Wednesday, 28 December 2011


Warning, I rant in this one!

This fairly unassuming collection of grungy jeans, hoodies, leather jackets and boots might actually be one of the most controversial high street collections ever. That's because H&M have teamed up with Trish Summerville - costume designer for newly-released American remake The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - to create a collection inspired by it's brooding, hard-assed, punkish heroine Lisbeth Salander. And some folks are WELL offended.

In the original trilogy of books by Stieg Larsson, Lisbeth's unique, gritty style is hinted at embodying an outward representation of her traumatic past (interestingly this is speculated at by Blomkvist, never confirmed herself). She is not only a kick-ass investigator, rebel and all-round awesome female lead character, but also a rape survivor. Because of this tenuous link between her harsh, relentless, genderless style and the years of sexual abuse she suffered, many are up in arms with H&M's decision to create a collection which directly emulates her signature look.

Rooney Mara plays Lisbeth in the remake which is out now.

None moreso, it would seem, than journalist and rape survivor Natalie Karneef who posted an open letter on her blog (which then found its way onto in which she criticises the collection for being 'irresponsible' and claims it 'glamourises gender-based violence and rape:'

"H&M have created a line of clothing based on her character: a woman who has suffered a lifetime of abuse, who is violently raped, and who is hunting down a man who violently rapes and kills other women.  Lisbeth has been through hell, and her clothing is her armour.  That's her choice, and it's an understandable choice.  But [they] glamorise it, putting a glossy, trendy finish on the face of sexual violence and the rage and fear it leaves behind.

"What message is H&M sending to the world? "Look at the trendy rape survivor? Look how strong she is, that she can get through all that hell and still wear cool leather jackets?"'

But I have to say, neither this collection, nor the interpretation of it's inspiration offends me.

Firstly, I would never dream of disrespecting Natalie Karneef's opinion and obviously I am not drawing on any personal experience of rape to form my own. But nevertheless, I am as equally entitled to it as she is. I say this because I was recently publicly chided on Twitter by a blogger who told me I was essentially stupid and childish because I wasn't morally outraged, as she was, by the collection. What a silly girl...

Number one, when Natalie Karneef's describes the character of Lisbeth she places her SOLELY in the rape victim box, and ONLY in this box. This is extremely one dimensional, and, as far as I'm concerned, wrong. While Lisbeth's traumatic past is perhaps a contributing factor towards her style, it is not the only factor (her difficult childhood being the far greater factor in my opinion), and 'rape victim' is only once facet to an extremely complex character identity. In fact, I have a hard time even using that word at all when describing someone like Lisbeth - survivor feels much more appropriate. It seems to me that H&M have chosen to focus on her independence, strength, survival instinct, willpower and rebellious nature in this collection, rather than her portrayal as a victim - of ANY kind, rape or otherwise. It's a mistake on Karneef's part to assume that we all identify Lisbeth as first and foremost a rape victim. Because I certainly don't, and never have H&M mentioned that this part of Lisbeth's character had anything to do with the collection. In fact they say completely the opposite:

"Though we think Lisbeth is a strong woman who stands up for her ideals, we are not trying to represent her specifically. Our goal is to rather offer a collection that we see in today’s trend picture that will appeal to many customers."

Number two, if we are to take the message Karneef is preaching as gospel, then where on earth would it stop? What about goths and goth brands, should we hassle them for emulating death and horror? Likewise, what about brands like Topshop who sell t-shirts emblazoned with pentagrams and upside down crosses on the front - should we boycott them completely for glamorising the Satanic and occult? Of course not. We buy these things in their droves without placing the inspirations and connotations on trial. Obviously Karneef's particular issue with the alleged glamorisation of rape since it is what hits home with her in particular - which is tragic and genuinely heartbreaking - but it is wrong to again assume that it's something which will resonate universally. Rape is neither the first thing I think of when I think of Lisbeth, nor does it come to mind when I see this collection. And that's OK.

