Home » islamophobia » Masks that fashion wears

Masks that fashion wears


November 2019


It is fascinating to see fashion covering up after such long periods of baring it all! Understandable to be different in a world gone crazy vying for attention and soliciting the most amount of likes. Like the recent Chanel cat-walker who crashed the Paris Fashion week to walk with top models and one, Gigi Hadid, intercepted her as though there was no security. As though anyone could just get a front row seat at a major fashion week [Paris] and a major brand [Chanel]! As it turned out, this front row seater was indeed someone, a french you-tuber, and a star in her own right who seemed to have gotten Chanel more ratings or attention in their tired fashion.

Then there are the others who cover up their models to be different, or to stand out, which also stands out in a fashion world where the visual is the most important stimuli for the industry and where models have become increasingly more important than brands, because they now have a ‘face’ and a huge presence.

Some of the fashion statements entering the runway of high fashion are making huge waves, covered up in morphsuits. The duo, Checking Voices, shows [or hides] their models wearing Trussardi.

Sports Illustrated, Balenciaga, Gucci, Fendi, Vetements all covered their models:

soprts illustrated cove up .jpg   morph suits fashion.jpg   Walter-Van-Beirendonck-Fall-2019-Menswear-Collection-Featured-Image.jpg  morphsuits metro 16oct.jpg

gareth pugh spr 19.jpg    london fashion wk .jpg   morspsuits uk.jpg

But this wasn’t the first time this was done. British designer Richard Quinn had similar cover ups and colorful masks in his parade in fall/winter 2017-2018

richard quinn.jpg    quinn 3.jpg    quinn trunkshow.jpg

And in the same year, Vox Lux [Brady Corbet, 2018] used it in cinema to cover Natalie Portman as did Rosalia in Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi

But Morphsuits [with a capital M] is an actual company in Scotland, established in 2009 and distributes spandex costumes to cover the entire body. They look like get-ups right out of Marvel films on superheros or power rangers like Wasp, Capt America, Spiderman, Ironman, Black Panther and so many more.

wasp.jpg  capt amca.jpg    spiderman.jpg    black panther.jpg

Small surprise that Morphsuits’ biggest seller is Halloween costumes:

halloween 1.jpg          halloween morph.jpg  darth vader .jpg

This covering up was also done by artist Leigh Bowery back in 1980s:

leigh bowery 1.jpg    leigh bowery vogue .jpg  leigh bowery 3.jpg

Luz Lancheros’ interesting Morphsuits el origen de “los enmascarados” en la moda [Metro World News 14 Oct 2019] discusses morphsuits and traces the origin back to Japanese Kabuki theatre where actors wore Kirugumi.

kigurumi panda.jpg          zentai catsuit.jpg

However, when I look at morphsuits, I can also see burqinis, created in 2005 by an Australian Muslim Aheda Zanetti after the Cronulla riots which broke out in Sydney after some middle eastern men were abused. Zanetti designed Muslim lifeguard suits for the beaches in Australia in 2007 to promote diversity and acceptance on Sydney’s beaches. Zanetti created the burqini as culturally appropriate swimwear for Muslim women that would meet modesty and physical activity, but the idea really came from watching her young niece play netball in traditional Muslim clothing and headscarf. But the burqini was banned in 2016 in France and Belgium and two years later in Germany. Interestingly, burqinis are only worn in western countries, not in Muslim majority countries, so why can’t they be seen as a fashion statement also and share space like morhpsuits? Full cover ups are only criminalized in European countries, isolating and antagonizing Muslim women who choose to cover [for whatever reasons]. Women who migrate to western countries go there for a reason: they don’t want to live in an atmosphere of hostility and suspicion and they want to make their own choices at the beach and elsewhere.

When Zanetti’s burqinis began to be sold well in her non-Muslim clientele – forty % of her costumer base was Jews, Hindus, Mormons, women with various body issues and even men – it was deemed ‘fashion’. Marks & Spencer of London sold out burqinis in Britain when the burqini was branded as a wear to protect skin against skin cancer for westerners. Full body cover -ups are not banned from fashion, because perhaps the runway is the place to cover up and not the beach?

