• Melanie S. Demmer

An Awareness (Awearness?) of the Year of the Tiger (2022)...Or, When Not to Go Vintage-Inspired

Updated: Apr 6

I haven't paid much attention to fashion magazines recently. In my early twenties I studied fashion design and bought issues of Vogue and In Style monthly, tearing out the pages the interested me and filing them away. This was an inherited trait—it started with my grandmother teaching me how to sew. She'd been taught by her mother and grandmother and they had all clipped pages from periodicals. Last summer, I went through a box of dusty old clippings from approximately 1920-1960.

In particular, I recall an article, probably from about 1930-40, of an American (I think) big game hunter who had...graciously...refrained from shooting a female tiger who had impressed him by valiantly protecting her cub (something to that effect) and instead arranged somehow to have them transported to a zoo. Cringe. And toss into the recycling.

I'll lose some of the attitude in a minute, but my tolerance for being understanding of the allure of trophy hunting doesn't stretch that far by now. I don't like throwing away vintage periodicals like that, but I don't have a lot of storage area, and even I, with my archival tendencies and vintage inclinations, could not keep it all. It was just too dated and musty...and what would I do with it? (Well, yes, I can see now that I could have included a reference here, if hadn't thrown it away, but oh well). My reasoning then was that all of these magazines would be officially archived, and numerous copies of most of them are available on eBay for $5 or so. And I really didn't have the storage space.

So, it wasn't through a fashion magazine or a store window that I saw this year's line of "Gucci Tigers" but a Tweet from an animal rights activist:

While not directly critiquing anything about the aesthetic except the inclusion of wildlife in a domestic setting—and there are several observations that could be made about cultural appropriation and Orientalism, my gut reaction to this image was similar to my response the the above-mentioned clipped article from generations ago—it's out of date and promotes a "conquering the beast" mentality through a depiction of animals being "at home" in a place they do not belong and a general sense of "branding" the "exotic" in a way that I think the fashion world could be moving away from. Leading designers could (and some do) retain a sense of classic style and elegance while also meeting the challenge of reflecting modified awareness of the beauty of the natural world and people's relationship to it.

It wouldn't take that much to re-vision this photoshoot to comply with contemporary wildlife efforts—instead of tigers in the room, why not showcase wildlife photography on the walls?

At least, there are no animal pelts on display, but we recently lost a tiger because someone thought it would be okay to try to pet it. This sort of image promotes that sort of thought, and the idea that owning exotic pets/luxury accessories is acceptable, safe, and a status symbol.

There are good intentions in these ideas—just as the argument could be made that the hunter I mentioned above was well-intentioned by sparing the lives of the tigers and instead transporting them to a zoo; both Gucci and Prada support wildlife preservation efforts, but that message becomes confused with the message of the ads:

'Tigers are not photo props to be exploited, and those used in the brand's old-fashioned advertising campaign were likely taken from their mothers as cubs and condemned to spend their lives in cages.'

'Such images fuel the illegal trade in wild animals by promoting 'ownership' of them.'

She [Elisa Allen of PETA] added: 'Today's advanced special effects capabilities mean there is no excuse for tearing animals away from their families and homes.'

'Subjecting them to the stress of transport, and placing them under the bright lights of a film, TV, or advertising set.

~The Daily Mail

Unfortunately, from that angle, it's challenging to see any advancement from the pages of 1930s fashion magazine.