Friday 22 September 2023

China is Criminalising Clothing ‘Hurtful to the Spirit and Sentiments of the Nation' ~ Could this Mean a Kimono Ban?

Ryo Yokitashi/Unsplash

By Antonia Finnane, University of Melbourne

In August 2022 a young woman wearing a yukata – a simple, summer-weight kimono – was having her photo taken on a street in picturesque Suzhou, China, when she was accosted by a police officer. Following an angry exchange, partly captured on her phone, she was arrested for disturbing the public peace.

The Suzhou Kimono Incident, as it came to be known, sparked an internet debate over the propriety of wearing kimonos and the legality of the policeman’s actions.

This was not the first time wearing a kimono in China had caused a furore, and it would not be the last. Another broke out in March this year, after a visitor to Nanjing, site of an infamous massacre by the Imperial Japanese Army in 1937, reported seeing a woman in a white kimono posing amidst the cherry blossoms in a Buddhist temple. He complained to the attendants, but they said it was merely a matter of ethics: after all, people were free to wear what they like.

That may soon change. A new draft law on public security published online at the beginning of this month includes a clause criminalising the wearing of clothes that might be “hurtful to the spirit and sentiments of the nation”. If the law is passed, offenders will face penalties of up to 5,000 yuan (A$1,000) and up to 15 days jail.

Draft laws, routinely posted for comment, rarely attract many responses. The response to this one has been huge, with around 100,000 submissions to date. Legal scholars in China have weighed in, pointing out the fuzziness of this clause and its openness to abuse by local law enforcers.

And as one Beijing lawyer intimated, the legislation seems directly aimed at the kimono.

A ‘hurtful’ kimono?

Half a century ago, the target of sartorial struggle in China was “strange clothing and outlandish dress” – tight pants were the example par excellence in the 1960s, succeeded by flares in the 1970s.

Such clothing was associated with the United States, the Soviet Union and Hong Kong, all sink-holes of decadence and natural enemies of China under Mao.

Things have changed. Soviet revisionists have morphed into Russian allies; Hong Kong has been swallowed up by the mainland; and with jeans and t-shirts now ubiquitous in China, the US is no longer open to attack on the sartorial front.

Enter Japan, with its spectacular array of distinctive cultural products, strong youth following across East Asia and a wartime history that since the 1980s has been leveraged to foment nationalism in China.

In 1980, Japanese movie star Nakano Ryoko received a rapturous welcome when she visited China. Over the next few years, Japan inspired and provided training for the first generation of post-Mao fashion designers, who helped lay the foundations for a now-flourishing industry.

In the mid-1980s, a fully accessorised kimono as a symbol of excellence in Japanese design was perfectly acceptable for publication in a Chinese magazine.

Simultaneously, however, a “new remembering” of Japanese wartime atrocities – specifically the Nanjing massacre – was emerging, soon to be endorsed by the ruling Communist Party. By the 1990s, a history that had been buried in the Mao years was being given full play.

All this helps explain the visceral responses to young Chinese women wearing kimonos today.

In April 2009, two high-impact films about the Nanjing massacre were released. Images of Japanese soldiers raping Chinese women were fresh in people’s minds when, in September, young model Ding Beili posted a photo of herself online wearing a kimono. She attracted a storm of criticism.

“With so many countries in the world to pick from,” asked one blogger, “why did she have to pick Japan?”

A Chinese woman in a kimono.
Kimonos are often worn at cosplay conventions, like this one in Nanjing in 2022. Leiem/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Why indeed? The answer lies in something else that came to China from Japan: cosplay, popular across East Asia. The girl of the Suzhou Kimono Incident was a cosplayer, performing a role from the Japanese anime Summer Time Rendering. Naturally, cosplayers view Japanese-inspired dress differently from their critics.

Among the great occasions for Chinese cosplay until recently were Japanese-style “summer festivals”, or matsuri. It was for a matsuri in Shanghai that Ding Beili donned a kimono in 2009. Increasingly popular in China in recent years, summer festivals were cancelled in at least seven cities in August 2022 under rising anti-Japanese sentiment.

