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It's time to stop rolling your eyes at Fashion Week

Aug 22, 2016 Fashion

Above: Harman Grubiša’s cycling-inspired summer editorial for the January 2016 Metro. Photo: Russ Flatt

We’ve been inundated by the Olympics for months, but suddenly a week of fashion is unbearable for some. 

I successfully made it to the final day of Rio 2016 without watching a single race/horse dance/pole vault/dive. I’m a human in possession of an iPhone, so of course I’ve been mesmerised by Simone Biles gifs, read a couple of highlights blogs and successfully feigned interest in my homeland’s team when confronted with tea break small talk (post-Brexit, I can’t muster an ounce of patriotism, though I’m hoping The Great British Bake-Off might change things.)

I know, I know, I should care, and in fact, four years ago I really did: I got swept up in the age-old spectacle of super-humans, cried at backstories, heartbreaking defeats and closely-fought victories. But if it’s not the Olympics, it’s the tennis, the cricket, the netball, the rugby. And in the end, there’s always next time, isn’t there?

It feels shameful to type such dismissive words. I offended a die-hard cricket fan with the sentiment recently: that’s not the point, she argued. It’s personal, it’s about staking a piece of your own identity on something you can’t control, but can will. It seems sports fandom is as sacred and irrational as religion, with similar hypocrisies and histories of sexism. 

It’s fine to dismiss fashion, and those who care and write about it, as shallow, self-obsessed and vapid. Because they’re mostly women.

You know what else can be described in those exact same terms? Fashion. And as Rio ends and New Zealand Fashion Week begins, groans can be heard across the city as social media users wake up to feeds full of fashion news. Tweets litter my timeline bemoaning the annual onslaught of #ootds. But why, when we’ve been drowned in Olympic news for the past six months with homepage takeovers and non-stop coverage, does a week of fashion meet with such hostility? The idea of dedicating a whole newspaper insert to it daily – like sport – or featuring it alongside the weather forecast and the main headlines on the TV news is laughable. It seems it’s fine to dismiss fashion, and those who care and write about it, as shallow, self-obsessed and vapid. Because they’re mostly women. And when the sport’s on, women are busy making snacks and talking about their dumb shoes.

Yes, there are pitfalls that come with writing about fashion because whether you like it or not, you’ll always be advertising something, and that’s especially true at Fashion Week. But the same goes for sport: think how many more trainers and gym memberships will be sold this year as a result of Rio. Sport can be just as uninteresting to the uninterested as fashion is, but that’s not to dismiss its very existence – and the people who dedicate their lives to it – out of hand.

Speaking at the most recent LATE at the Museum talk (which, thanks to RNZ, you can listen to here), Maori, women’s and LGBT rights advocate Ngahuia Te Awekotuku observed that for pre-colonisation Maori, a war canoe had the same perceived value as a cloak. She deduces that from the fact Te Toki-a-Tapiri, the carved war canoe commissioned by a Ngati Kahungunu chief in the 1830s, was traded for a woven garment known as Karamaene. Both items can be seen on display at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

The idea that women and men’s labour were – arguably – once valued equally in this country seems revolutionary in our warped climate of double standards. Fashion and sport are theoretically gender neutral territories, but you only need to talk to a female athlete to appreciate her standing in the industry isn’t yet equal to her male counterpart. Depressingly, the same is probably true for fashion too, despite the fact its consumers are mostly women. The domains are just as ugly and backwards and wonderful and inspiring as each other, but for some reason sports fans get off lightly. 

I’ve managed to escape a whole Olympics of sports coverage; if you find fashion boring, jog on. In your new Nikes. That were designed by a fashion designer.


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