Somewhere between the distant memory of last week and the post apocalyptic daze we've landed in this week I was getting excited about the arrival of the new Autumn Winter collections in all their glory, first in full glossy features in the magazines and then in the shops. Then all hell broke loose. Although relative calm has been restored to the capital with the arrival of ten thousand more police, London feels like it is still dangling on tenterhooks. I still hear the night chorus of sirens, I still hear the police helicopter nearby.
Walking down my high street this morning it was a little depressing to see the shops on the high street with their boarded up windows. Some still had their windows smashed in with wooden boards slapped haphazardly over them, like a hastily applied band aid to a gaping wound. For a moment I wanted to take a photo and post about it as I thought it may be some time before I'm in the mood to chatter lightheartedly about something so frivolous as frocks, wondering if it was going to be appropriate anyway given all that's happened.
But after sitting through a day off work sick yesterday, most of which was spent watching horrific scenes and images on the internet, I arrived home from work today thinking that another photo of the damage posted to the already burgeoning and growing archive is now just bordering on glorifying what these people have done to London, to England, to the idea of a civilized society. I'm sure many are getting a kick out of seeing their handiwork plastered all over the media. I on the other hand, would just like to see something beautiful and positive again even if I lack my usual enthusiasm to be prosaic about it.
I've chosen some photos of the Autumn Winter collection by London based designer, Mary Katrantzou which I took back in London Fashion Week in February and are only now starting to go on sale at retailers. In a way I chose this collection because it shines a torch through the current darkness here on one of the many things we normally celebrate about London. The innovation, the creation of beauty, the bringing of joy and pleasure to people through the art of fashion and the entrepreneurial success of a talented designer and self made business woman.
Katrantzou's focus for this collection was precious objects of desire. Also quite a pertinent theme. Objects of such rarity, beauty, great craftsmanship and also great frivolity that humans are incited to desire them, covet them. Humans are acquisitive by nature. Though I'd love to have a collection of Katrantzou dresses, I don't really understand the desire to collect any of the objects which were quoted as inspiring this collection: "Faberge eggs, Corommandel screens, court costumes of the Qianlong Dynasty in ancient China, and Meissen porcelain" according to the Telegraph. But then again I am categorically excluded from ever being able to start either collection by just not being wealthy enough.
But neither am I in a position to understand why an object of desire worth wreaking havoc for or endangering other peoples lives for, would be a pair of trainers or a flat screen television, or anything for that matter. Four people have died in riots which have been mostly about robbing and looting. It seems like what is precious has become so skewed in our society.
And I wonder if I actually help matters by sitting here prattling on about dresses I could never afford, somehow stoking in some small way, with my small addition of fashion kindling, this national aspirational consumerist fire that's literally burnt London. I feel like maybe I should just shut the hell up. After hearing all the stories of people who had lost everything and of others who fought to save their properties, shops and places of religious worship, I wondered what I would do if looters broke into my flat and it really made me question whether anything material thing I own really matters. I'd rather lose my all my material possessions, beautiful as many of them are, than risk my life trying to fight for anything I own.
I struggle with the double sided coin of what fashion represents, on one side an appreciation and celebration of beauty and self expression, on the other some kind of wanton, consumerist, materialistic shallowness that promotes exclusivity rather than inclusion - that old chestnut of the haves and the have-nots. Where does this bestowing of such great value to material objects come from? Why does society use ownership of them to draw divisive lines across itself?
Whilst photographing these dresses we were harassed by the people looking after the display not to photograph them too closely, one of the ladies getting especially agitated about the prints being copied. I internally rolled my eyes at this as these dresses cost thousands of pounds by virtue of the detail put into production. Cheap copies would never appeal to that small group who can afford to buy a real Katrantzou which will be less than one percent of the population of London, or perhaps even the globe. The haves versus the have-nots again. With such a stark stratification of wealth in the UK it is hard to have sympathy for the notion that Katrantzou's fortunes are somehow at risk from the sales of copycat versions at price points that have no hope of overlapping. And believe me the stratification of wealth in the UK is noticeably severe.
One of the most disturbing things I heard in the riot coverage was an interview with young teenage girls bragging about their involvement with the looting and blaming the Government and "rich people", "people with businesses" for their woes, laying the responsibility of the riots at their feet with barely coherent arguments. The rich had it coming. Salt doused with a good dose of ignorance to be rubbed into the wound of the hardworking owners of the small businesses, already battered by the recession and who have suffered huge losses or even totally lost their livelihoods over the past few days.
A lot of the media's analysis of the riots has been about the deprived and the have-nots. It's hard to feel any sympathy for individuals, however young, poor and disenfranchised, who simultaneously believe they have a right to tear down what other people have worked hard to build up and that somehow the world owes them something. In the bitter end the world doesn't owe anyone anything. The world is very much what you make of it. After I stopped being angry listening to the sheer stupidity of these girls, I then felt equally extremely bleak and saddened that here were young girls who couldn't imagine that they could ever grow up to one of those "rich people" owning their own business. I wanted to ask them - which is worse? To have aspirations to be wealthy, to be successful, and desire by your own hand to achieve this? Or to have no aspirations at all?
Clothes: Mary Katrantzou