Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Christopher Kane taps the British government to make a nuclear fashion statement

christopher kane Resort 2010/

You may recall the furore over Kate Sylvester’s use of war medals in the styling of her 2008 Rosemount Australian Fashion Show in Sydney. Well frockwriter can’t help wondering if Scottish fashion darling Christopher Kane might be heading down a similar path. Overnight, prominent fashion website gushed over images of Kane’s “first-ever pre-collection” on its homepage, complete with headline, “It’s the bomb”. The collection’s mushroom cloud graphics were sourced, at least according to - which is owned by Condé Nast, calls itself the online home of Vogue and is regarded as an authority, so we must assume that the details are correct - from “free public-access photos” on the UK Ministry of Defence website. Kane told the website, “I wanted something natural, but I'm so fed up with florals. And then I came across these images of nuclear test explosions from the fifties to the seventies on the Internet. I like the crazy-bright chemical colors. The way they're sinister—but beautiful". UPDATE 15/6: SEVENTY THOUSAND WERE NUKED IN NAGASAKI. NOW YOU CAN BUY THE T-SHIRT FROM CHRISTOPHER KANE.

screen grab/

On her collection review,’s senior fashion critic, Sarah Mower, a Brit, makes the following quip:

“The dresses in Christopher Kane's first-ever pre-collection radiate instant-appeal commerciality in just enough of a subversive way to be interesting”.

christopher kane Resort 2010/

There are potentially several problems with this. It is interesting that noone sought to clarify the details.

Firstly, if you decide to use images of nuclear testing to make some kind of artistic or political statement, why not get a designer to conjure up exclusive graphics? Kane makes no mention of a political statement, simply that he was jack of florals.

Secondly, there’s the issue of copyright. Here are the MOD's terms and conditions for the use of the images in its database:

“The material featured on this website is subject to Crown Copyright protection unless otherwise indicated. The material may be downloaded to file or printer for the purposes of non-commercial research and private study.

Any other proposed use of the material is subject to a copyright licence available from the Ministry of Defence in accordance with standard Crown Copyright licensing policy”.

Frockwriter was unable to locate the images which Kane claims to have used for the graphics in the MOD database. It's unclear if, due to the time frame, any British government images from the 1950s would be considered public domain.

Did Kane seek permission to use the images for commercial purposes or was he just "inspired" by them, in the same way that Shepherd Fairey was directly inspired by an Associated Press image of Barack Obama for Fairey's iconic HOPE poster of the 2008 US presidential campaign? The case became mired in controversy.

In the extremely unlikely scenario that the MOD in fact licensed Kane to reproduce military imagery to make nuclear war a fashion statement, a number of people would most likely have issues with this.

Starting with the Atomic Veterans Group: 1000 British, New Zealand, Fijian and Australian war veterans who, just last Friday, won a five-year battle to sue the British government for compensation over a raft of health problems which they claim are the direct result of exposure to radiation during the government’s atomic tests in the South Pacific and Australia between 1952 and 1958.

Although the majority of the group is British, it includes 200 New Zealanders, 180 Fijians and approximately 30 Australians.

The retired servicemen were among 25,000 forces who were exposed to the tests. Air and naval servicemen were, reportedly, ordered to pass close to the testing, with ground forces provided with scant protection.

Earlier hearings concluded that the British government and military administration of the day had withheld information about the dangers of the testing.

Don James, who was stationed on Christmas island during five tests in 1958, told The Guardian on Friday:

"We had no special kit. They just told us to turn your back to the blast and cover your eyes. You could see the bones in your fingers."

Friday’s High Court ruling has also greenlit the compensation claims of hundreds of other Australian, New Zealand and Fijian war veterans who participated in the testing program.

Update 11.00pm: Comment is being sought from both Kane and the UK Ministry of Defence, the latter nevertheless confirming that a license would definitely be required for use of the images. The MOD is looking into whether or not this was obtained by Kane.

Neil Sampson, a partner of the London-based Rosenblatt Solicitors, who has led the Atomic Veterans Group case, said he would be "astounded" to learn that the MOD licensed the images to Kane - or that Kane's use of the atomic test images at this time was coincidental.

"In June 2009, when the UK Ministry of Defence's role in the development of atomic warfare is on the front pages of newspapers throughout the world, it seems a little cynical" Sampson told frockwriter. "But I could ask, since when has advertising not been cynical and opportunistic?"


Emma said...

It reminds me a bit of the prints used in Ksubi's Summer 07/08 collection "Said The Rainbow To The Apolocypse". I will always love skyscape/apolocyptic/galaxy prints.

Will be interesting to see how this unfolds!


They're bound to offend someone but I'd chance to say that's not his intention. We've seen far more shocking fashion before (Alexander McQueen?).
I think they're great and the cut-out dresses are fantastic.
As far as copyright issues with the images go, it would be foolish in this day and age to swipe government archives and print them on dresses. Surely.

A Time To Be Selfish said...

Personally I think the dresses look amazing, and I doubt Kane would have used copy-righted images. If this was four years ago and he was just emerging as a designer perhaps, but now he has a big enough machine behind him that someone would have All Cleared any print he used before it was scanned onto a dress.
As for whether or not the images are offensive, this is by no means the first time I've seen nuclear clouds used in an apolitical, aesthetic context. You can download nuclear testing screen savers and (while in this context they usually are political), every second indie video clip from the 1990's, from Silverchair to Radiohead has used them before. They are pretty and, as Kane noted, almost floral.
Will people get offended? Almost certainly, but that is more because there are people out there able to get offended by almost anything, from the phrase "happy holidays (War on Christmas!!)" to a picture book about gay penguins adopting a baby. The people who scream about this sort of thing in fashion think that there is something inherently offensive about the whole industry, they just pick the - ahem - mushrooms, that rise above the soil. It's pretty apparent that Kane, like Sylvester (whose collection was Royalty, not military themed), means absolutely no harm by these, and probably isn't courting controversy.
Of course, I don't think fashion gets a free pass all the time. That time Rei Kawakubo was "inspired" by the Holocaust? That was straight-out offensive. There are a couple of other instances where designers have done similarly obnoxious things, although none are coming to mind right now. But right now, I don't think Kane is one of them.

Anonymous said...

I love these, best resort collection of the season,good on him not getting permission from the ******y ministry of WAR, how punk rock is that!!.. also if he manages to highlight the problem of veterans health even better.. great post Patty!

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone disputes it as an interesting design choice. It's more a question of morals and human decency...

The difference between say, Ksubi's Apocalyptic print and that of Kane's is the former was an abstract representation.

If Kane did in fact source the print work from the MOD website, then he knowingly and willingly used a real-time war reference for the sake of a commercial venture. Worse still, because he was "so fed up with florals".

There's nothing "punk rock" about flicking the proverbial finger at war veterans. And for the sake of shifting a few $1000+ dresses no less...

Anonymous said...

Oh, and that was some divine investigative work. Trust you to scratch the surface Patty!

Anonymous said...

NZ label Nom*D used similar prints as part of their S/S 08 collection, entitled Operation Bombshell

b for bhisan said...

it is quite disturbing.

Jasmine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Yeah right Jasmine, I'm sure whatever you create is beyond anything Kane can dream up. Lucky for him then there's Ksubi to take inspiration from.

Anonymous said...

how dare people ride the back of atomic test veterans, my father died as a result of being exposed to six of the atomic tests... if we to see the photos we will find them... if you werent involved in the atomic tests dont try to capitalise on the backs of families who lost members....leave the photos in the archive and get a life create a new idea for your fashion show or go hide under a rock. SHERGOLD

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