Best of Catherynne M. Valente’s “Deathless”

Catherynne M. Valente is one of my favourite writers of all time. I have read almost everything she has written. She’s a feminist, her books always have queer characters, and her writing is nothing short of magic. She’s pretty much The Closet Feminist dream.

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Here are some of my favourite quotes from her book Deathless.

When Marya saw something extraordinary again, she would be ready. She would be clever. She would not let it ruler her or trick her. She would do the tricking, if tricking was called for. (p.24)

When I am Tsarita, I will break all these machines and I will set them free. (p.110)

A marriage is a private thing. It has its own wild laws, and secret histories, and savage acts, and what passes between married people is incomprehensible to outsiders. We look terrible to you, and severe, and you see our blood flying, but what we carry between us is hard-won, and we made it just as we wished it to be, just the color, just the shape. (p.215-216)

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This house, she knew. It stayed within her as it had always been, the architecture of her girlhood. The wood held the oils of her skin deep in its grain; the windows still bore the imprint—long gone, invisible—of her tiny nose. (p.239)

I cannot make you understand that I forgive you, that I know you loved both he and I, the way a mother can love two sons. And no one should be judged for loving more than they ought, only for loving not enough, which was my crime. (p.320)

Feminist Designers: Strange Women Society

The Closet Feminist’s third instalment of Feminist Designers interviews Whitney, founder and head designer for Indianapolis-based Strange Women Society. SWS promises “curious good for curious folk,” and is inspired by all things magic and strange.

What inspired you to start your line Strange Women Society?

The catalyst for Strange Women Society was the frustration I felt with my day job designing items that didn’t really interest me, and oftentimes felt like the antithesis of what I wanted to create.

This boredom/frustration lead me to creating a few textile art pieces for a local art gallery. The piece I made for the show was titled Strange Women, and was centred on the idea of the wild woman, the witchy woman, and the mysteries and myths that surround womanhood and femininity. Thoughts and ideas on this concept snowballed, and I ended up with more designs than I had time to create.

Most found themselves in a sketchbook that was unearthed a few weeks later resurrecting my enthusiasm for the project.

In talking to several woman that connected with the pieces I had made, I realized that maybe there WERE other weirdos out there like me who often felt removed from normality, but who didn’t see this as a negative. I decided to make some of the ideas in my sketchbook happen, and hoped that other people would connect with them in some small way. I didn’t really have a clear vision of what I wanted to create, I just knew I wanted to make strange items for my fellow strange ladies, giving them a space to celebrate their strangeness.

What is it about fashion that inspires your feminist activism?

I think fashion is a perfect place to see both the failures and successes of our culture when it comes to equality. There are obvious issues with representation in the fashion industry. Let’s be real, this sucks… but at the same time I’ve witnessed so many small indie labels breaking the stereotypical mould and showing what the fashion industry could be in the future, and this excites me.

Industry aside, fashion from a personal perspective can also be incredibly revolutionary. Wearing something to purposely challenge a societal expectation is a very visible way to confront outdated ideas and expectations.

Even something that seems simple (you know, just wearing whatever the hell you want) can be incredibly liberating on a personal level. Apples, hourglasses, pears, whatever, it’s ridiculous the amount of pressure that is put on us to feel we have to dress a certain way. At the end of the day, who cares, be revolutionary. Be an apple, wear a body con dress, be a man, wear a miniskirt, be a size 22, wear short shorts. Making the decision to stop allowing the fashion industry or beauty magazines to tell us what is okay and what is wrong is an act of revolution in and of itself.

In your opinion, what is the future of feminism within the fashion and personal style sphere?

There is so much momentum in the self-love and sister love movements within the indie fashion sector that I think it’s only going to continue growing. My hope for the future is that more and more people will be able to find clothes they like, will see themselves represented in more brands, and will feel comfortable enough to wear what they want.

What is currently inspiring you as a designer?

I’m always moved by the idea of the mysterious or mythic, so both old and new interpretations of this has always intrigued me. I’ve also always been fascinated by the illustrations and poetry of Edward Gorey.

