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The 2nd Annual Resistance Against Militarism Fashion Show brings as many questions as it does looks

– Breanne Gratton

New York Fashion Week brought us the new Fall 2011 ready-to-wear collections from The Row, Rebecca Minkoff, Jenni Kayne, Jason Wu and more. London Fashion Week brought us the Burberry Prorsum collection, while Milan Fashion Week has brought us an incredible line from Fendi, thus far. But where does the Resistance Against Militarism Fashion Show, held last Friday at the University of Oregon’s Agate Hall, fit into this? Well, truth be told, it doesn’t really. There were no chinchilla coats, no Lagerfeld creations and Lara Stone and Heidi Mount were nowhere in site; however, this show wasn’t about the fashion as much as it was about the message.

The purpose of this show was to raise questions about the influence of the military in modern fashion, the amount of spending for war, and the war’s impacts on the environment, women, and much more.

The idea for the show came from Gwyn Kirk, among other activists in the San Francisco area, around five years ago, says Susan Cundiff, from Oregon Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND).

“When Gwyn was at UO last year [2010] as a visiting professor for Women’s and Gender Studies, she spoke with members of Oregon WAND about it.  The message has been relevant since Eisenhower left office, but is more so today as we face budget shortfalls but continue to spend ourselves into debt for war,” says Cundiff.

This particular show comes at a time when military fashion has been huge, not only on the runway but also in streetwear. The military trend was huge for Fall/Winter 2010 with bomber jackets, combat boots, navy peacoats, and cargo pants flying off the racks.

“Looking at the Spring 2010 issue of the New York Times magazine, I was struck by the amount of khaki and camouflage  [that was used] in haute couture shows in Milan . . . one can’t help but notice the amount of everyday camo worn by ordinary people of all ages, including babies,” says Janice Zagorin, who also works with WAND.

It is the use of militarism on common society that the show aimed to expose. From fashion, to names of stores, to the way we spend–the show uncovers the influences.

Militarism, as defined by the organizers of the show, is “a broad system of institutions and investments that take their meaning and value from war.” To demonstrate the influence of militarism, designers and models strutted down the runway, while the MC read a script about what the fashion represented, its costs, its repercussion, and its affects on the human psyche.

Some topics covered were: the military budget, sexual assault of female personnel, Wikileaks, Blackwater, activism, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, reaching peace, the resources used in war, the Reagan policy of Star Wars, the derogatory term “Banana Republic” and how it has become a norm.

Almost thirty looks came down the runway with each model representing the ideas through how they walked, their props, their expressions and any acting that the model chose to do.

“The outfits are original designs by many people from Oakland, California, Portland, Eugene, and the University of Oregon.Some models have designed their own outfits and written scripts. The ‘Bomb Gown’ represents the atomic and hydrogen bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII. This was the beginning of U.S. focus on the military as the basis of our economy. ‘Dressed Fit to Overkill’ represents the world showing the location bases and deployed nuclear submarines in the oceans,” says Zagorin.

The “Bomb Gown” was a standout design in the show and was featured on the flyer that advertising the event. In addition, the design about hazardous waste and pollutants was excellent. Instead of having a Vera Wang wedding dress train, it was a train of trash and garbage, including a croc (Hey, who says you can’t have subliminal fashion commentary in a political show?) I was also particularly drawn to the Wikileaks look that featured a clear shower curtain with sensitive documents plastered on it. Moreover, the “Reaching Peace” dress brought color and energy to the show for a fun and refreshing twist.

The finale included the infamous CODEPINK pink slip look and also featured a few young kids, who were very, if not adorably, enthusiastic about being on stage. (For those that don’t know, the CODEPINK women are notorious amongst the anti-war community for wearing bright pink slips as outerwear and sending “pink slips” to Congress.)

Outside of the political messages of the show, organizers chose a very important and timely dedication for the production.

“The show [this year] is dedicated to the courageous people in Egypt and the Middle East who are risking their lives for liberty and democracy.  Even though we live in a democracy, we are very used to the idea that the Pentagon gets 58% of the federal discretionary budget with little oversight.  In these difficult economic times, isn’t it logical that we take a look at the percentage of our taxes given over to wars and preparing for war?  Why is this the one area that we are not looking at cutting?  ‘Fashion Resistance to Militarism’ asks more questions than it answers and is a way to create a conversation around these difficult issues,” says Zagorin.

