Wednesday, 29 September 2010


Historically, over-consumption and cancer have been considered to have an entirely hateful relationship; society all too aware that smoking too much, eating too much and drinking too much (generally living too much) can cause the dreaded C word. However, the world of commerce shines new light on this hateful relationship: the high street offers its fashionistas a retail therapy of new depths.

Last month, fashion photographer and more importantly iconoclast Corinne Day became another unjustified victim of cancer. Day’s career famously kicked-off in 1990, photographing Kate Moss for The Face. This was the shoot responsible for beginning Day’s fruitful career, as not only did Day explode into the public eye, the world mesmerised by her magical, inspiring, and visionary work, but she received major brownie points for acquainting the world of fashion with a gawky, self-conscious but beautiful Kate Moss. Renowned for her dirty realist style and artistic defiance of fashion’s prescriptive ideals, Day’s presence in the industry was considered nothing but revolutionary. As brain cancer sadly steals Day away from us, whilst depriving the world of an inexplicable talent, she is once again representative of revolution, reigniting the flame between fashion and charity for the new season.

Along with top-to-toe white wardrobes, fashion’s new face Lindsey Wixon and the Celine Shopper Envelope (the new IT bag), all being in vogue this A/W 2010, the ultimate fashion junkie of the present is all about social responsibility as we see brand and charity shack-up for the foreseeable future. High street giant Topshop, alongside the likes of River Island, Warehouse and Whistles sets the trend collaborating with the campaign of the moment, Fashion Targets Breast Cancer. Kate Moss is one of the many supporting fashion icons and figureheads for the cause, regardless of her apparent disinterest in Corinne at the end of her life. According to Day’s doting husband, Kate simply signed ‘a few photos that were auctioned, but that’s it’ – unusual behaviour towards a friend partly responsible for her fame and fortune. Other supporting famous faces of Fashion Targets Breast Cancer include Naomi Campbell, Gisele and Lily Cole. With regard to Moss’ heartless behaviour, ‘faces’ can hereby be considered the operative word. As these supermodels adorn their charitable reputations by associating with such admirable movements, should we be sceptical of the reality of the charitable depths behind fashion’s shiny and spotless exterior? A fault in the foundations of fashion and charity’s relationship is therefore a morally uncomfortable one. As fashion brands benefit from their good deeds with consumers more than eager to sport a badge-like t-shirt which says “I’m a great person, I gave 5p to a good cause whilst spending £40 on an even better cause: myself”, charities are arguably left high and dry.

As the consumer-obsessed West is gradually trained to associate fashion and charity, long-running associations from Cancer Research and the British Heart Foundation to Oxfam are having to adapt their marketing and branding strategies in order to secure success. In doing so, such respectable charities have noticeably transformed into something resembling a fashion brand, arguably shifting the focus away from its cause. Oxfam’s dominant association with fashion over cause is manifest in its employment of vintage boutiques situated in what is considered the fashion hub of the UK, London’s Oxford Street. Channelling the consumer’s association with Oxfam, turning from poverty and injustice into a high-end fashion brand is worlds away from its association with the suffering ‘other’, Oxfam‘s vintage charity shops are ultimately becoming the latest trend.

It is undeniable that charities benefit from being propped up by the brand. Endorsed by the celebrity, popular culture and commerce, they exposure in the dominant, powerful and impressionable West. However, whilst increasing the charities’ exposure, enabling a single idea to be filtered simply, powerfully and consistently, the fundamental requirement of the charity is sealing people’s commitment to the cause. It is argued that, as charity becomes inextricable from the brand, it becomes incredibly easy to support, just as easy to forget, and ultimately harder to engender deeper commitment.

Rose Brownlow

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