Art is often said to hold a mirror to society. It is no surprise, then, that the art form we use to reflect an image of our best selves is the most visible mirror of all. After a tumultuous 2015 that saw the resurgence of Islamism, the ever-present threat of war between superpowers, and the return of armed conflict to America's inner cities, fashion's pendulum has swung discernibly towards military-inspired motifs. Terrorist attacks in Paris shut down Europe as a countries-wide manhunt sent police units (and camera crews) onto every street corner on the continent. It's hard to deny the power of visuals, and this was the year of militaristic juxtaposition:
In 2015, a barrage of black-clad, weapons-drawn operators clogged the world's media.
One year later, the fashion world reflects.
Militarism in fashion is nothing new - just as artists have always been fascinated with death, designers have been just as enraptured with the clothing and symbols of those who would deal it. Look no further than the proliferation of the MA-1 Bomber, the M-51 Fishtail parka, the M-65 field jacket, and most recently, the AR 670-1 boot as evidence. Even Balmain's iconic epaulets are ripped straight from the military uniforms of yore.
Outside of the occasional "militaria" collection, however, rarely are these elements presented together lest the lot be seen as the sum of its parts. While fashion may take inspiration from the military, no high artist would want to be seen as presenting (and therefore promoting) an authentic, utilitarian militaristic image. It's just not very sophisticated.
Instead of faithful reproductions, then, the world's fashion designers interpret features to present collections that banalize doom and gloom. This process produces intentionally jarring designs that are as much social commentary as haute couture. Whether this constitutes art or not is up to interpretation. I'm sure many believe that bulletproof vests don't belong at Paris Fashion Week.
Whatever your opinion, it's worth nothing again that art is only a mirror to society. The reincorporation of utility garments is given protected status within fashion perhaps only because it adds sophistication to silhouettes formerly designed for tasks believed to be the opposite. I don't believe this year's collections are as simple as designers thumbing their noses at the military. Artists are not inherently disrespectful, and, there's a convincing argument to be made for security enabling a culture's artistic development. Very Maslow's Heirarchy, yes, but consider how concerned you would be with freedom of expression if every day meant unsure survival. The next Beethoven may just be thankful that they're alive.
I see the militaristic undercurrents presented this year so far as artists doing what they do best: reacting to what they see. If your visual channels are saturated with militaria, it's no surprise that you'll be influenced by it. Few wish for more televised violence, or another year remotely like the one we just had. These militaristic collections are artists making the best of a bad situation, even if the well they draw inspiration from may be tainted by visions of doom. Within each camo-print down jacket is equal parts military detail and a wish for peace.