What have you learned working on Strange Women Society that you couldn’t have learned anywhere else?

How to run a business! I didn’t originally set out to start a business, and I have to be honest in saying that it is so much more work than I could have imagined.

I think the romance of starting your own business, especially in a creative field, typically focuses on the creative end. Making a thing, having other people enjoy the thing, and getting paid for the thing. People don’t often day dream about the late nights trying to figure out inventory, or trying to figure out your taxes at 6 am after three consecutive days without sleep. I love it. It’s hard, really hard, and I’m still learning, but it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

Oh! Also! I’ve learned that there are so many rad, supportive women, and artist communities online. I’m not a social media buff in my personal life, so I had no idea these communities existed until I got involved on Instagram with Strange Women Society. I’m honestly in awe of the other incredibly talented, kind, and supportive people I’ve met, and I can’t say enough good things about the community I’ve found on Instagram.

What is next for  Strange Women Society?

Currently I’m working on building a new site, designing more accessories, and teaming up with other awesome artists for a few collaboration items to be added late summer/early fall!

Do you have any advice for folks seeking to start a feminist business?

Just do it. There are going to be a million reasons why you can talk yourself out of doing something you want to do. Don’t let that happen. All of your insecurities will resurface, and you will more than likely fail a few times, but it’s okay. Just keep moving forward. Doing something, keeping with continual forward movement, is the best way to accomplish whatever it is that you are trying to do. Feeling the fear and uncertainty and not allowing that to stop you is the most important thing I’ve ever learned to do.

Women seem to be totally dominating the rise of awesome pin designs. Why do you think that is?

Women are amazing artists! I also think that there is this message of supporting each other and lifting each other up that’s allowed for the rise of so many talented women in the field of pin design.

Instead of competition there is an amazing community of women who have already achieved success in their industry, helping other talented women achieve success, too. There was never a lack of talented women artists, I just think that the atmosphere as of late has allowed for an explosion of incredible designers to be seen and find success among the online communities.

Strange Women Society seems to rely a lot on the idea of a girl gang. What makes the concept of a girl gang important to your work?

Everything! The concept of a girl gang reminds me of the riot grrrl or girl power movements of times past: the idea that we can all be successful. That another woman’s success, talent, or beauty doesn’t take away from our own; it’s not a threat, you know? We should be celebrating our successes, and I think this concept is central to the idea of a girl gang. Sticking together, lifting each other up, celebrating each other’s achievements.  

 

Check out Strange Women Society’s awesome Instagram here.

Want to show your love for Strange Women? Check out their online shop here.

 

All images used with permission from Strange Women Society

Feminist Designers: Vancouver’s own Only Child Apparel

Welcome to The Closet Feminist’s new series, Feminist Designers! This interview series will be focusing on the work and designs of clothing labels and fashion designers that explicitly identify as feminist. 

I am super-excited to kick off this series with Madison Reid of Only Child Apparel, a feminist t-shirt company based right here in Vancouver. Reid discusses the importance of diversity in fashion, giving back to her communities through her work, and what is next for this awesome local line.

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The Closet Feminist: What inspired you to start your line Only Child Apparel?

Madison Reid: I was volunteering at WAVAW (Women Against Violence Against Women) while working at a custom t-shirt company, and would daydream about making my own feminist designs.

I did searches online and found the feminist shirt market was seriously lacking in stylish designs. I consider myself a fashionable person, and I’m a graphic designer who loves great typography. I wanted to make shirts that people wouldn’t want to throw out after wearing one time. 

I was terrified to take my Etsy shop live. I had such anxiety about putting myself out there. I took the risk, opened the shop with just 2 designs, shared it on Instagram, and it has been an unbelievably rewarding experience. My first Etsy sale was December 2013, maybe a month or so after I opened it. The following December I made my 100th sale.

I wanted to try this as a fun hobby to do outside of my full time job, and it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve sold shirts to people all over the world, and I love knowing there’s a person all the way in South Carolina, Germany, or New Zealand who cares about the issues I care deeply about. And now they own a piece of my art!

