When I hear the word Antwerp I think of diamonds and the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis which brought an end to a 65 year war between France and Spain, in favor of Philip II in 1559. Yes, I know, an expensive education is a dreadful burden. This week, however, Antwerp was the site of a French victory for a change, as shoemaker to the stars, Christian Louboutin, took on the Women against Islamization movement. No, I was not aware such a group of harridans existed either, but I am assured they are big in Belgium, as so many things are not.
This group of politically active women, led by a former Flanders beauty queen, featured the iconic red soled platform stilettos in their campaign posters. Mr. Louboutin’s army of lawyers alleged that this campaign “tarnished the brand’s image” and a nice judge agreed with them, resulting in the posters being withdrawn from public display. However, they resurfaced with new yellow-soled stilettos a few days later – where would we be without Photoshop?
On the surface this may seem like a bit of fashionable posturing, but there is a serious and more worrying notes to the proceedings. The leader of the group, Anke Van demeersch is a senator for the right wing group Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) and perhaps freeing women from the tyranny of Islam isn’t the only thing on her agenda. The last thing any international luxury brand would want is to alienate an entire faith and and one can see that despite Louboutin’s notoriety for litigation, in this case the action was justified. Upon closer examination it appears that Flemish Interest ran contrary to the interests of ethnic diversity and the immigrant population living in Belgium.
Fashion trumping fair play
What is interesting is that in order to appeal to women, this particular group have chosen to appeal to our sense of fashion rather than fair play. The posters feature the ex-Miss Belgium, Van demeersch, flashing her legs and Louboutins alongside a key to illustrate how the length of a skirt translates to the opinions of the nation’s Muslim population; the higher the skirt hem the more pejorative the description of the wearer becomes...you get the picture? Now I have nothing against a short skirt, although I will say that just below the knee is where I prefer my hem to fall these days. I will offer that the higher the hemline the thicker your tights should be or the younger your thighs should look just for the sake of those who may catch sight of them!
The last thing any international luxury brand would want is to alienate an entire faithAhlya Fateh
When Louboutin announced that the case was being taken to court, Ms. Van demeersch seemed unconcerned to the point that she wore the aforementioned stilettos to the court date. By asserting that no one had the right to tell a politician how to dress (apart from their stylists?) I think she was missing the point. This was not about a designer giving sartorial advice. It was about the use of a wholly recognizable product, known for its signature red soles, to promote a political view that many of us find offensive, without the permission of the brand.
Companies spend millions of pounds today courting the right kind of publicity and scouring the celebrity world for the perfect personality to represent their interests. So how does one stop someone undesirable from wearing their designs? Well, you can’t, you just ignore it and hope the good ambassadors drown out the bad. In this case I am sure that this won’t deter other right wing politicos from rocking the red sole but at least Mr. Louboutin can sleep soundly knowing that all Muslim fashionistas are free to enjoy a fashion brand without compromise. As for Women against Islamization, take heart ladies as I hear hemlines are heading south this winter as fashion meets faith and serves to unite rather than divide.
Eid Mubarak to you all!
Ahlya Fateh knows all about fashion and publishing. As the former managing editor of Tatler magazine and the managing director of fashion brand, Tata Naka, she has combined a strong creative vision with an understanding of strategy and management. Ahlya lives in London and is a mother of two.