The glossy cover of Vogue, Anna Wintour’s streamlined bob and the four famous fashion weeks. These are some of the thoughts the concept of fashion automatically evoke in our minds. However we sometimes tend to forget everyone around the globe needs to get dressed every morning, whether they are Islamic women in Pakistan or transsexual prostitutes in Rio de Janeiro. In Vice’s Fashion Week Internationale documentaries, former model and DJ Charlet Duboc visits fashion weeks in places where being gay is punished with death, where terrorist attacks are the norm, or where the majority of the female population have had plastic surgery done. Volt Café speaks to Charlet about the damaging effects of the westernization on the fashion industry, but also how fashion can give hope for a better future.
Volt Café: For the latest series of FWI you visited Jamaican Fashion Week. Can you tell us what made this fashion week different from the numerous fashion weeks you visited?
Charlet Duboc: I was absolutely blown away by the dancehall performances at the end of every fashion show. The models became dancehall queens and the whole ‘I’d rather die than take my sunglasses of, even when I’m inside’ – fashion crowd jumped up from their chairs and went crazy! But as much as Caribbean Fashion Week was a tribute to all the great things about Jamaica, we also witnessed very shocking issues, such as the horrifying skin bleaching trend among young girls. As damaging as it is for your skin it didn’t disturb me as much for health reasons as for the psychological and sociological reasons. These girls aren’t even aware why they do it. It’s awful to see how all the hard work of Jamaica and everything Bob Marley did to celebrate being black is being disowned, because of lack of education and support.
VC: Many negative things can be said about the fashion industry, but you also came across occasions where fashion allows people to escape their miserable living circumstances. Can you elaborate on that?
CD: A very memorable experience was the visit I paid to the modeling school in the Favela, the poorest area of Rio. I think it’s fair to say that most of those kids won’t make it as models, but this modeling school on a magical rooftop garden with a beautiful view over the city proved that modeling can have other purposes. Young love flourished on the rooftop, and the kids were taught how to take care of themselves in such a sexual country. They learned how to be sexy without giving up their body and getting pregnant. And even though fashion is the preserve of the privileged people, I couldn’t help but think how much Kate Moss would love to do a shoot on that rooftop garden.
VC: Have you been inspired by different ways of dress you came across on your travels?
CD: I’ve always lived in East London and I used to be obsessed with making a statement with my appearance every day. But during my travels I thought more about the reason why people get dressed. I realized that the things you wear say a lot more about you than being in or out of fashion. I learnt that there are different ways of being feminine. I’m not saying that I’ll convert to being a Muslim, but I believe covering up can be just as sexy as flaunting your body. And as much as I love fashion, it’s very healthy to sometimes just not care about what you wear.
VC: When you say that you learnt that there are different ways of being feminine, are you referring to your meeting with the transsexual model Carol Marra in Rio de Janeiro?
CD: I believe that femininity has nothing to do with your body, but more with what is inside. Carol is a woman whether she has a penis or not. I think it’s really important that these models are breaking the mould of transsexuals being perceived as a perverse thing and a taboo.
VC: You came across so many different ideas of beauty and you met so many different kind of people who are all beautiful in their own unique way. Did this experience change your perception on what is beautiful?
CD: Surprisingly enough, this is not really the case, since I have always fetishized the exotic. In fact I’ve always dreamed of having a voluptuous body and a darker skin colour myself. Some might say that fashion needs its exclusivity in order to remain on a high aspiration level, but I rather see the catwalk as a representation of our diverse society. If you have this other unique exotic thing in your country, it should be celebrated!
VC: Speaking of celebrating exoticism, the Rio episode of FWI is full of beautiful round buttocks, shaking as if their lives depend on it! Did you come across any derriéres that you would happily trade for your own?
CD: Oh yes, the most beautiful bottom I came across belonged to a girl from the modeling school in the Favela. The art director and I were captivated by her perfect round Latino bum. Then we found out that she was just fifteen years old and we felt ashamed for looking at her! But then again it depends on what you think is beautiful. Personally I think every girl with a flat belly and a big bum has got it just right. My bum is nowhere as big as I want it to be, but even my boyfriend jokes that if I didn’t have a bum at all, he would dump me right away!
VC: It makes me sad that even though you have this beautiful tall and slender model body, which so many people would kill for, you can’t truly appreciate it.
CD: I think women are always dreaming of the appearance that they can’t have and I’ve seen this taking extreme forms. In South Korea, one out of seven girls has their face reshaped in order to take on a more western appearance. I’ve witnessed one of these operations and it made me so angry. Why can’t these girls just be happy with who they are? There is absolutely nothing wrong with their eyes. It made me think what I would do if I was in their shoes. I’d like to think that I could resist the pressure, but then again you can never be sure.
VC: Where is Fashion Week Internationale going next?
CD: Cuba is on top of my list. It would be really fascinating to experience how a country, that is still so locked in and only has itself as a reference, would treat such a westernised concept as fashion week. Another destination I would love to explore, which is unfortunately impossible, is South Soudan. Women there are completely covered up and still they spend loads of money on fashion. I’m very eager to get to know the secret fashion scene that is hidden in this veiled country. But even if we did get access to their underground fashion world, they would never let us capture it on camera.
Words by Juliette Sijnja
TagsCharlet Duboc, Fashion Week Internationale, Juliette Sijnja, VICE,