Why did you choose the name “Only Child Apparel”?

I didn’t want to spend too much time thinking on the name of my brand, so I named it after myself; I’m an only child. I also didn’t want to give it an overtly feminist name. I wanted to keep it neutral.

What is it about fashion that inspires your feminist activism?

Wearing a political statement on your body lets others know who you are, what you care about, and that they are not alone. It can connect you to others. It can inspire you to keep fighting, and it reminds you that you are not alone. We are working collectively to change the world.

I’ve had the occasional comment on Instagram from anti-feminists who stop by to say “Wearing a shirt that says ‘Smash The Patriarchy’ does absolutely nothing.” Yeah, no, I disagree with that. I feel like the people who say this are the same people who declare that we have achieved equality in the West—it’s easy to say that when you’re a white, heterosexual, cisgender male. Try saying that to a transgender woman, a Muslim woman, or an overweight woman, and they might tell you a different story.

There are obviously many other ways to be a feminist activist that are more impactful than what I’m doing. This is the path that inspires me most and is how I want to contribute. I’ve learned from this experience that if/when I quit the shirt biz and move onto something else, I am an activist and will keep making feminist art.

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In your opinion, what is the future of feminism within the fashion and personal style sphere?

Our generation is very conscious of our impact on the planet. We want to make our purchases thoughtfully. You see more brands popping up that say their clothing is ethically made in the US or Canada, and I consider that feminist fashion. More gender neutral clothing brands would be considered feminist fashion, as well as more inclusive choices of models in fashion shows. I think some great things have been happening in the fashion industry recently in regards to all of these.

What have you learned working on Only Child Apparel that you couldn’t have learned anywhere else?

I had no idea what this project would bring to my life. It has made me into a business person. It has forced me to push through the fear, because in doing so I might be rewarded by connecting with people in ways I never thought possible. I’ve suddenly connected with friends over Facebook I haven’t seen in years, because it turns out they care about gender equality too.

It has taught me self care because there truly are days I’m too overwhelmed with life and I just need to take a social justice break, and not look at my Facebook or Instagram. This experience has taught me a lot about pushing past those anxious feelings, even though I have them a lot. I have so much fear when I expose my heart [through my designs]. I get anxious about being targeted by a troll. I fear crossing the line and offending someone. I get anxious asking people to model for me. Occasionally, I get so overwhelmed I just want to cash in my chips and run out the door.

We are living in a difficult yet exciting time. When I started the Instagram account for Only Child Apparel, I followed a bunch of accounts that share feminist memes, and I eventually realized that the majority of them are run by teenagers. I felt a bit funny following them because I’m a wee bit older, but I couldn’t help but be blown away by these kids. There’s a community of enlightened, informed, and motivated teens who share amazing posts about self love, gender identity, race, etc. They are so fed up with the bulls**t patriarchal system. What’s with all this trashing of millennials these days? I wish I had been that smart when I was sixteen!

[Ultimately,] working on Only Child Apparel has taught me to focus on the positive rather than the negative because the positive truly always outweighs the negative.

Finally, I’m beyond fortunate to have friends who support me tremendously.

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What is a typical day for you as the head designer and founder of Only Child Apparel?

I work a day job, so that’s usually what I’m doing Mon-Fri, and I make a few trips to the post office after work each week. Evenings often involve Twitter searches (love/hate it) for interesting articles I can share on Facebook. I use Facebook for more thought-provoking topics that I might say a few words on. Instagram is mostly just for sharing brand pictures or silly stuff. A couple nights a week I will browse Pinterest for inspiration for new designs, or for my photo shoots. I sketch in my sketchbook some nights; the majority of my designs for Only Child Apparel have been hand lettered.

I did a couple markets in 2014/2015, but because of the political content of what I’m selling, and my tendency to get a bit flustered when I’m met with hostility, I haven’t done one in over a year. The trendier markets in Vancouver serve alcohol, and I’m not interested in a hostile confrontation with someone who has been drinking.

