Julie Bindel

Tom Ford and the gross misogyny of high fashion

Tom Ford and the gross misogyny of high fashion
(Photo: Getty)
Text settings

Tom Ford, the stratospherically successful fashion designer has recently released lipstick shades called ‘Age of Consent’ and ‘First Time’. He also produced a perfume called ‘Lost Cherry’. There has been a bit of an uproar by some feminists who think it appalling to make references to sex with underage girls as a marketing ploy.

Known for coming up with the idea of logos shaved into pubic hair and regularly using nude models, Ford, a gay man, is branded fashion’s King of Sex. He denies sexism, claiming to be an ‘equal opportunity objectifier’ because he also features nude male models, insisting there is ‘nothing wrong with using people’s bodies as a selling tool.’

Fine, except flashing the odd naked man on the catwalk is often seen as a laugh and a bit of a change from the usual. It does not contribute to the climate of misogyny women have to operate within.

It is often assumed that gay men can’t be misogynistic and that they somehow relinquish male power and privilege over women because of their sexuality, but the reality is that these men still have a significant advantage over women. Acts of hostility and sexism can be misinterpreted as ‘appreciation’ for women’s bodies, when those bodies are treated as accessories or something to be objectified bitchily with just as much venom as a straight man. Gay male fashion designers, such as the late Alexander McQueen and Gianni Versace, either make women look like teenage boys or parodies of women. Many will design clothing and accessories that, when worn, cause pain, discomfort and, in some cases, disfigurement. Many will design clothes that will not even fit the vast majority of adult women. And images that parody sexual violence are ever present in the catwalk shows of many a gay male designer.

Look, for example at the late McQueen’s 1995 show Highland Rape, where the models on the runway appeared in torn, skimpy clothing looking as if they had just been attacked in the bushes. McQueen objected to accusations of misogyny via number of feminists, and said he was merely using the term ‘Highland Rape’ to highlight England's historical ‘assaults’ on Scotland. He also claimed to be reflecting his disgust at the abuse by his sister at the hands of her ex-husband.

Whatever the excuses, the glamorisation of rape and the manipulation of women’s bodies is endemic within the world of high fashion. All too many male fashion designers project hatred of women’s bodies into their designs. I am loathe to accept McQueen’s deflections, bearing in mind his debut collection was entitled Jack The Ripper Stalks his Victims which parodied the mutilated bodies of Victorian prostituted women.

John Galliano, in his 2003 collection for Christian Dior, Hard Core Romance, used the imagery of sadomasochism, putting his models in seven-inch heels and rubber suits so tight it was reported that they had to use copious amounts of talcum powder to fit into them. His 2004 collection was nothing more than a gay man’s parody of female sexuality. The models were unable to walk down the steps of the catwalk because their dresses were so tight and had to be lifted by bouncers. Their faces were unrecognisable under geisha-effect white make up. It tells you something quite important when men design clothes in which women can't walk or breathe properly and are depicted as doll-like creatures.

Some designers are using girls under the age of 16 in shows because their bodies are thought to be ‘perfect’ to show off the type of clothing being peddled, which surely normalises the sexualisation of children.

Karl Lagerfeld was quite open about his disdain for women larger than the typical runway model size, which is considered a zero or a two. In an industry that already marginalises anyone outside of this range, Lagerfeld was among the few designers who actively defended the common occurrence of hiring exclusively stick-thin models to walk in shows and to pose for campaigns, on the grounds that ‘No one wants to see curvy women.’

Way too many male fashion designers, whether gay or straight, force women’s bodies into skinny boy angles, and play with themes such a sadomasochism, rape and prostitution. This might be fun in their fantasy world, but for women, these issues are all too often are hideous reality.

But there is money to be made, so why should they care? Fashion rakes in a fortune, and the cosmetics industry is bigger than ever, and increasingly marketed at young girls.

But back to Tom Ford and the lipstick. Fashion’s King of Sex may not be King of sexism, but only because amongst male fashion designers, there is too much competition.

Written byJulie Bindel

Julie Bindel is a feminist campaigner against sexual violence

Topics in this articleSociety