What regular fashion showgoer hasn’t had a moment of “what if?” As in, what if there were a security breach, a terror attack? Wouldn’t a fashion show and its chicly turned out denizens make for compelling targets? Sometimes upward of 1,000 people herded, often through a single entrance and exit. (How about all those venues that only open one half of a double door?) Typically, we see some show of security. In Paris in particular, especially at major tourist venues such as the Grand Palais, we walk through metal detectors and our bags are scanned; more often, at more quotidian locations, there’s little more than a cursory manual bag check.
The prolonged anti-fur demonstration that disrupted Wednesday night’s conversation between Michael Kors and Alina Cho at the Metropolitan Museum of Art should be a wake-up call to all, to reexamine security procedures for events big and small across all kinds of disciplines. It should be of grave concern — not to mention an embarrassment — to The Met, one of the most renowned, revered and high-profile institutions on Earth, which last year greeted a record 6.7 million visitors. One would expect security at all of its events to be a well-thought out priority.
Yet on this evening, part of Cho’s Atelier series at the museum, the participants and audience were sitting ducks in what suddenly felt like a security-free zone. Perhaps 10 minutes into the scheduled talk, Kors and Cho were about to discuss his adolescent foray into acting and modeling. Whether by coincidence or on cue, just as a photo of the young Kors standing next to a big, shaggy afghan dog projected on the screen behind them, the protest erupted, a legion of animal activists storming the stage, chanting, taunting and encircling Kors and Cho. The ranks seemed to increase out of nowhere, many moving up to the mezzanine where they hung a banner proclaiming, ‘F–k Fur.'”
Thank God that those protesters, though extremely aggressive in their demeanor AND determination to stick around, were ultimately nonviolent. Because for a good block of time — six minutes, eight minutes, enough time to do plenty of physical harm, had that BEEN their goal — they were in complete control.
Why project to the worst-case scenario? Nobody was hurt, and we in the U.S. have a wonderful battery of First Amendment rights. Designers who use fur know its inherent volatility. Apart from the overall uncomfortable nature of watching Kors, a beloved person within the industry — with a major philanthropic bent, no less — get called out for what his accusers consider heinous, immoral acts, what’s the big deal? Perhaps nothing, except when one extrapolates what could have happened.
We live in a worst-case world. Traditionally, anti-fur protesters haven’t embraced extreme violence (which is not to discount the violence inherent in paint throwing). And it’s likely that no one in attendance at The Met expected that violence would ensue. But then who expects violence to break out at their leisure-time activities? Until it happened, who would have thought a Bernie Sanders fan would shoot up a baseball practice?
What stunned about The Met incident wasn’t the anti-fur message. Rather, it was that the whole thing seemed to catch the museum completely off guard. That so many protesters gained easy access to the relatively intimate event was sobering, though not the fault of The Met. Most if not all had to have purchased tickets. Organizations can’t background-check everyone who buys a ticket.
But, apart from the smart plea for calm by Sandra Jackson-Dumont, The Met’s chairman of education, the onsite response, make that the non-response, was appalling, and a day-after missive not much better. In a query to the museum about security protocol, a spokesperson offered this statement: “Met programs are a platform for a thoughtful exchange of ideas on the arts. We deeply regret the unfortunate interruption of Wednesday night’s Atelier series event, and commend Michael Kors and Alina Cho for resuming their conversation after protesters were escorted out of the building.” Follow-up questions went unanswered on the record.
Seriously? Yes, kudos to Kors and Cho for their ultra-cool resumption of conversation once the fracas finally calmed. And yes, it was an unfortunate interruption. As for Met programs being “a platform for a thoughtful exchange of ideas on the arts,” if you asked the protesters, I bet they’d claim that’s just what they were doing: exchanging their ideas on fashion arts that involve the use of fur.
None of which is the point. Whether the event was part of Cho’s Atelier series, one of the Met’s many concerts, or a standard Tuesday in the Temple of Dendur, the question posed was about security: What’s the protocol beyond the brief fondling of handbags on the way into an event? What was the security presence inside the auditorium? I saw one guy who might have been Met security. Lanky and cool looking, he didn’t project visual deterrence.
In absence of an obvious institutional response, the Michael Kors public relations team tried to take some kind of control. They performed gamely, kind of like a flight attendant crew: They show you to your seat, bring you your food and must know how to deliver a baby and remain ultra cool in a crisis. The Kors team kept their cool.
What ultimately convinced the protesters to leave was impossible to discern, at least to me. During their reign of audacity, everyone else present was badly shaken, whether into a state of savvy calm or frightened inertia, who knows? It wasn’t the initial activity that dismayed — who hasn’t witnessed some kind of protest or another? It was the fact that this aggressive troop of people — maybe 20, maybe 40 strong, in the moment hard to decipher — seized complete control of a quiet, seemingly non-controversial event at a world-renowned institution, unchallenged by any show of on-site authority.
We live in a volatile world in which free societies can never fully guarantee safety. But that doesn’t justify what in retrospect looks like a naive — or reckless? — disregard for security. In our world, with the men’s shows on in Paris and couture and ready-to-wear not far off, let’s hope all of fashion reexamines its safety procedures. As for The Met, ring-ring! Hear the alarm. Wednesday’s protest proved plenty intimidating but not violent. For that, the protesters deserve a measure of thanks, however grudging. Because for a good block of time, they had the room.