What is next for Only Child Apparel?

I’m at a crossroads with this business. I didn’t know what to expect when I first started, and since this has been so successful and rewarding it’s given me pause to think about where I want to take this.

I think I want to start making this into a fashion brand, not just t-shirts. I did, in fact, study fashion design at VCAD when I first moved to Vancouver in 2010… for about 8 weeks, then remembered I hate sewing, and decided to study graphic design instead.

I have really talented friends I made in school that keep me connected to the world of fashion. They are very aware of some of the ludicrousness of the fashion industry, and want to do good things like make the industry more inclusive. I want to think I’ll collaborate with them at some point.

I want to do more local, handmade clothing. Possibly vintage items and non-clothing items. Collaborating more with other artists. Just about anything is possible, I guess!

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Do you have any advice for folks seeking to start a feminist business?

I think it’s important to really think about what feminism means to you and what about your business is feminist. Is it just your product or service, or how it’s also made? Is it your brand’s mission statement? Does your business acknowledge all of these things? Since I started this business, I’ve learned a lot more about feminism that I wish I had known then, and I’m evolving my brand as time goes on because of this.

I think having a thick skin can be beneficial if you would really like to join a debate, or fight to have your voice heard while running a feminist business. Anti-feminists can believe all the anti-feminist memes they have created as they want; I know that feminists are some of the most compassionate and caring human beings on this planet. Fully embracing my identity as one has made me a better person.

I admire activists who are out there shutting down the ignorance and not letting the pushback get them down, because it’s tough. But in the end, any harassment (online or offline) is just proof that misogyny is still alive and well and that feminism is thusly needed.

Only Child Apparel donates a portion of every sale to a local rape crisis centre. What inspired you to do this?

I felt that if I want to call my brand ‘feminist’ it needs to be more than just feminist slogans. I need to consider my role in feminism as a business person. Donating to WAVAW was the most obvious choice for me. They are the organization that gave me my empowered awakening nearly four years ago. WAVAW staff were among the first to buy shirts from me when I started making them. They brought an amazing network of women into my life, and I don’t know what I would do without them. The world is a better place for having an organization like them offering their services and supporting women. They are life changers. Donating to them is the least I could do. I’m not into running half-marathons, so I need to contribute a different way.

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Body positivity and inclusivity seems to be a big part of Only Child Apparel’s design philosophy. Why is this important to your designs?

I wanted these shirts to embrace intersectional feminism’s message of embracing everyone; not just through t-shirt slogans, but by how my brand presents itself and involves people from the movement. I could be doing better with the inclusive sizing with the shirts: this is a work in progress.

Intersectional feminism is tackling sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, fat oppression and ableism (to name a few). If I only use models who would be considered ‘traditional’ (tall and skinny), how can I really say I care about representation when I won’t do it myself?

Intersectional feminism is tackling sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, fat oppression and ableism (to name a few). If I only use models who would be considered ‘traditional’ (tall and skinny), how can I really say I care about representation when I won’t do it myself? I want models of different genders, races, and body types to appear in my work because these people exist and are beautiful too. 

I will mention that I know that I am white and blonde, and so I am included in the narrow type of woman that is often represented [in fashion]. I do model for my shirts a lot. I feel comfortable putting my face all over my brand, and I am obviously the most readily-available to appear in photos for my work. However, we have already seen women that look like me many times before. Representation is so important because our society is so quick to dismiss that other types of people exist. 

There are a lot of brands jumping on the female empowerment bandwagon. I see lots of fun shirts on trendy consumer sites where they still have size 0 models. There’s nothing radical about [these advertisements] and it’s clearly just to capitalize on what’s popular at this very moment.

Anything else you would like Closet Feminist readers to know about Only Child Apparel?

My photos are taken by Jackie Dives of http://jackiedivesphoto.com, who is so talented, so accommodating and so disarming. She did a series of photos on menstruation that were featured in Vice!

