"Individuality is Freedom Lived" - Jon Dos Passos
Red is the new Black
'Cherry Blush' chiffon silk printed scarf, by Basma Design
From a style point of view, it's rather fitting that the colour red happens to be have been crowned 'The' colour for AW17, confirming that - "there is a shade of red for every woman" -(Audrey Hepburn) and adding a stylish edge to the abundance of Remembrance poppies this month.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with a display of charitable commemoration being 'au courant' sartorially. From a design point of view, the flower is a gift to fashion designers. In 2015 Made in Chelsea star Millie Mackintosh wore a custom-made dress, designed by Giles Deacon, which featured 100 silk red poppies, to front the Remembrance Day Appeal. And this year, London designer Atiti Izogie designed a luxury leather 'Poppy bag' for the Ronti Collection (part of Eyato London), which was donated to a branch of the Royal British Legion for auction at the Bristol Poppy Appeal Ball. There is something edifying about a crimson red poppy on an outfit, which adds personality, humanity and and élan. I even think the poppy gives the BBC newsreaders extra gravitas.
Red is alarming, uncompromising, empowering and fierce. As a society, we're hard wired to it since it taps into our primal, passionate impulses. It's the colour of the blood of Christ and also the Devil, with a cocktail of connotations consisting of fireworks, adrenaline, love hearts, red roses and indeed the aptly named districts where certain women make a living. The impact of Margaret Atwood's haunting Handmaid's Tale has formed the wallpaper of popular TV culture this year, with red dresses and white bonnets even headlining Vera Wang's fashion shoot in Vogue. Red is a big deal.
Red shouts. Revolutions are ignited by it, the camera loves it, Tibetan Buddhist landscapes are peppered by flags the colour of blood red robes. Remember the litmus test papers in those chromatography tests we did at school? You see? Red makes a point. Likewise, blushing red cheeks draw attention and have cultural symbolism. The matt scarlet 'Givenchy Red' seen on the AW17 catwalks reminds us that this colour is dangerous, subversive and fiercely feminine all at once, while Julia Roberts' Pretty Woman red dress confirms why every woman should own a red dress. Simply put, everything is better in red and it's a God given right that every woman should wear in what makes her feel wonderful. Red means business. Red gets stuff done.
"There is a shade of Red for every Woman" - Audrey Hepburn
The colour of Buddhism and Communism, Jezebels and a harlot's knickers, when we 'rouge' our lips we are embracing our womanhood and making a statement ["I'm gonna' rouge my knees and pull my stockings down" à la Liza Minelli]. "Let's paint the town red [....]". I defy anyone to not feel brighter, more confident and stronger when donning this traffic stopping colour. Bold and yet empowering, it's even been proven that athletes who compete in red are more likely to win!
That red is also the colour of the iconic Remembrance poppy lends itself kindly to the thread of activism and identity at the heart of fashion's raison d'être. Millennials are leading the charge on demanding meaning and substance from what they wear and what they buy and the fashion industry is fast adapting to meet their needs. The symbol of remembrance and hope, the poppy was first given prominence in Lt. Col. John McCrae's famous 'Flanders Fields' poem - lines from which are featured inside poppies this year - , and then by American Academic Moina Belle Michael.
It was Michael who committed to always wearing a poppy in 1918 and who, in 1921, began creating silk poppies to sell to raise money for veterans, wounded soldiers and their families. That they were initially made of silk - one of the most sublime and sentient of natural, luxury fabrics - is a fact which has really struck me this year, with silk emerging as part of our mainstream movement towards New Luxury. As consumers we are also very much humans. We want to 'feel'. We 'need' to feel. Fashion will always have activism in its DNA and self-expression woven into its very fabric and its capacity to make a statement through what we wear is one of its greatest gifts. Following on from Michael's initiative, the poppy flower has been represented in numerous end products using different fabric and materials since 1921, which have also equally been summarily sold to raise money for the needs of the serving and surviving British Armed Forces members and their families. I do not agree with the grievance - made by some - that a fashionable interpretation of the poppy is to the detriment of its sobering significance. From the Jeans for Genes campaign through to Fashion Targets Breast Cancer clothing, the fashion industry remains one of our greatest social influencers and this season's lusty affair with red is a gift to Remembrance and its iconic red poppy.
Rather, the only problem I might have with the iconic Poppy tradition is that it conjures a collective remembrance, with the risk of the individual becoming lost in the constituent mass of lives lost. One of life's most precious qualities is our identity, our individuality, having our name remembered when we enter a shop, club or pub or having our preferences or idiosyncrasies recalled. Our identity is everything and fashion is a tool with which we can express it. Fashion, or more specifically, what we wear, is a signifier. This is why the homogenous fast-fashion, prescriptive trend-obeying mindset is a travesty for individuality and personal growth, whereas using our clothing and accessories to express ourselves is hugely liberating. And fun! Yes, identity and individuality is freedom. Fashion has no rules. Fashion is freedom. Fashion is mood-enhancing. A flash of this uncompromising hue is equally impactful - as Christian Louboutin knows better than most. I know myself that when I step into my red stilettos, throw my 'Red Riding Hood' red coat over my shoulders or apply some Louboutin Red red lipstick, I'm owning myself, affirming my identity and making no compromises. It feels bold, brilliant and shamelessly indulgent.
"To me, clothing is a form of self-expression; there are hints about who you are in what you wear" - Marc Jacobs
Courtesy of Waremakers
The right to personal identity is recognised in international law through a range of declarations and
conventions. From as early as birth, an individual's identity is formed and preserved by registration or being bestowed with a name.
To have an identity; to express-oneself freely and to be valued as an individual are values which sustain our self-esteem and give meaning to our sense of self. These are fundamental human rights in a free society, which those soldiers fought for in the fields of Flanders. Few sectors of culture can support the
protection of identity better than fashion and independent designers will always have the edge in responsiveness, flexibility and individuality.
It's rather timely that, following a week in which the Ministry of Defence's leadership was assumed by an individual with a questionable record on supporting the needs of soldiers, veterans and their families, we wear our red poppy mindfully and take full advantage of the power of red.
No soldier should be remembered as a nameless collective, and each of us can use our wardrobe as a toolbox for self-expression, selecting what we want to say. Identity, independence and freedom are what each of those soldiers fought for on the fields and what their memory deserves. Identity is our most valuable possession and, together with freedom, will always be at the heart of fashion. Protect it. Wear it. Wear it with pride.
Royalty free image from Pexels