Designers get into a lot of trouble when they genuflect at the altar of religion. Orthodox Jews got their peyos in a twist when Jean Paul Gaultier presented “Rabbi chic” (left) in 1993. Karl Lagerfeld incurred the wrath of Muslims when he sent Claudia Schiffer down the runway in 1994 with Koranic verses embroidered on a dress. And Dolce & Gabbana’s sexy nuns are a perennial provocation.
And don’t get John Galliano started on class! The fallen designer got a taste of the censure to come when he outraged just about everybody with his “homeless chic” couture collection in 2000. In an op-ed piece for The New York Times, Maureen Dowd noted, “As when Marie Antoinette dressed up like a shepherdess, there was a glint of the guillotine.”
If religious imagery or class wars don’t cause an uproar, designers can always play the race card. Just ask Viktor & Rolf, who were met with public opprobrium when they showed their 2001 Black Hole collection using models in blackface.
Sex doesn’t always sell. Walter Van Beirendonck found that out when he paired little boys with large bearded men for his fall 1996 Wonderland collection for his label Wild & Lethal Trash—in a reference to the “bear” subculture of rugged, heavy-set gay men with facial hair (left). And Vivienne Westwood caused a storm in 2003 when she sent male models down the runway with fake breasts under cashmere sweaters.