Fashion and politics have an uneasy relationship. The fashionable are usually politically naive, and the politicians, with few exceptions, are dull dressers. It's one of the differences between New York and Washington: New York naive, Washington drab.
But in the world where image is all and the politics of protest race across page and screen, the fashionable are targets, too. How embarrassing for Anna Wintour, editor of the American edition of Vogue, to be smacked in the face with a cream pie by a protester for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The pie splattered across her black fur-trimmed jacket, enlivening the spring couturier shows in Paris, the crossroads of high fashion and haute cuisine, and her only consolation was that the cream was made of tofu (good), and not butter (bad).
Protest against cruelty to animals has been fashionable in certain precincts since at least 1896, when a Boston society lioness crusaded against feathers on hats. The crusaders were more ladylike then. They fashioned "Audubonnets" decorated with ribbons and flowers, and their protests led to the formation of the National Audubon Society.
Modern fashion, if there can be any other kind, has been a target in the culture wars, where models and the advertisements they live in are subject to the pressures of cultural conservatives to preserve certain values. When Kate Moss, one of the world's most beautiful and recognizable models, was revealed to be a cocaine junkie, H&M, Europe's largest clothing chain -- with 78 stores in the United States -- cancelled her contract to be their representative. She was scheduled to go global next month with the introduction of a new collection designed by Stella McCartney.
"If someone is going to be the face of H&M," a spokesman for the chain told reporters, "it is important they be healthy, wholesome and sound." Healthy, wholesome and sound is not what either Miss Moss or high fashion brings first to mind. It was Kate Moss, in fact, whose anorexic thinness with dark shadows under her eyes was the face of "heroin [not heroine] chic" in the 1990s.
While many in high fashion continue the never-ending search for avant-garde shock, there's nevertheless a recognizable yearning today by young women for fashion both feminine and romantic. Certain shows in Paris are responding, for better and sometimes worse, to satisfy wishes for ruffles, pompoms and bows, something described as "girlie-girl frilly" and "powder-puff prettiness." One New York buyer at the Paris shows harrumphed: "But what if you're not a virgin?"