Want more of Only Child Apparel? Check out their social media and Etsy shop here:

Instagram: @onlychildapparel

Facebook: http://www.fb.com/onlychildapparel

Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/OnlyChildApparel

All photos used with permission from Only Child Apparel.

Covers & Content Annual Review 2014, Part 2: Fashion

2014 has come to a close, so it’s time to look back on every issue printed this year by Canada’s three top fashion magazines: Elle Canada, Fashion, and Flare, to see how diverse they were overall and compared to last year.

This review will be divided into three parts (one for each magazine), just like we did last year. Posting will be done alphabetically, Part 1 focused on Elle Canada can be found here.

For a review of this project, please check out the FAQ page here.

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Unlike its competitor, Elle Canada, Fashion, Canada’s top fashion magazine (seriously–Fashion has six times the Twitter followers than Elle Canada or Flare does) actually managed to have a cover star of colour this year–Zoe Saldana starred on the cover and got a proper cover story for their August issue. This is actually one less than what they had last year, so a bit of a step back. That being said, at least Fashion didn’t do a yellow-face spread this year!

January

Fashion never puts out an individual January issue, instead they combine their December and January issues together. As such, the stats for their Winter issue, comprising December 2013 and January 2014 will sound familiar. It’s a Whiteout Issue, with Courtney Love on the cover, and two editorials, both starring thin, white models.

February 

February was a Whiteout Issue, with two editorials starring thin, white models and Lady Gaga on the cover.

March 

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Above: Mackenzie Hamilton representing in the March issue of Fashion

The March issue starred Canadian actress (and out-loud-and-proud feminist!) Jessica Paré. This issue had two editorials. The first was status quo, the second starred mixed-race model Mackenzie Hamilton.

April

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Above: Told ya so!

The April issue had two editorials. The first starred one thin, black model, and a white male model in the nude. So that was mildly entertaining. The second editorial starred one thin, white model. Cobie Smulders was on the cover.

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Above: Another image from the same April editorial–this one’s a little questionable, hmm?

May

A crying shame the May issue was a Whiteout Issue, because it was really good! Teen heroine/feminist Lorde was on the cover, and there were two editorials. Both were status quo, except the first starred Linda Rodin who is in her sixties. While Rodin may be much older than the models we usually see, its important to remember that she is still both thin and white.

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Above: Linda Rodin models for the May issue of Fashion

Elsewhere the May issue shines for its reporting on fashion for women who are physically dis/abled. The Teen Titans special, focusing on young women making a difference is also an excellent read.

June/July

Fashion combines its June and July issues into a “Summer” issue. Too bad this Whiteout Issue was on the stands for two months being so woefully status quo, with Elle Fanning on the cover and one editorial starring one thin, white model.

August

It wasn’t until August that Fashion finally decided to put a woman of colour on their cover, and that woman is Zoe Saldana.

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Above and below: No, it’s not my typically-lazy scanning practices, the models’ faces are just cut off in the pictures

Saldana’s presence seemed to inspire more diversity, as there were two editorials. The first was a little tricky–the models were unnamed in the magazine, and for the most part their faces were cut off in the editorial except for two occasions where you can see one thin, black model, and one thin, white model. There seems to be other models involved, but as you can see from the scan above its a little hard to tell.

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Above: It’s hard to tell if this editorial was a Token Diversity Spread, but we’ll give Fashion the benefit of the doubt and say no, its not.

The second editorial starred two models, both of them thin and white.

September

The September issue was a Whiteout Issue, and its pretty transparent that Fashion didn’t want to have another cover star of colour because Lana Del Rey was on the cover, and she was on Fashion’s cover in the Summer issue of 2013 as well–not that long at all between covers on the same magazine.

The rest of the issue was thin on inspiration–just one editorial (for a September issue, no less!), starring one thin, white model.

October

Fashion‘s October issue was particularly laughable. It was a Whiteout Issue, with Blake Lively on the cover and two editorials, both starring one thin, white model each.

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Above: A scan of the Stella Jean article in Fashion’s October issue, which should have been the cover story in my opinion.

