Kylie Jenner: Her Givenchy necklace isn’t “controversial” – it’s absolutely tasteless
Fashion and art like to polarise and test the limits of what is wearable and in good taste. A current example of this is Kylie Jenner, who walked a tightrope during Paris Haute Couture Week in January 2023 with several looks that were (rightly) condemned by the public. Find out what the latest fashion scandals involving a necklace and a lion's head are all about here.
Trigger warning: beware, the following article is about Kylie Jenner's recent outfits and the allusions to suicide, genocide and racially motivated lynchings depicted in them.
Kylie Jenner is often criticised for her fashion choices. But there are also cases where this is not the case: because this time we are not talking about "controversial" Kylie Jenner outfits, such as naked dresses or ultra-skimpy pieces - we are talking about the question: How far can fashion go and at what point does controversial actually become tasteless - and even hurtful to others?
We explain the current debate about a necklace (by Givenchy) and an outfit (by Schiaparelli) and why fashion activism can not only be polarising - but sometimes very triggering by (visually) staging and reproducing physical and psychological violence.
Kylie Jenner wears this controversial Givenchy necklace and (rightly) earns criticism
On Monday 23 January 2023, Kylie Jenner shared some snaps on Instagram of her latest outfit, which she wore during Paris Haute Couture Week. In it, the entrepreneur was seen wearing a bright blue dress, glittery pink boots - and a necklace in the shape of a noose, taken from Givenchy's Spring/Summer 2022 collection.
Reactions from her followers and other users were swift and merciless.
One social media user called the necklace "ethically horrific considering how many [...] people have hurt themselves (with a noose) and how many people have been forcibly put in one," while another tweeted, "It just leaves a bad taste."
Controversial fashion designs: it's not just Givenchy that's currently garnering massive criticism from the internet
This is not the first time the necklace has been at the centre of a public discourse. After it first appeared on the Givenchy catwalk in October 2021, Diet Prada, the fashion industry's unofficial "social media watchdog", pointed out parallels with Burberry's widely condemned loop-design hoodie (2019), noting:
"You'd think after the whole @Burberry debacle in 2019, the industry would have learned to stop putting things around models' necks that resemble nooses ... This @givenchyofficial necklace just shown on the runway comes dangerously close. It really makes you wonder how no one noticed, but sadly ... history repeats itself."
At the time, the British newspaper, The Guardian, had also contacted Givenchy for comment and received the following statement from their spokesperson: "The house has no official response to this."
The Burberry 'noose hoodie debacle': Here's what model Liz Kennedy had to say about the runway look
Model Liz Kennedy, who did not present the Burberry look on the runway but walked in the show, also issued a statement saying, "Suicide is not fashion. How can anyone overlook something like that and think it's okay to showcase it, especially in a collection dedicated to young girls* and teenagers. [...] Not to mention the rising suicide rates worldwide, we should also not forget the horrific history of lynchings (...)".
In response to the public uproar, Marco Gobbetti, chief executive of Burberry, apologised to CNN for the look: "We deeply regret that one of the products featured on the catwalk for our autumn winter 2019 collection has caused so much distress [and mental stress]."
Fashion and politics: how far should artistic activism go?
The interplay between art and social responsibility has produced some of fashion's most stunning moments. The recently deceased Vivienne Westwood, for example, recognised the potential of the catwalk as a site of political activism and rebellion, denouncing everything there (from political inaction on climate change to human rights abuses), in her collections and their presentation on the runway.
But the problem is that some brands are now trying to outdo each other with their political activism. To do so, they are increasingly resorting to shock as a stylistic device - which unfortunately often backfires.
Another fairly recent example of this is Balenciaga's "Holiday Campaign", released at the end of 2022, in which children posed with teddy bears (or bags in a plush bear look), apparently dressed in BDSM fetish clothing. As if that wasn't "difficult" enough, documents showing a Supreme Court ruling in a child pornography case were also discovered in the staging of the backdrop. Coincidence or oversight? Hardly.
This was also followed by a public outcry (on social media), which was taken up and multiplied by conspiracy theorists in addition to the justified criticism. Later, Balenciaga released a statement via Instagram in which the company apologised for the campaign and then took legal action against the production company and the set designer.
Kylie Jenner earned criticism at Fashion Week not only for the Givenchy necklace
But back to Kylie Jenner, who was already criticised for another outfit at Paris Haute Couture Week 2023: her controversial dress by Schiaparelli, with a fake lion's head, went viral on social media and caused a heated debate on the topic of animal welfare and the glorification of "trophy hunting". Many, including animal rights group PETA, celebrated the dresses as a "statement against trophy hunting", while others (including British activist and wife of former British Prime Minister Carrie Johnson), called them "gruesome and horrible". It should be said at this point that the animals shown, which were also seen several times on the runway, are not real ones, but very lifelike (artistic) imitations.
"In the age of social media, fashion brands, designers and their legions of celebrities and influencers are able to influence people and bring about social change, for better or worse" - Dr. Jessica Quillin
This is why supposedly political symbols like the Givenchy necklace or the Burberry hoodie are condemned by the public
Unlike the two clear positions formed in the debate over the Schiaparelli dress and its accompanying show, there is only one clear position on Givenchy's noose necklace. The noose (which looks like a gallows rope) is a symbol closely associated with suicide. And considering that 700,000 people die by suicide every year and suicide is (according to the World Health Organisation) the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds, it's no surprise that many people strongly condemn the accessory.
But it is not only for viewers that this production has a bitter aftertaste - within the fashion industry, too, several personalities or designers - including Alexander McQueen, Kate Spade and L'Wren Scott - have committed suicide in the past 15 years.
In addition, the symbol of the noose is anchored in another cultural-historical context, which for many people evokes memories of traumatic events.
Dr Jessica Quillin, fashion strategist and co-owner of the agency It's A Working Title, tells our GLAMOUR UK colleagues that the noose is symbolically "a reference to the long, brutal history of lynching or hanging African Americans in the United States". "In the age of social media, fashion brands, designers and their legions of celebrities and influencers are able to influence people and bring about social change, for better or worse," Quillin continues. "In this case, fashion brands have a responsibility not to glamorise suicide, self-harm and eating disorders."
Kylie Jenner faces criticism for wearing 'ethically questionable' accessory
It's sad that such a controversial accessory (which, moreover, has been talked about so much) is now back in the public discourse - especially when worn by someone like Kylie Jenner, whose reach is hugely influential on current beauty and fashion trends.
Although the fashion industry has made great strides in diversity and inclusion, unfortunately it is still too often said that shock - and the attention that comes with it - is more important than respect. "It's just impious to send an already criticised accessory down the runway that commemorates an act of violence and one of the most painful chapters of Black history in the United States and then have Kylie Jenner wear it," Quillin said. Givenchy's decision to turn a symbol associated with suicide into a fashion accessory (and Kylie Jenner's decision to wear it) is not only culturally insensitive, but simultaneously trivialises and glamorises a serious issue.