The High Priest of Fashion
White collar, Christian pendant, iron cross--
Is this Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld or a demonic biker priest?
Why do designers put religious imagery on clothing and accessories? Pious devotion or multicultural respect; inspiration from religious sources; a blundering accident, hubris or a desire to get attention by seeming outre--these are a few of the more prominent reasons, of course.
In the case of Karl Lagerfeld, the anticlerical message of his clerical garb might even reflect his most recent challenge to the fashion establishment itself, as he has just announced the first ever iTunes podcast of a top-tier runway show, to take place on February 10 for his eponymous Karl Lagerfeld line.
Lagerfeld is, of course, far from the first prominent figure to use religious symbols in a subversive fashion--his garb reflects an anticlerical tradition that extends back through a pronounced anticlerical strain in European art to Jesus' own inversion of temple imagery to challenge religious authorities.
But as Karl learned the hard way a few years ago, adorning clothes with spiritual references is not without its risks. In 1994 he embroidered clothing for Chanel with phrases from the Quran--accidentally, he claimed--leading to death threats against both him and supermodel Claudia Schiffer. He destroyed the clothes and apologized. A similar fate would soon await Quranic Liz Claibourne jeans and Nike shoes seemingly emblazoned with the Arabic for Allah.
A few years later Fida Na'amneha, a young designer who is Arab and a Muslim, similarly tempted fate by embroidering several attributes of Allah on a low-cut dress. Suffice it to say that despite her devout faith, she did not exactly receive flattering reviews.
The lesson of today's homily? As the Evil One himself once said, the purpose of life is life, so if you're going to be daring & transgressive with religious symbols, just do it with religions where you're not gonna get whacked!