Adding the US to the mix

The ultra-nationalist Hu Xijin, former editor of the Global Times, has dismissed the issue of the kimono in China as a matter of no consequence. “Little Japan,” in his view, is just “a lackey of the US”.

The US-Japan alliance undoubtedly exacerbates Chinese hostility towards Japan, a country that like Australia is an easier target for payback than the US. China’s response to the new tripartite agreement between Japan, South Korea and the US was to slap a ban on Japanese seafood imports, on stated grounds of health security.

The new draft law against “hurtful” dress was posted soon after the implementation of the seafood ban, leaving observers with a distinct impression of China as a place where people can neither eat Japanese fish nor wear Japanese clothes.

Older people must be reminded of a time half a century ago, when young people wearing “strange clothing and outlandish dress” were attacked on the streets, while seafood was hardly available at all.The Conversation

Antonia Finnane, Professor (honorary), The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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Monday 11 September 2023

Kate Barton is Redefining American Eveningwear with Innovation and Sustainability

Kate Barton's shimmering new SS24 collection with its gleaming accessories and innovative materials, presented in New York. Cover picture by Anna Nguyen 

One of the highlights of New York Fashion Week was the new Spring/Summer 2024 collection by American designer Kate Barton. Her unique blend of innovation, technology, avant-garde draping, and shape engineering has made her sleekly futuristic designs a standout, writes Isabella Lancellotti 

Glimmering and gossamer-fine,
the American designer's take on 
modern eveningwear
Kate Barton's new collection is testament to her commitment to transformative textiles and sustainable methods.
The result? Sculptural, airy silhouettes adorned with captivating textures that breathe life into her creations. 

This season's mix of separates and coordinated ensembles, launched at a presentation in New York, embodied her aims of providing "versatility and durability" in her designs.

Barton embraces a fabric-first philosophy that optimizes volume without resorting to unnecessary layering, resulting in a modern classicism that is both elegant and innovative. 

What makes Barton's creations exemplary are her materials and craftsmanship. The Spring/Summer 2024 collection features chrome leather accessories and magnetized detachable enhancements, creating the illusion of metal while still ensuring practical wearability. 

The introduction of crystal-encrusted sculptural belts adds a touch of opulence and whimsy, seamlessly blending sustainability, creativity, and unapologetic luxury. The designer wants to create a couture aesthetic with inventive sculptural garments, engineered materials, sustainable technology-driven cutting, and fabric manipulation. 

What makes Kate Barton's creations exemplary are her fresh ideas, experiments with unusual materials and fine craftsmanship

Exquisite draping and new 
materials make Barton's
 work a standout.  

Her unconventional material combinations push the boundaries of what is expected in eveningwear. Barton's work is an experiment, a journey into developmental fabric with new methods. 

During the pandemic, she had limited access to machinery and materials, which drove her to try out unusual materials and sustainable methods. 

The designer wants to redefine eveningwear but also advocates for positive change. Her profile has grown inside and outside the fashion world as she gains recognition from her peers and the high-profile women she has designed gowns for, from Heidi Klum and Kat Graham to Paige DeSorbo, and Wallis Day.

Kate Barton's vision for the future of American eveningwear is clear. She is eager to continue explore the nature of luxury fashion, bringing a modern approach not often seen in this sector. 

Her approach is refined each collection, as she evinces how  new technology and materials can be utilized without compromising on style and luxury. 

Scroll down to see more highlights from Kate Burtons SS24 Collection in New York

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Sunday 10 September 2023

New York Fashion Week: AREA'S Ready-to-Wear and Couture AW23 Collection

The clever trompe l'oeil fabric made to look like luxurious fur, created by AREA, as part of their new collection, shown at New York Fashion Week. Photographs courtesy of Arena

This season, New York label AREA's new collection explores sartorial choices throughout history, examining how fur was worn for survival and then evolved into a symbol of opulence. Creative director, Piotrek Panszczyk, reimagines traditional fur with printed textiles aiming to redefine luxury and transform it from an emblem of wealth into something more inclusive and contemporary, reports Antonio Visconti

It looks like fur but is a trompe l'oeil
version created by Area
AREA's innovative approach to recreating another version of fur
involved creating images in trompe l'oeil denim, fluid crepe viscose, and silk jacquard. Even vintage fur pelts were photocopied, and the artwork was printed onto different fabrics. 

