I walked past a huge advertisement for Converse in Melbourne Central the other day, and I was kind of impressed. The ad shows a long line of people wearing Chuck Taylors, and features quite a few people of non-European appearance. I don’t remember exactly but at least half a dozen of the models were identifiably non-white, which is unusual for Australia. This was probably the most multiculturalism I’ve seen outside a government or university advertisement.
It was also the first time I’ve seen women wearing hijab in mainstream fashion imagery, especially fashion marketed to young hipsters. In Malaysia, I saw women wearing tudung (headscarf) with NBA jerseys, track pants and thongs while riding motorbikes; swimming in lycra tudung wearing long rash vests and wetsuit leggings; I even went to a vintage festival where I saw young Muslim women mix up British punk t-shirts, retro dresses from Japan, and their own designs incorporating tudung into hoodies, tube scarfs and that drapey Dynasty 80s-does-Grecian thing that’s so popular right now. But hereI think people largely associate sartorial hijab with a very classic, feminine style – and (speaking as a non-Muslim) it seems like most of the Islamic wear shops here cater to that image too, though of course what that means differs across cultural traditions. And I think in the minds of Islamophobic Australians, while classic and feminine are acceptable and desirable values within a white Western tradition, in relation to Islam they necessarily mean oppressive gender-differentiated cultural traditions. It’s pretty annoying how much the West is obsessed with what Muslim women wear, while being generally uninterested in what Muslim women do or think. But given that context, I think showing “cool” young women in the West choosing to wear hijab is pretty powerful in countering assumptions that people have about hijab. There are a lot of blogs and even a magazine dedicated to hijabi and Muslimah fashion of more youthful, androgynous or counter-cultural orientations – as well as the awesome Tumblr of Muslims Wearing Things - but this is the only ad I’ve seen from a major label that features hijab.
Still, I feel like that shouldn’t be enough to impress me. Normally I’m pretty cynical about diversity in advertising. And everyone in the ad is still young, thin, attractive and cool-looking. No matter how much we fight for inclusion I think there’s always going to be someone outside fashion, outside beauty. Usually someone fat or old or disabled. As Mia Mingus says, “I don’t think we can reclaim beauty.” On top of that, Converse is owned by Nike and produced in sweatshops. (Disclaimer: I own three pairs, two from op shops and one from the store. My kid sister who is my barometer of cool owns something like four pairs genuine, three pairs knock-off.)
So why did I like this ad, apart from being a sucker for Converse? I guess I found it plausible. Convincing. Successful. It’s trying to tell me I could be cool like that – find that perfect balance between standing out and fitting in. It’s trying to sell me fashion in a way that’s accessible. And I guess I buy it – I’ve already bought it. The people in the ad look like they could be kids I know. And maybe they are - they shot the ad in Melbourne using members of the public. They’re selling me Melbourne, and I keep buying that. I can’t rationalise it: I know my loyalty to my city is no more defensible than any other parochialism or patriotism, no less grotesque and exclusionary and unjust. But somehow I keep buying it.
Anyway, I’d love to know what you think. I haven’t got a photo of the ad but there’s a video clip of the shoot below. Is it worth celebrating representations of POC in advertising? Is Melbourne pride at all defensible?