At first sight, I reckon the jacket on the left is an unlikely candidate for being one of the most controversial garments of the 1990s, or for belonging to one of the most controversial collections of that decade. Sold on eBay a handful of years ago and photographed about as plainly as a piece of clothing can be, even the label wouldn't really give away much unless you happened to be (like me) a bit of a fashion geek. And nine out of ten people would probably think "what's the fuss?"The fuss in question might become slightly more apparent on seeing the picture below- the good garment in question takes its provenance from none other than Jean-Paul Gaultier's A/W 1993 collection, famously known as the Hasidic collection.
Contrary to what many people might think, it wasn't the act of putting clothes modelled on those of orthodox Jewish people on the runway that raised people's hackles- it was the fact that the clothes - traditionally worn by men- were being modelled by women. (women including Naomi Campbell, Nadja Auermann, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista, among others). And given that cross-dressing is taboo to Hasidic Jews, it was considered a sacrilege that Jean-Paul Gaultier had encouraged exactly that. Hence, the furore.
On some level, mindless cultural appropriation by fashion (see: every time the so-called "tribal" or "ethnic" look swings around on a runway, or even keffiyehs a few years ago) makes me uncomfortable, partly because of the blind one-dimensional idiocy it's done with (both by designers and wearers- see: keffiyeh) and partly because of the connotations of someone's heritage and the aesthetics associated with it being a "trend"- which also means that it can be demode six months later. But this collection doesn't fall prey to that particular trap- the almost commonplace look of the clothes when considered individually (like the jacket in the topmost photograph) is a good lesson in how anything, in the right context, can be exotic or shocking- even the relatively familiar.
pictures from eBay, TFS and the New York Times.