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Friday, Oct 18, 2019

As surveillance goes ubiquitous, the fashion industry responds

As masks, camouflage, and other ways of subverting surveillance become high fashion, and the best minds of the glamour world tell the rest of us how one can look fabulous and protect our privacy — perhaps one can hope that the conversation about surveillance is finally going in the right direction.

editorials Updated: Oct 11, 2019 19:31 IST

Hindustan Times
Models present creations by Halpern during a catwalk show for the Spring/Summer 2020 collection on the second day of London Fashion Week, September 14, 2019
Models present creations by Halpern during a catwalk show for the Spring/Summer 2020 collection on the second day of London Fashion Week, September 14, 2019(AFP)
         

Last month, one of the more exciting things that happened in London (outside of Brexit issues, of course) was the bi-annual London Fashion Week (LFW). One of the “Big Four” global fashion events alongside Paris, Milan, and New York; LFW is always a big ticket event. And this year was especially interesting, with many sustainable fashion lines being showcased and conversations being triggered around many uncomfortable subjects within the realm of high fashion. This included topics such as sustainable fashion, with many designers and fashion houses doing “zero carbon” shows and featuring “recycled” materials. But one of the more extraordinary things at LFW was the significant rise of what is being spoken of as “anti surveillance” fashion.

It is old news that we now live in a world of near-constant surveillance. Other than the steady stream of data that is harvested about our whereabouts, likes, and dislikes by our phones and the many apps in it; facial recognition is making it nearly impossible to go through most cities (at least in the first world) without being seen. In places such as Hong Kong, where the threat of incarceration and punishment loom large for those taking part in street demonstrations and other forms of protest, anti-surveillance measures such as face masks and paint were more armour than fashion. But the LFW took the conversation about privacy, anonymity, and the ability to be in public without being seen to the next level. Members of The Dazzle Club, that organises walks around London to raise awareness about surveillance, it was reported, did so with red, blue, and black stripes painted on their faces to confound facial recognition cameras. Designers have been experimenting with “decoy” patterns on textiles and fake license plates on clothes such as shirts and skirts to feed “junk data” into surveillance systems intended for humans and traffic. If it doesn’t prevent reading genuine ones, the tactic appears to be, at least one can feed bad data to the system. One American designer even created sunglasses that block infrared facial recognition cameras.

The fashion industry is one of the most aspirational, lucrative industries in the world, not always known for its socially responsible behaviour. But when the bigwigs of this industry notice a cause, you know it has — to use a term from an allied industry — arrived. As masks, camouflage, and other ways of subverting surveillance become high fashion, and the best minds of the glamour world tell the rest of us how one can look fabulous and protect our privacy — perhaps one can hope that the conversation about surveillance is finally going in the right direction.

First Published: Oct 11, 2019 19:28 IST

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