Mental Health

The fashion industry is often portrayed as an industry full of glamour, extravagance and fun, where creative eccentric people create out of this world masterpieces. But beneath the glamorous exterior lies a dark and unspoken secret. When the party’s are over and the catwalk’s are done, we’re left with an artists,unable to switch off and trying to reach an unattainable high. It’s time we spoke about mental health in the fashion industry.

Here at Focus we take mental health seriously and with World Mental Health Day just around the corner (10th of October) we feel it is our duty to talk about what generally goes unspoken in the fashion industry. For outsiders the fashion calendar can be a difficult one to get their head round. For anyone that follows the fashion calendar its an endless parade of fashion shows, fittings, campaigns and long days. The fashion calendar use to run on a six month cycle, it now has been cut in half and if you ask any designer at a major fashion house, it feels much more like a three week cycle. What makes the situation even worse is the fact that the work load has mostly increased despite the shorter turnaround time. The fashion calendar is jam packed, there are couture shows in January and July, runway in Autumn and Spring, cruise collections twice a year and some fashion houses do both men’s and womenswear. Then add to that list other lines such as bags, perfumes, make up and Children’s wear. It comes as no surprise as to why so many people that work in the fashion industry suffer from mental health problems.

Its no secret that the fashion industry is ruthless and the pressure and demands in the jobs can lead people to breakdowns. Fashion demands perfection and so it attracts perfectionists such as Galliano, who was let go from his position at Dior due to racist rants. Who later confessed to regularly downing bottles of vodka and taking pills as it was the only way he could switch off. Yves Saint Laurent was another designer that frequently took drugs and alcohol and at the end could barely walk down the runway at this own catwalk show. The sadist one being Alexander McQueen a fashion icon and genius who turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with his own demons before committing suicide in 2011. Although all these designers are different with their designs, they all share the need to push boundaries and deliver outstanding cutting edge design’s season after season. And with the industry only getting faster and the schedules only getting fuller, the expectation on designers are building every year.

The fashion industry has existed for years, so why all of a sudden does it seem all these designers have this extra pressure? We live in an age where information is needed and used at a much faster rate. Things seem old to us much faster, so this create a clientele that is in constant demand for new things. Designers aim to keep up with this demand by taking on more and more then they can handle, as they need to keep up with competitors too. This creates an unhealthy amount of pressure and causes huge strain. Galliano shared his feelings in an interview with Vanity Fair, “I had all these voices in my head, asking so many questions. I was afraid to say no, I thought it showed weakness. And with more success, I would just say yes. And keep on taking more work on, which took its toll. I was going to end up in a mental asylum or six feet under.” Galliano was overseeing an incredible 32 collections a year between Dior and his own label, this lead him to feel “emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally bankrupt” and led him to drink and drugs. “That was a man who was broken, drugged, at the end of his tether, virtually insane,” said Nick Knight. “John wasn’t that person.” Speaking to French newspaper Le Point, Galliano offered one expiation for his behaviour: “I’ve been told I committed professional suicide because it was the only escape from the terrible pressures I was facing.” In a world where tastes changes twice a year, it is always possible that the fashions will change leaving last season’s most talked about out of the spotlight of which they have become accustom. Isabella Blow allegedly committed suicide out of her ‘concern’ for her “waning celebrity status”; the anxiety of remaining ‘in’ with the crowd is perhaps nowhere more intense than it is in the fashion world.

Individuality, these cases are tragic, but they point towards a larger problem, high pressure and expectation mixed together with an impossible workload is a toxic cocktail, and leads many people in the fashion industry to substance abuse, depression and self harm. But for some reason, this poisonous deadly lifestyle is being undermined by the fashion industry, by the glamorisation which fashion bestows on unhealthy ideals. It is perhaps a result of a world which seeks to find the most beautiful and thrilling aspects of life, to elevate them and turn them into a product to be bought or lusted after. We have all heard the stories of models making themselves sick in order to achieve the ‘perfect weight’. Then theres the image of the typical ‘fashion lifestyle, with free flowing alcohol and illegal substances being taken in the back room.But not all designers see this as a problem in the fashion industry that needs to be addressed. Karl Lagerfeld argues, “If you are not a good bullfighter, don’t enter the arena. Fashion is a sport now: You have to run.” Even though it is good to hear both sides of an argument when presenting an article it baffles me that people still in this day and age try to belittle mental illness as if its nothing a overreaction from people who aren’t tough enough to deal with life.