Beyond the graphics of the textile design, the three-dimensional sense of fur was created with voluminous overcoats, scalloped, puffy skirts, jeans and dresses. The inspiration for the jewellery, an integral part of the collection, drew upon prehistory when bones were used as adornment. 

Bone shapes made of resin embellish the garments with some lacquered while others have Swarovski crystals and gleaming, silvery claws on suits, denim and gowns. 

"Our first exploration of bones was through hand-sculpting exaggerated bone-like shapes that are lacquered in resin enamel and encrusted with Swarovski rivoli crystals," explains Piotrek Panszczyk. 

"These bones are then knotted into dramatically draped couture gowns and abstract jewelry. We reimaged bones and skulls as adornments by crafting thousands of Swarovski crystals into bombé skull heads, bracelets, and colliers. 

Traditional fur is reimagined with printed textiles, with trompe l'oeil images on denim, fluid crepe viscose, and silk jacquard.

Resin bones encrusted with crystals 
become part of the fur-printed gown
"This technique was then translated through embroidered crystal and paillette cups on dresses, tops, and fully encrusted catsuits.

"We wanted to infuse a sense of savage beauty into the collection by creating hand-moulded jewellery claws that slice open elegant suiting pieces, body-hugging cocktail dresses, and slashed denim, offering a new take ‘distressing'." 

Area was founded in New York nine years ago by Piotrek Panszczyk and Beckett Fogg. The brand name was inspired by the famous Eighties Manhattan nightclub known for its performance art and high octane nights. 

The designers originally met as students at Parsons as both were completing a Masters in Fashion Design and Society. 

Fogg comes from Kentucky and Polish-born Panszczyk was brought up in Holland. Today, they not only explore innovative techniques and materials but also philosophical notions around beauty and femininity. 

See more highlights from the AREA AW23 collection below

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Monday 4 September 2023

The power of Needlework: How Embroidery is Helping South African Women Tell Their Stories

In her artwork for the project, Christine Leputla depicted victims of domestic violence fleeing their attacker

By Puleng Segalo, University of South Africa

In June 2020, three months after South Africa entered the first of a series of hard lockdowns to slow the spread of COVID, the country’s president Cyril Ramaphosa described men’s violence against women as a “second pandemic”.

In the first three weeks of that lockdown the Gender Based Violence Command Centre, designed to support victims of gender-based violence (GBV), recorded more than 120,000 victims. Also in its 2019/2020 crimes statistics, the South African Police Services indicated that an average of 116 rape cases were reported each day.

While South Africa’s GBV crisis is not new, it was exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, which made the perpetual challenges faced by many women and gender non-conforming individuals hyper visible.

This visibility sheds light on the reality that the home is a complex space where care and violence can co-exist. Women can feel simultaneously safe and in danger in their homes. All of this happens behind closed doors, often robbing women of a voice to express their fear, suffering and pain.

That affects more than just individual women: GBV is a collective, structural challenge. When women are violated at homes, it affects familial relations, productivity at work, and overall societal functioning.

I am a psychologist who wanted to harness the power of visual artistic expression to highlight the multi-layered ways in which gendered violence is woven into everyday encounters. To do so, I turned – as I have done in previous research – to embroidery.

As I have written in my previous research into the role of embroidery in empowering women’s storytelling, for this current work, I drew again from this methodology to visually tell the narrative of GBV in colourful and creative ways, paying attention to moments of encounters where those who perpetrate and those against whom the violence is perpetrated appear in the same frame. The visual artwork invites the viewer to witness. The hope is that beyond the witnessing is a call for action.

Everyday violence

An embroidery depicts a woman with blue hair, her eyes wide and frightened and her mouth covered by another person's hand
Evelyn Twala’s embroidery communicates fear and pain.