Number three, as I told whoever it was on Twitter (I can't remember now, it was a while ago but she was swiftly unfollowed due to her condescending attitude, willingness to shove her opinion down my throat and general odious nature), I feel an opinion like this grossly underestimates the general public's ability to tell the difference between FICTION and FASHION. I can tell the difference between a made up character, a fictional series of events, and a collection of clothes which I can hold in my hand. My issue here is not so much with Karneef's opinion but with that blogger who attacked me on Twitter, who seemed genuinely affronted when I told her I was intelligent enough to know when something is and IS NOT glamorising rape. 

The crime of rape is despicable, horrific and can NEVER be taken seriously enough, but I believe some reationaries to this collection have taken the inspiration of Lisbeth Salander too seriously, too literally. The blogger in question's reaction in particular smacks badly of jumping on a  bandwagon. Give some of us more credit - we weren't born yesterday and can tell this from a mile off. How about instead you do some research and form your own opinion. Perhaps this blogger also has an issue with the apparent heightened sexuality of the American actress Rooney Mara as compared to Noomi Rapace as the original Lisbeth in the Swedish films - does she think rape victims portrayed in films should look or dress a particular way?  Why should this be? Or what about the popularity of the books in general - does she balk at the millions of dollars the worldwide franchise has doubtless made? Does she consider all of this to be profiting from the glamorisation of rape? I wouldn't have thought so.

It's been pointed out that it was perhaps naive of H&M not to expect some sort of backlash to this collection, but whether they genuinely didn't, or did and went with it anyway is irrelevant. Potential for a minority to create controversey is no reason not to do something.

Anyway, I fear I've digressed. Congrats if you've made it this far! To sum up, I like this collection and I might well purchase something from it. It doesn't glamorise rape for me, and neither do the books. I've yet to see the film but I suspect it doesn't either. And I'm more than a little upset that Lisbeth has been reduced to ONLY a rape victim/survivor by all this controversy when in reality she is so much more, and would never dream of referring to herself as such.

I sympathise with Natalie Karneef and empathise with her opinion, but I don't share it. And to the aggressive blogger who thought her opinion was much more important than mine, pipe doon hen. You had no idea who you were dealing with, which is forgivable once. But don't cross me again.

Peace! I really hope I haven't come across like a total cow - it's just my opinion and we are all entitled to one.

Oh, and let me know what you think, please! It might  not sound like it but I do genuinely appreciate a good debate. Have you seen the film yet? What do you think? Will you be buying anything from this range?


Wonderland Girl said...

I thoroughly agree with you, and I think anyone who would disagree after reading this blog post in which you have stated and backed up your opinion with logical argument, is an idiot. Yes, I hope that bandwagon jumping obnoxious person is reading this.
Much Love

Jesss said...

Do people not realise that inspiration for fashion collections has to come from somewhere? How is this any different, even if it WAS based on Lisbeth as a rape victim, than art or music inspired by the same things? That aside, I agree with you that it's more about her character and independence. Some people just like drama I guess...


Madame G said...

Having been 'branded' a goth and therefore a Satan worshipper for most of my formative years, I'm bored beyond belief with people who attempt to force so-called intellectual opinions onto others peoples' choice of clothing. Fashion is for me is devoid of meaning. It should be frivolous, fun and throwaway- much like everything produced by H&M. Lisbeth is a character in a book, nothing more. Some people choose to dress like a Disney princess, some go to the opposite end of the spectrum.

If I've got any spare christmas cash I'll most certainly be snapping up a pair of the pleather trousers. Cos I like black, fake leather on my legs- not because I'm attempting to make a ridiculous political statement glamorising rape.

Good post doll x

weshoyot said...

thanks for such a nice blog post. i agree with your thoughts. and wrote another side as well on my recent blog, more in tune with how they have simplified this collection and splashed the "rape" tag on it; while the fashion lovers abound know this style has been very much in fashion for seasons....thanks again for writing a lengthy post!

Catey Cate said...

I totally agree with all of this. Also, have I forgotten something from the trilogy, because Lisbeth dresses this way before she is raped so it can hardly be an armour she has created due to that event? Correct me if I am wrong!

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