ALEXANDRA SHULMAN’S NOTEBOOK: Mob rage in the fashion industry? It’s all the rage

Fashion has long used the power of provocation to promote itself, but times are changing and the shock tactics that were once able to drive sales are backfiring on the perpetrators.

A furor has erupted over Balenciaga’s recent advertising campaigns that threaten to topple the company’s head, Demna Gvasalia. One shows sad-faced little girls holding teddy bears outfitted in outfits with bondage overtones, below. Another has a Balenciaga bag placed on top of legal papers referencing the US Supreme Court’s child abuse ruling.

With Kim Kardashian, the hugely influential brand ambassador, saying she is reviewing her relationship with the fashion company that has given her countless sensational outfits, and with commentators piling in to offer their condemnation, Balenciaga has tried to distance itself and blame the set designer for the controversial images.

However, it is inconceivable that Balenciaga executives would not have known what was in the photos. As someone who has been involved in creating fashion images for many years, ignorance is as unlikely as Santa denying that he has ever caught a glimpse of a Christmas stocking.

Fashion has long used the power of provocation to promote itself, but times are changing and the shock tactics that were once able to drive sales are backfiring on the perpetrators. Photo: Alexandra Shulman

No, big fashion brands are intensely hands-on when it comes to how they want to show their product to the public. Not a single photo would be released without a black-clad team of Balenciaga honchos looking over every detail. What size should the padlock around the white teddy bear’s neck be? Should the leather straps be around both wrists and ankles?

There have been endless examples of fashion designers using disruptive imagery to draw attention to their work. In the 1990s, Tom Ford ran a Gucci ad in which the female model’s lover shaved the letter G into her pubic hair. John Galliano conceived a catwalk show based on homeless tramps dressed in newspapers.

A furor has erupted over Balenciaga's recent advertising campaigns that threaten to topple the firm's head, Demna Gvasalia

A furor has erupted over Balenciaga’s recent advertising campaigns that threaten to topple the firm’s head, Demna Gvasalia

But in today’s more puritanical era, Demna is now on the stand. Will luxury goods conglomerate Kering, which last month fired the wildly popular Alessandro Michele from Gucci, consider him too much of a responsibility?

We live in a different culture now, and such sales tactics come under a different kind of scrutiny. Audiences that once appreciated a tone that was disruptive, edgy and sometimes unpleasant are now far more critical, scrutinizing everything for any perceived unfairness. Social media makes it possible for anyone to join the howling mob.

These pictures are guaranteed to be unsavory. They have no validity. But I question whether the current knee-jerk, angry outcry – with society so terribly enthusiastic in its rush to pull the trigger – is a good thing.

Royal loyalty that counted for nothing

Another world perhaps, but there is a similarity between the Balenciaga outcry and that over Lady Susan Hussey’s ill-fated conversation with Ngozi Fulani at a Buckingham Palace reception. Ill-judged and condescending it certainly was, but Lady Susan has by all accounts served the royal family, and especially the late Queen, unstoppably. The notion that she was deliberately trying to get Mrs Fulani to ‘deny’ her British citizenship is plain nonsense.

Whether or not the palace kicked Lady Susan out of the fold, or whether her resignation was accepted, is unclear, but the immediacy of her departure indicates a mentality where track record counts for nothing, and where years of loyal service are erased for fear of displeasing the noisy comment .

‘Tis the season for useless gadgets…

Along with Christmas comes the dire prospect of more things coming to this house. So it was kind of crazy last week to buy a big heated air rail that now has to be stored somewhere.

I can track the stages of life through gadgets that are now crammed into a hard to reach place. The juicer bought when my girlfriend was sick and never used; the patio heater that promised outdoor entertaining on those freezing Covid evenings but didn’t work; the fat-free barbecue that would help shed the pounds; the spiralizer that would do something with squash. They’re still hanging around.

So far I haven’t succumbed to the gadget du jour, the air fryer, but it’s 50-50. As I sit in my hairdresser’s chair, conversations revolve around the current offers on the Zara website. Most recently I was scrolling through various air fryers available, encouraged by Melanie who swears by hers. Fry salmon in seconds, she says. Just add spicy bayou dressing.

Glued to Meghan’s latest riveting role

With the Sussexes’ Netflix documentary, I can only remind viewers that Meghan is an actress. What a range this performance allows her. Tears and laughter, dance and horror, revenge and worry. I just wish I had the strength to give it a miss.

With the Sussexes' Netflix documentary, I can only remind viewers that Meghan is an actress.  What a range this performance allows her.  Pictured: The cover of Harry and Meghan's new Netflix documentary

With the Sussexes’ Netflix documentary, I can only remind viewers that Meghan is an actress. What a range this performance allows her. Pictured: The cover of Harry and Meghan’s new Netflix documentary

A double first in common sense

Bosses are increasingly ignoring employees’ college degree classification as they instead realize that there are other markers of whether someone will be an effective worker. As the proud owner of a low 2:2, I could have told them that, but it might not be such good news for students taking out close to £30,000 in student loans for what they hope will land them a better paying job.

Little chance that I could eat like you, Brigitte

I wonder how so many politicians stay relatively fit when they attend so many dinners. The Macrons were entertained at the White House last week with lobster and caviar from Maine, followed by steak and triple-boiled butter potatoes, cheese and orange chiffon cake with roasted pears and a creme fraiche ice cream. I have no idea how Brigitte Macron manages to fit into her slim Louis Vuitton wardrobe.

When it was much smarter to call

When we only had landlines, we just dialed someone’s number when we wanted to get in touch. Now that we take our cell phones with us everywhere, we feel obligated to send a text to schedule a call to make sure it’s convenient. It was probably easier to just not pick up the phone if we didn’t feel like answering.

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