Beyond making visually appealing artwork, needlework has always been a useful tool to tell difficult or unspeakable stories. Through depicting their lived experiences of gender trauma, women can have an outlet for their pain. While their embroideries serve as a canvas for the outpouring of pain, loss and trauma, their work also tells stories of hope, resilience and resistance.

For this research I worked with the Intuthuko women’s collective. The group consists of 16 Black women based in one of the townships (these are historically Black urban residential areas) in Ekurhuleni in the Gauteng province. GBV in South Africa continues to affect Black women disproportionately, a reality rooted in history as well as in present systems.

The idea with this project was to let the visuals do the talking. So we did not focus on personal experiences, but an overview of the many ways in which GBV shows itself in our lives. I was part of the group and also contributed in making an embroidery piece. This allowed me to shift from being just a researcher and spectator to becoming a contributor in the process of thinking, reflecting and making. It was a collaborative endeavour where we came up with themes as a collective and then each focused on a particular theme for the making of the embroideries.

During the process of making the embroideries, we would share stories of how GBV constantly affects our communities, reflecting on the need to use these embroideries as a form of awareness raising, tool for community dialogues, and to challenge the patriarchal system that has rendered the world unsafe for women.

The aim was to highlight the multi-layered ways in which gendered violence is woven into everyday encounters. We sought to engage the ways in which creative meaning could be made of GBV in our communities – and how the challenges facing our society because of gendered violence could be given attention.

Perpetual fear

The embroideries depict a society where fear is manufactured, created, and produced by patriarchal and unjust structural violent systems. This in turn leads to women living in perpetual fear; they cannot feel safe within and outside of their homes.

Through our artistic visual depictions, we expressed how GBV creates a sense of women being regulated and controlled, and of not entirely owning their bodies.

Some embroideries featured women being violated and robbed in public places, reduced to kneeling down for mercy. The artworks highlighted women’s sense that the streets are not safe and that they are never sure whether they will make it back home safely.

An embroidery depicts a male figure groping a woman in a street alongside some houses. She is raising her hand to object.
Angela Mangte’s artwork captures women’s sense that they are not safe in the streets.

Feeling unsafe and in a constant state of fear makes it difficult for many women to exercise their agency: when society is structured in ways that make women victims, patriarchy prevails.

Staring reality in the face

These embroideries are not just pieces of visual art. They are a challenge to the viewer to stare the violence in the face with the hope that they will be compelled to reflect and to act.

The embroideries have been displayed at an art exhibition where the public could attend and engage with the pieces. We also produced a multilingual visual booklet which is being used in the women’s community and schools as a tool for opening up dialogues on GBV.The Conversation

Puleng Segalo, Chief Albert Luthuli Research Chair, University of South Africa

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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Monday 28 August 2023

Travel: Champagne is Deeply French ~ but the English Invented the Bubbles


By Garritt C Van Dyk, University of Newcastle

In 1889, the Syndicat du Commerce des Vins de Champagne produced a pamphlet promoting champagne at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, claiming that Dom Pérignon, procurator of the Benedictine Abbey of Hautvillers from 1668, was the “inventor”, “creator” or discoverer" of sparkling champagne.

“Come, Brothers! I drink stars!” is the famous quote often attributed to him.

The story of a blind monk having an epiphany, accidentally happening upon the secret to effervescence, was seductive. It combined divine revelation and French winemaking expertise to produce a national symbol deeply rooted in the French landscape.

However, the truth is slightly different. Dom Pérignon did contribute to improving the still wines of the Champagne region, but he did not discover effervescence – he was trying to get rid of the bubbles.

Jean François de Troy’s 1735 painting Le Déjeuner d'Huîtres (The Oyster Luncheon) is the first known depiction of champagne in painting. Wikimedia, CC BY

The champagne myth

The expo where the champagne myth was propagated marked the 100-year anniversary of Bastille Day and is best known for the debut of another icon of French culture, the Eiffel Tower. The Pérignon story gained traction at the same moment these other symbols of nation-building reinforced the uniqueness of French culture and history.

