‘Harnessgate’-appropriation or acceptance?

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Men’s red-carpet fashion is traditionally a largely monotonous sea of black tuxedos, rarely receiving more than a passing mention from even the most thorough of fashion critics. Whilst men’s fashion itself is incredibly innovative with some of the industry’s best talent putting out collections, it has only been in the last few seasons that such innovation has crept onto the red carpet. In recent years, there has been a noticeable shift in the variety of formal menswear, with stylists taking far greater risks.

One such step away from traditional red-carpet style has been the BDSM inspired harness which has now walked the red carpet 3 times. Jeremy Scott first dressed Olympian Adam Rippon in a Moschino harness, made visible through a cut-out tux. The look was highly lauded and in an interview between designer and muse for the Gay Times, Scott praised Rippon saying: “You did it purely. You were a vessel of my creativity”. But it has been the 2019 awards season and Virgil Abloh for Louis Vuitton which has really garnered attention as both Timothée Chalamet and Michael B Jordan have worn versions of what Abloh has instead decided to call a ‘bib’, a comment which has not been well-received within the LGBTQ+ community.

Virgil Abloh’s portrayal of the harnesses during his debut presentation at Vuitton appears to have kick started the harnesses’ sudden resurgence in the public eye.  Yet to claim that Abloh has been the first major designer to decontextualize the male harness from its BDSM birthplace would be inaccurate. Design titans such as Alexander McQueen, Dries Van Noten and Helmut Lang have all featured harnesses within previous menswear collections.

Abloh’s decision to mislabel the garment has been viewed by some as a cowardly choice as the designer chose to avoid the item’s rich LGBTQ+ history. Considering this fact, it is understandable that members of the LGBTQ+ community might express concerns as to the integrity of this recent surge in popularity, especially given the notoriously fickle and fleeting tenure of many trends in the fashion industry.  

Yet in other ways Louis Vuitton continues to blur the boundaries of masculinity in this #MeToo era and indeed, Jeremey Scott himself has praised the house’s use of androgynous models. Plus, Abloh’s inaugural collection was presented on a rainbow flag catwalk. Yet ultimately, for many the harness may still represent far more than an accessory, and it should be worn only with consideration and understanding of its LGBTQ+ roots.

Iona Tompkins

Image: NYtimes, Refinery29, etcanada.com