In addition to the fashion, there was a poet who recited “Hustler Girl” (my favorite line from the poem was “…and those goddamned UGG boots,” an item I hold in great disdain) as well as a trio of musicians who sang, War Water.

The ASUO Women’s Center and Oregon WAND put on this year’s show with help from Beyond War, the Community Alliance of Lance County/CALC, Eugene CODEPINK, and The Last Stand Coffee Company.

Fashion Redux

Do It (Again) Yourself: Episode 2

[cap]H[/cap]ave you ever thrown out your favorite item of clothing because of a missing button? Did you even consider to fix it yourself? Don’t feel bad if those thoughts never passed through your head. It’s doubtful that such proactive thoughts occur to many Americans. Though sewing seems to be nearly extinct in the United States, a thriving independent fashion designer scene in Eugene suggests this useful art form is not dead.

Redoux Parlour, Deluxe, and Kitsch are three popular locally-owned vintage and resale clothing stores. Redoux Parlour, owned by Laura Lee Laroux, features in-house studio spaces where designers work while customers browse through intact designs. Deluxe and Kitsch are both owned by Mitra Chester and offer the work of local designers between their postmodern walls. The three shops combine creative forces and organizational abilities once a year to put on a fashion show for local designers to realize and share their artistic vision with the community. This year the theme of the show was “Carnival of Couture: Parade of the Custom Made,” and was held at the Lane County Fairgrounds Expo Halls on Saturday, April 24.

The local designers that frequent Redoux Parlour, Deluxe, and Kitsch all have something in common; they express themselves through the clothes and styles they create.

Chester grew up in an environment saturated with creativity in Boulder, Colorado, but attributes her interest in fashion to her sophomore year in college. While studying abroad in Jerusalem, Israel she landed her first job in resale, which she’s been doing ever since. For Chester, fashion has never just been about looking good. Instead it’s been a series of experiments, something to provoke thought, and a tool to gain insight into the people around her.

“People are so dependent on the image of a person, it’s the first thing you’ll know about someone,” she explains. This sentiment rings true in a variety of situations. Think about mornings spent looking for the perfect outfit to wear to a job interview, a punk rock show, or your grandma’s house, and how important it feels to be dressed appropriately for the situation. Mitra experimented with this idea and discovered she was more accepted at a coffee shop in New Orleans when she dressed the same as regulars rather than as herself.

Fashion is frequently brushed off in society as something nonessential- a frivolous and unnecessary expenditure. But it’s our first impression of strangers.  We make conclusions about their personality based on appearance. Fashion is much more important than it is given credit for. However, while fashion does play a vital role in how we perceive each other, it should still be something we can have fun with.

Laroux shares a similar delight to Chester about playing with her image, “Fashion is really important as a way for people to express themselves, but it’s also fun acting,” says Laroux. “Knowing how to play to the crowd is important, job-hunting is a good example of that. You need to have consideration for how you’re representing yourself.”

While image and first impressions seem to be a common theme among designers in Eugene, redesign and the use of recycled materials are also important concepts. Chester and Laroux have expressed a love of redesign, which is the idea of taking something old and breathing new life into it. Carly Brynelson, a local designer, redesigns clothing and says her favorite aspect of starting a new piece is treasure hunting for materials, “I see Goodwill the same way an artist sees a craft store, I can go in there and find what I need.”

This fascination with thrift stores as supply stores is not Brynelson’s alone. Local designer Allie Ditson enjoys shopping at thrift stores because she’s able to buy and alter clothing that truly expresses who she is for a cheaper price.

“I save so much money shopping at thrift stores and redesigning what I buy there,” she says.  Using recycled materials not only saves Ditson money in her own wardrobe, but also keeps old thrift store clothes from filling a landfill for a little bit longer. Marketing her designs as what they are, recycled materials, also helps her personal design sales.

Laroux, who shares Ditson’s love of sustainability, thinks fabrics have their own spirit, and she attempts to reincarnate them by reusing materials. “It’s really important to me to use recycled materials and sometimes I can even let the fabric decide what it’ll be on its own, based on the texture and the way it hangs when I’m draping, it will just become more apparent to me what that fabric needs to be,” she says.

While sustainability and identity are both important aspects of do-it-yourself fashion in Eugene, the designers made it clear self-expression is the most important. Fashion is an art form and as Chester put it, it’s “what they’re inspired to do.”