Lively’s “cover story” was particularly damning for Fashion because, like the September issue, it shows the lengths to which a magazine will go to to avoid hiring a cover star of colour. To wit:

1. Lively’s cover story is unusually short for Fashion, which generally has the longest pieces of the three major Canadian fashion magazines, and Lively’s story is a page.

2. There are no unique pictures of her in it, just a collage of existing photos.

3. The beginning of the interview reveals that the reporter literally had very little time with her, it seems like they spoke with her for a 15-minute window amidst a crowd of other people.

4. The article doesn’t actually have Lively’s voice in it much at all–it’s reads like a short bio of her

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Above: Also of note, Fashion did this editorial x Cirque Du Soleil spread, but all I could think of was this article

Bottom line, Fashion threw together this scanty cover story rather than, like, go out and find another celebrity to interview. It’s a crying shame they will go to these lengths to make an entire cover story out of nothing at all for a celebrity with blonde hair and blue eyes rather than pick up phone and book someone else. Interestingly, the October issue features an interview with Stella Jean, a supremely-talented fashion designer who always comes across as very well-spoken, engaging, and articulate. Why didn’t they just give her the cover instead? Probably cuz racism.

November

November saw to another Whiteout Issue for Fashion. Taylor Swift was on the cover, and there were two status quo editorials–yawn. The only saving grace of this issue is that they did an Oscar special and talked to a bunch of cool feminist actresses like Keira Knightley, Julianne Moore, and Felicity Jones.

December

Fashion finished their year how they started it–with a Whiteout Issue. As this “Winter” issue comprises both the December 2014 issue and January 2015 issue, it means that Fashion started 2015 with a Whiteout Issue, too. Evangeline Lilly is on the cover, and there is one editorial starring one thin, white model. All’s status quo that ends status quo, it seems.

 RECAP

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Above is a table of how each 2014 issue of Fashion fared in terms of diversity this past year.

Fashion put out eleven issues this year, though only one featured a cover star of colour.

Of these eleven issues, eight of them were Whiteout Issues.

Fashion put out 18 fashion editorials in 2014. There wasn’t a ‘plus’ size model any where in sight this year for Fashion. Of these 18, 3 editorials starred models of colour. August might have had a Token Diversity Spread, but as we can’t see all of the models’ faces, we’ll give Fashion the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s not a Token Diversity Spread.

Overall, Fashion‘s diversity stats are definitely lower than last year–In 2013, Fashion had two cover stars of colour, and 5 editorials featured models of colour. Let’s see if they can turn it around for 2015.

Chanel Spring 2015 x Feminism/Fauxminism

So you have probably heard by now that the Chanel Spring 2015 show closed with a “feminist protest”. Refinery29 and Jezebel call bullsh*t,The Cut veers on snarky, and Fashionista and StyleList Canada bought it, . Here are a few things to keep in mind about this show.

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Above: Lindsay Wixson closes the Chanel Spring 2015 show

1. The show opened (Cara Delevingne) and closed (Lindsay Wixson) with white models. Opening and closing a show is a big deal, much like gracing a magazine cover or being the sole model for an editorial–its the roles that count, more than anything else. After all, do you ever hear a model being praised for being the fourth or seventeenth to strut down the runway? Didn’t think so.

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Above: Malaika Firth modeling in the Chanel Spring 2015 show

2. By our count, there were 86 looks shown in this show. 15 were worn by models of colour–roughly 17%.

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3. Did the show raise awareness or mock a movement? The signs seem to be a pretty mixed bag.

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4. That being said, do all feminist protest signs necessarily have to be somehow super-serious, intellectual, or academic?

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5. You know that a lot of designers don’t actually walk down the end of the runway? They seem to just give a quick wave from the wings. Not Karl though…he apparently likes to be front and centre of protests being applauded by women-or is he walking alongside them in this case?

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6. Keep in mind that though she had some seriously anti-Semitic dealings, Coco Chanel was actually quite the feminist icon. Is the house of Chanel carrying the banner or burning the flag with this show?

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