by Alicia Vidal
Countless greats have spoken at the Oxford Union over the years, and Edward Enninful and Marc Jacobs were no exception on the evening of Friday 6th October.
It is among the most prestigious of honours to address the historic debating chamber, with 450 of the next generation of leaders, movers and shakers eagerly hanging on to your every word. And yet I came out of the Q&A event – with two of fashion’s biggest names – feeling somewhat disappointed.
Of course, in comparison to many of the guests the debating society hosts, Enninful and Jacobs are not by profession public speakers used to giving great oratory performances. But they are, as the nature of their day jobs dictates, meant to inspire. They were entertaining, witty, charming, engaged, and gave the impression they were happy to be there and didn’t deem it a waste of their time. Both spoke well on the use of fashion as a form of self-expression, on making it your own and focusing on inspiration as opposed to ownership.
But they failed to properly address the bigger questions they were challenged on, concerning cultural appropriation, the environment, diversity and the size of models, beyond the wishy-washy “it’s important to have the conversation”. These responses left me wondering if they had opinions they felt too controversial to voice, or just had never taken the time to critically consider the issues. The latter, surely, far worse.
Perhaps I am wrong, however, to criticise them for this lack of message in their talk. Not everything should be about politics, as I am sure many readers will agree. But as Jacobs himself said when asked about whether fashion had a place in politics, anyone with a voice should use it. I stand firmly by my view that to not care about politics is a privilege. It is a small minority who can honestly hold that politics has no impact on their life, the people who have never had to fight for anything. The significant majority of the audience that night were female. As women, we are still fighting for so much.
But they failed to properly address the bigger questions they were challenged on, concerning cultural appropriation, the environment, diversity and the size of models, beyond the wishy-washy “it’s important to have the conversation”
One moment that has stuck with me however, was Enninful’s comments on success. His concern is that our generation is too anxious with making everything happen now, too obsessed with instant gratification. When he was our age, he took his time, he learned to master his craft, he made valuable mistakes. It was a sobering remark that we should all remind ourselves of as we battle through the sweaty crowds of the Careers Fair and try not to let the apparent pressure to secure the best internship overshadow the term. Perhaps the evening was not the fashion-related discussion I was hoping for, but nonetheless, the more I reflect on the talk, the more I realise the significance and profoundness of Enninful’s comments.