22-Aug, 04:14

10:17, October 27 146 0

2016-10-27 10:17:14
Unbuttoned: The Creepy Clown in Your Closet

We all know by now of the creepy clown trend/phenomenon/scare that has been sweeping the globe since it started in Greenville, S.C., in August. It’s spread to Canada, Britain, Germany and Australia, creating an existential image crisis not only among those who see their job as bringing fun and laughter to the world, but also among those trying to shop for Halloween.

Kemper County in Mississippi has made it illegal for anyone to “appear in public in a clown costume, clown mask or clown makeup” until the day after Halloween, according to the local newspaper; Ronald McDonald has temporarily gone on semi-hiatus.

Stores like Target have decided to stop selling scary clown masks (their clown costumes for kids and happy clown outfits are still available), while others, like Halloween Express, have reported a huge bump in demand for the outfits of macabre Bozos. Either way, come next Monday. everyone will be on peak clown alert.

Fact is, looking like a clown these days is a contentious issue.

But beyond Party City and Halloween, what exactly does that mean? And should it make us think twice about how we dress — or at least how we talk about how we dress?

Parents have uttered the stock phrase “you look like a clown” to children for years, usually in reference to what the former consider outré clothing adopted by the latter.

Donald J. Trump has been labeled a “sad clown” (by The Week), the “class clown” (by Wonkette) and a “depraved clown” (by Michael Steele, the Republican strategist).

The model Lily Cole made headlines in The Daily Mail for wearing “clown-like trousers” (they were baggy and busker-striped in bright blue, red, yellow and turquoise).

Which speaks to the reality that while most of the creepy clowns cited in news reports are sporting generic clown wigs, white face and exaggerated joker makeup (and may or may not be wearing clown-related clothing), clown-related clothing is in fact a basic part of the fashion vernacular, whether we realize it or not. And most often, it is the spookier side of the style that has seduced. Creepy clowns were in fashion long before they were in the news.

I am not talking here about the “fashion clown,” you understand: a term included in the urban dictionary and defined as “a person who is laughably clueless and hopelessly shallow, but attempts to use various fashionable associations in the form of supporting fashionable movements and owning fashionable products, to convince society (and themselves) that they are cultured, intelligent, creative and generally a worldly person.”

Rather, I am talking about the fact that, even beyond the beauty elements, the core semiology of the classic clown costume—- from the Pierrot ruffle and harlequin checks of the commedia dell’arte to the more generic baggy trousers and riot of print and color of both Chuckles and his evil twin, Chucky — is also, as it happens, among the core elements of most designers’ inspiration box.

In truth, and as a result, not looking like a clown may be easier said than done.

If in doubt, simply consider a brief tour of recent style history. Alexander McQueen dipped into the worlds of depressed Victorian clowns in his fall 2001 collection of carnival crashers, putting shredded Miss Havisham lace and tulle gowns and deconstructed martinet suiting on his (literal) fashion merry-go-round.

His fall 2009 collection featured leering, oversize blood-red lips inspired by “clowns, divas and Pierrot, with a bit of Joan Crawford thrown in,” as the makeup artist Peter Philips said at the time.

In 2006, Gareth Pugh made his solo runway debut with a surreal parade of black and gold diamond bodysuits and coats, explosive ruffs and pompom updos.

For his fall 2007 couture show in honor of Dior’s 60th anniversary, John Galliano included a living replica of Picasso’s “Young Harlequin” complete with pastel satin suit, peplum and peach ruff.

In 2011, Bill Gaytten, replacing the then-disgraced and fired Mr. Galliano, revisited the idea and closed his first collection for Dior couture with Karlie Kloss as a very angry-looking Pierrot in a lilac confetti gown and, yes, yet another white ruff.

Then, when he returned to fashion in 2015, Mr. Galliano also returned to clowns, showcasing lurid, cartoonish makeup in his first ready-to-wear collection for Maison Margiela.

Shortly thereafter, British Vogue declared “clown trousers” a bona fide trend, as championed by Olivier Rousteing at Balmain. And only a few months later, Jun Takahashi used ruffs and candy colors and ringmaster suiting as the uniform signifiers of a new kind of insurrection in his Undercover show at the Cirque d’Hiver Bouglione (a favorite site, not coincidentally, of Mr. McQueen).

Finally — at least for the moment — Riccardo Tisci piled on the stripes and dots and swirls (and ankle socks) earlier this month for his Givenchy spring 2017 collection.

Little wonder, really, that in the middle of all that, Refinery29 ran an editorial called “Why It’s Cool to Look Like a Clown.” The references were so ubiquitous that Paper magazine christened the movement “clowncore.”

You can argue about whether or not the resulting styles are scary or silly, or whether what was generally seen as silly before will now be considered scary (and the judgment probably lies in the eye of the beholder). But you can’t deny the association, or the subliminal reference points.

Nor, no matter how much everyone might like to, can you really disaggregate them. Because the reason for the attraction is simple: Fashion and clowns share a common DNA, which has to do with exaggeration and unexpected juxtapositions and decontextualization.

Both disciplines use clothing to startle and amuse, and both understand its ability to undermine expectations; they exploit that to demand a reassessment of the everyday.

For both, it’s about coloring outside the lines (and the lips). Which is a scary idea for many, even before you take recent events into account. But in that provocation also lies power.

Trick or treat?