The basis for the myth can be traced to a letter from Dom Grossard of Hautvillers Abbey to the mayor of Aÿ, in the heart of the Champagne region. Grossard claimed that Pérignon had perfected the method for making perfectly white wine from pinot noir grapes (blanc de noirs), pioneered the technique for effervescence, and championed the use of bottles and corks.

Only the first of these claims is true. At the abbey, wooden stoppers and canvas soaked in grease were used to seal bottles, and French glass was too weak to contain the pressure from effervescence. A bigger problem was that French winemakers – and consumers – considered bubbles a fault, a trick to distract the drinker from bad wine.

Prominent French wine merchant Bertin de Rocheret advised a client who inquired about sparkling wine:

effervescence obscures the best characteristics of good wines, in the same way that it improves wines of lesser quality.

Bubbles, bottles and corks

The method for effervescence, strong glass bottles and the use of corks all came from England in the 17th century. English consumers imported wine in barrels from France because bottles were taxed at a higher rate than wine imported in bulk.

The wines often deteriorated during the journey across the channel and once opened, they oxidised quickly, developing an unpleasant flavour. To improve the taste, consumers added honey, syrup made from raisins or sugar. The additional sugar content caused a secondary fermentation – and effervescence.

In 1662, Christopher Merrett, a founder of the Royal Society, published a paper titled “Some Observations Concerning the Ordering of Wines”, in which he described the method for effervescence:

Our winecoopers of latter times use vast quantities of sugar and molasses to all sorts of wines, to make them drink brisk and sparkling, and to give them spirits, as also to mend their bad tastes.

To produce sparkling wine and retain the effervescence, three things are necessary: bubbles, strong glass bottles and corks.

Merrett’s method provided the fizz, and corks were already used in England for bottling cider and perry. Strong glass in England was a by-product of a prohibition on using wood in industrial furnaces, decreed by King James I in 1615.

Timber was too valuable to be burned for glassmaking, reserved for building ships for the merchant fleet. Using sea coal, English glass furnaces reached higher temperatures and produced stronger glass. These bottles could withstand pressure (as much as a car tyre) without bursting.

Statue of Dom Pérignon at Moët et Chandon. Wikipedia

The paradox?

The only ingredient the English lacked was wine, prompting French wine historians to refer to their contribution as “The English Paradox”. How could a country with no winemaking tradition pioneer the technique for effervescence? The “paradox” label, however, only makes sense if the traditions and standards of French winemaking are presumed to be superior.

Bound by tradition, French winemakers were unwilling to contemplate a fault as a desirable innovation. Driven by necessity, and without any winemaking rules, English consumers were free to experiment.

But necessity was only part of the equation – English culture did play a part in the success of effervesce. Reserving timber for the English fleet made for stronger glass, and cider and perry production provided corks to seal the bottles.

The French champagne industry now claims effervescence was not invented, but is a natural product of the soil and climate in a strictly defined region.

Natural fermentation does produce some fizz, but rarely enough to pop a cork without the intervention of a winemaker. The emphasis on nature reinforces the exclusivity and unique geographic attributes to distinguish champagne from all other sparkling wines.

A more complex history of the origin of effervescence challenges preconceptions about national identity, even in matters of taste. This does not diminish champagne’s luxury status, but it does reveal the influence of cultural traditions on innovation, and the many influences that pave the way to novelty.The Conversation

Garritt C Van Dyk, Lecturer, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

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Monday 21 August 2023

Interested, Curious and Empathetic, Michael Parkinson Helped Bridge the Gap Between Australia and England

AAPImage/Network Ten

By Lea Redfern, University of Sydney

Michael Parkinson demonstrated the art of the good interview night after night. He practised deep listening, giving his interviewee his full attention, but he was always aware of the audience. While he was asking questions on behalf of the audience and advocating for the audience, he always had the person he was interviewing as his focus.

As host of Parkinson (1971–82 and 1998–2007) and Parkinson in Australia (1979–83), he was a big presence on Australian TV. He was television the whole family could watch together, never unsuitable for children.

We may not have understood everything, and some references went over our head, but as children we could watch Parkinson with our parents. I remember as a young person regularly watching him and hoping the interview would be funny that week.