But for some when the fashion world get to much they decided to detached themselves and do it their own way. Viktor and Rolf are an example of just this, they abandoned the fast-paced world of ready to wear to concentrate on couture fashion.“The speed at which it has to be done does not help us. We are reflected people and we need time to create.” Tunisian designer Azzedine Alaïa has a similar approach, refusing to show as part of fashion week’s insane calendar. Instead, he presents his collections whenever he feels his designs are ready.

If these designers can do it and still be successful brands then surely others can follow, especially if it means healthier, happier minds. Christopher Kane believes the secret to success is not in the pace but in an alliance between the creative and commercial cannons. He feels that more business orientated minds need to be attracted to fashion.

We may not need to change the whole system as it clearly works for some, like Karl, but those who find themselves at breaking point should be aware of other options. Fashion culture, as a whole, needs to stop thriving on unrealistic expectations and realise the damage it can cause. Designers should be able to work in a healthy environment, and not feel pressurised to keep up with constant competition.

As Justine Picardie, a biographer of Coco Chanel, once said, “People often think about fashion as if it’s just about the surface of things. But there’s often a very dark side to the life of a designer. The reason clothes are potent is because of what they are covering up.”

Day of the Dead

A few years ago, not many British people would be able to tell you what the Day of the Dead was but in recent years, this Mexican celebration is making its way into the UK. We all know what Halloween is about but do we know what this Mexican fiesta represents?

Halloween is most commonly known for its stereotypical American themes, of witches, ghosts and pumpkins. But move further south and the festival of All Hallows’ Eve is somewhat less commercial and brings colour and depth to the otherwise morbid holiday.

Dia De Los Muertos otherwise known as the Day of the Dead, is a tradition which is a combination of two very distinct cultures. For thousands of years, the pre – Hispanic indigenous cultures of Mexico; the Mixtecas, Zapotecs, Aztecs, Mayas and Olmecs along with others would pay homage to their dear departed during an entire month of celebrations that fell upon the ninth month in the calendar, from around the end of July to early August. It was dedicated to the goodness of the dead, Mitecihuatl, who was also linked to the end of the agricultural cycles of wheat, beans, squash and pumpkins they were placed upon altars and happy processions took place lifting the villages spirits. Many of these ancient tribes believed that death was just a step towards a new life, in an endless cycle of re-birth, where contact with the dead was embraced.

When the Spanish crusaders landed upon the new world accompanied by dozens of Catholic priests, the endemic Mictecacihuatl celebration was moved forward to coincide with All Saints Day which falls on 1st of November. The result of this mix in the modern day is a truly unique Mexican celebration of life and death, of native spirit combined with Christian tradition. All across the country, heavy skulls carved out of sugar and decorated with the names of the deceased loved ones. As Mexico produces a huge amount of sugar and as they were too poor to afford European church decorations, the locals instead made sugar into art. With their wide smiles and multi coloured icing, these Calaveras have become one of the country most internationally recognised symbols.

On the 31st, at midnight the gates of the world beyond open and the angelicas (the spirits of deceased children) tumble down and join their families for the following 24 hours. The next day, the souls of adults join the living. After a long journey from the afterlife behind them, the deceased are welcomed by their living family and friends with a feast consisting of Bananas, Oranges and tropical fruits and cooked meals of Mole, Tortillas and Quintessential and Day of the Dead sugar breads. Whilst the deceased children and babies are treated to sweets and hot chocolate, toys are also woven into the decorated altars, adult sprits indulged in mezcal and tequila, and even the odd cigarette. Faces are painted whitened black in homage to Mitecacihuatl, the Skeleton Dame, and traditional Frida Kahlo- Esque robes flow through the cemeteries.

The Day of the Dead of has changed since its origin in the early sixteenth century, in the 2015 film James Bond’s ‘Spectre’, the opening of the film fills the screen with a fast paced chase scene in Mexico City with Daniel Craig running threw a huge Day of the Dead parade featuring giant puppets, floats and beautiful costumes. Even though the scene was outstanding it was not culturally accurate as Mexico does not have a parade to celebrate Dia De Los Muertos. But the 007 film prompted Mexican politicians to bring the scene to reality.

