a tourist more than two decades later, when the political climate among Iran’s youth has become vastly more pro-American, Mortezaie said he looked at the remnants of revolutionary graffiti — translated as “Freedom,” “Rebellion,” “Long Live Iran” and “We will be Victorious” as beautiful images rather than political statements. He combined them with phrases such as “Chic” and Iranian sayings like “I will die for the glamour,” and styled the collection with Palestinian scarves and headbands laced with barbed wire.
“Something that can be so dangerous can be beautiful,” Mortezaie said. “It was more innocent for us. I think everyone has a different interpretation of what we’re designing, but our message is something about power and beauty.”
Sears, his business partner, said the collection has been selling out of their East Village store. He considers the collection to be “pop-oriented and futuristic,” and hardly controversial, noting that he hasn’t experienced any resistance to the designs from customers.
But for many stores, such overt political statements delivered via apparel is a nonissue. Controversial references crop up every couple of years, but rarely do those clothes make it into the stores.
“Let us not forget that 65 percent of our buy is from prespring,” said Bergdorf Goodman’s ready-to-wear director James Aguiar. “That stuff is for the runway, for image, for theater. And there’s no place for it at Bergdorf Goodman.”
Ed Burstell, vice president and general merchandise manager of Henri Bendel, also had serious questions about the commercial prospects of these pieces, particularly those referring to the Unabomber.
“You want to support the designer and their vision, but sometimes you have to ask if the customer is going to get it,” he said. “As a retailer, you have to make a case-by-case decision, and we haven’t yet decided if we will do that particular piece from Daryl.”