There were times you knew it was going to be hilarious. When Billy Connolly or “our” Dame Edna were going to appear it was a must-watch.

Whoever the interviewee, Parkinson brought out their stories, their observations. He gave them space to share engaging stories and never stepped on a punchline. Although humour was a draw card for the audience, there was space for pathos, too.

Finding the shape

Parkinson was an interviewer of great skill. He could be a presence, but never pull focus from the interviewee. He was deeply empathetic, and always in control of the interview.

The form of the interview was always satisfying: he knew how to draw a narrative through the length of the program. When interviewing three people at once, he knew how to be fair and have a balance between everyone and their stories. He made this appear effortless.

From 1979 to 2014 he frequently worked in Australia across the ABC, Channel Ten and Channel Nine.

For a generation of ten pound passage immigrants, he represented the best of the old country: he was never patronising, never spoke down to people, and helped to bridge the gap between Australia and England. He was able to bring us the best of British and Australian interviewees alike, affirming Australia’s international standing in the arts and culture.

When speaking to Australian politicians, sports stars and actors he was always deeply interested and deeply curious. He could reflect us back to ourselves without any of the cultural cringe so evident in the media of the time. The affection Australians felt for him is shown in the diminutive “Parky”.

An authentic voice

Born in Yorkshire in 1935, Parkinson didn’t attend university, starting his career working for newspapers straight out of school. It was perhaps this start which aided in his plain speaking common sense and ability to talk to ordinary people. You got the sense he could speak to anybody. There was no putting on a persona; he was always authentically him.

Today, this authentic self is seen in many of our best interviewers. We know how important it is curiosity and authenticity drive the interview – Parkinson was doing this decades before others recognised its importance.

When I started in radio, I looked towards Parkinson as the gold standard. I admired how he was able to draw people out and reveal so much of themselves. He demonstrated how the media could go beyond the soundbite.

So much of the media of the time was about context-free news and current affairs journalism. Although his interviews were with celebrities, he showed people might share more of themselves and the world if they’re given time and space to speak. Parkinson gave us a fuller, richer sense of the people he spoke to.

His legacy in Australia can be seen in people like Andrew Denton, Richard Fidler and Sarah Kanowski – long form interviews driven by curiosity.

Some people have been describing Parkinson’s death as the end of an era, but his legacy will live on. When we look at shows like ABC Conversations, and so many longform podcasts, we find curious interviewers who, like Parkinson, build a relationship and find a connection with an interviewee. A soundbite might show up on TikTok or YouTube – but you have to do the longform interview to get there.

Perhaps one of the best demonstrations of this was Parkinson’s interview with Ian Thorpe. In the 2014 interview, Thorpe came out publicly for the first time, and spoke about his depression and use of drugs and alcohol.

Without the relationship Parkinson was able to build over the course of the interview, it is doubtful Thorpe would have felt comfortable to come out in the same way. Parkinson was always interested in giving people the opportunity to reveal themselves.

That Thorpe felt Parkinson’s show was a safe space to come out says something about the tenor of his relationship with his interviewees and his place in Australian culture.

There for the audience

His few missteps seemed to be with women. As I grew older, I realised he was a man of his time, as was made obvious in his awkward interviews with Meg Ryan and Helen Mirren. In these interviews, his occasional awkwardness around gender is writ large, and the interviews go off the rails. He fails to develop his famous rapport and adjust his approach in response to their discomfort.

But given the length of his career, the rarity of these missteps is still impressive. His geniality and quiet generosity came across night after night, for decades.

What defined him more than anything was how he was inclusive of his audience. No matter how complex the ideas or how smart the person he was interviewing, the audience was brought along with them. He was there on our behalf, and able to ask the clarifying questions without worrying about his own ego.

He represents an age of Australian and British relationships in a way that is truly singular and his interviews are artefacts of that age. He was an interiewer who stood out for not having to stand out, and the delights and possibilities of the long-form interview are his legacy.The Conversation

Lea Redfern, Lecturer, Discipline of Media and Communications, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

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