When Zanetti created the same burqini to give non-western women freedom, it was banned even though she insisted that it wasn’t invented to take women’s limited freedom away. And instead it became a symbol of hatred before western designers followed [swim]suit and started designing burqinis: Acquagym [Brazil], Hasema [Turkey], and some American companies like Speedo, Splashgear and Nike and it was fashionable:

nike swimsuit .jpg  speedo burkini.jpg  burkini swimwear.jpg   burqini nike 1.jpg  burqini.jpg

This covering up of the body in one form or another has been done for years, and wasn’t always called morphsuits or veiling or burqini or full body cover up or whatever fashion wants to call it. The world didn’t point fingers at catholic nuns who were veiled and covered because they were Europeans, and that practice of covering up was both accepted and acceptable by the christian church and state, the same ones from whence come designers covering up their models.

If fashion is about showing, what does ‘covering up’ of the visual body and face of known models reveal or unveil about those who decide norms or proper attire? Erasing one’s face as well as one’s body becomes acceptable on runways and streets and seems to run counter to fashion’s ‘showing’ or ‘showy-ness’. Looking at the 3 images below, how is the first mask or “erasure” [western] different from the second [Muslim] form or the third [Indian]? They are all black and gloomy and cover the woman and in fact only the Muslim and Indian cover-up show eyes and face, and not the western morphsuit of the first image. If we banned it for fear of covered women carrying bombs « Algerian-independence style », couldn’t anything also lie beneath the western cover-up in our Joker-suited, white supremacist or intolerant mind of the XXI century?  Or is it that in gun-toting worlds like America no cover up is needed and plain sight works better or just as well as the 2012 Aurora Batman killer proved?

checking voices.jpg        burqa 1.jpg        black sari 1.jpg

In the western worlds of art and artistry, new cover ups unveil that serve media’s end as the new series watchmen proves and become acceptable and cool:

IMG_4367.jpg       watchmen.jpg

Like these Comic Con attendees:

IMG_4368.jpg             IMG_4365.jpg

Or dancers?  IMG_4369.jpg    or Lady Gaga?   lady gaga.jpg

Granted that Gaga’s cultural borrowing is not in ‘ominous’ black like some niqabs or burqas that are banned from public space, but it still hides the entire woman and you wouldn’t know who is inside if her name wasn’t emblazoned in the image. How is Lady Gaga’s colorful but complete cover-up any different from the women below in the same colorful hijabs?

hijab 2 or this cover-up? woman in burqini in France.jpg

What makes superheros or artists [designers, directors etc] acceptable with their covered-up models on Balenciaga or Fendi or Gucci or even Nike super[models] but not a woman in hijab or burqini? How does the same world separate covered or veiled women into acceptable and not acceptable? William Cruz Bermeo, fashion historian at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana who writes for Moda y Vestido provides an answer. He says that the cover-up we see in fashion today is attractive and disrupts fashion’s predictability. Or the ‘quoditianity’ [like Chanel’s runway you-tuber disruption] of fashion, of the image. This cover up is very visual, not an absence as is quite often heaped on women who veil or cover up. Covering up is rife with contradiction. We like camouflage, but not the real people who cover up everyday because of their culture. We accommodate women in fashion because we are constantly looking for ways to escape tedium, the common. Yet those who cover we don’t see, literally or symbolically, unless they have a designer brand on their cover.

The exact function and meaning of covering-up is culturally determined, by one culture or gender upon another. When masks are worn in western societies it is called art – Commedia dell’arte, Chaplin, Meliès etc – and that same culture deems it social control on another culture wishing to clothe modestly. Non-western women who cover up by choice in western countries are forced to uncover, while those living in those same cultures can cover up and no one bats an eye or runs for cover. Like a bank robber who fully covers up, or KKK or terrorists who commit fatal, racist, heinous crimes, who don’t get uncovered or banned even after committing mega atrocities. But women who just walk or cover up at the beach minding their own business, are told to uncover or disrobe because it is the law to uncover. A law made by the same institution that fashions hides behind, and that requires women to conform to its many thinly-veiled masks.


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