“When this movie hit the big screen and was seen by millions and millions of people in 67 countries, that started to create expectations that we would have something” Lourdes Berho, head of the Mexico Tourism Board, told the Big Story

The year 2016 was the first year that Mexico had a Day of the Dead Parade which encouraged thousands of people to flock to the streets of Mexico. The parade featured some of the actual props used in the James Bond film, along with other influences inspired by American TV shows such as the Walking Dead spin off ‘Fear the Walking Dead’.

In recent years the Day of the dead’s themes are adopted in many countries and cultures and is becoming an increasingly popular fancy dress and party theme in the UK and Europe. In our hometown of Brighton there were a number of different clubs and bars celebrating The Day of the Dead such as, Patterns, Mesmerist, Funfair and Wahaca. Here at Focus we decided to attend Patterns to celebrate Dia De Los Muertos on Monday the 31 of October to see what the fuzz was all about.

The overall feeling of the event was fun and vibrant. Patterns is known for its small underground venue with colourful lights and great sound system that this time was decorated to fit the theme. As the ceiling is very low, detailed bunting was hanging across so the light could shine through them. This way, you could see intricate cut outs of skulls and other “Mexican objects” like cactuses and sombreros. The room upstairs it is more illuminated and has numerous chairs for early arrivers to sit down and have a drink. As per usual, most of the people started coming around midnight and suddenly the venue was filled with “dead” characters with fake blood all over them, guys dressed as creepy nuns, girls in nurse uniforms and of course, Day of the Dead costumes. Many people dressed up and did face paint in a variety of colours imitating or taking inspiration from the traditional Mexican skulls. Men kept is simple most of the times with the usual black and white paint while some girls went all out and included glitter, flowers in their hair and black veils.

As we suspected, most of them did not have a clear idea of its origins or what it truly represented. “It’s like Mexican, skulls and colours” Abigail said, she is a second year studying 3D Design and craft at the University of Brighton who was attending the event with some of her friends. “People don’t know what it is but mostly girls are drawn to it because you can look pretty but sort of dressed up.” After all, a simple skull face paint may seem boring and conventional, specially on Halloween, as opposed to the more colourful and versatile Mexican calavera.

A few others just came to the event to get drunk, which is acceptable for being a Monday night, which is normally a student night. Young people is often oblivious to other’s traditions and meaning of objects from other parts of the world. Some might even think that the Day of the Dead is the Mexican version of Halloween when, in reality, it has always been a religious holiday and not just a commercial day to spend our disposable income on. This day massively contributes to Mexican national identity and it is one of the most recognisable symbols of Mexican culture along with more stereotypical sombreros, moustaches and tequila.

When someone adopts aspects of a culture that is not their own is called cultural appropriation. It is mostly defined as a dominant culture taking elements from another culture that they have been oppressing. Not to be mistaken with cultural exchange which is when people from different backgrounds share equally between them. This topic is more common during this time of the year as dressing up for Halloween is very popular amongst children and adults. In recent years with the increased popularity of social media, people is becoming more aware of how their supposedly un-harmful Chinese girl or native American costume can be classed as racist and inappropriate as they stereotype certain cultures and their customs to the point that they exaggerate what makes them different to us.

For example, celebrities like Kylie Jenner have generating a huge media backlash when she was seeing with her hair in cornrows which has always been a traditional black hairstyle. And while other black people can be criticized for not having smooth looking hair that fit into the ideal standards of beauty, people that have appropriated their hairstyles are praised for being cool and edgy. After all, we are attracted to what is different to our everyday life that will make us stand out from the crowd.

When the day of the dead made its way into the UK most people did not know the actual reason why Mexicans have this truly unique celebration of life and death. While many people think this day is about horror or just another version of Halloween, others celebrate its true meaning by honouring their deceased with their favourite foods and drinks.

Is easy to see why this different approach to death can be appropriated by other cultures as it moves from the usual sadness and mourning that involves seeing someone leave this earth into a colourful party where people are drinking instead of crying.