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Editorial

HT EDIT-Fashioning anti-surveillance As surveillance goes ubiquitous, the fashion industry responds

October 12, 2019 04:52 AM

COURTESY HT OCT 12 Fashioning anti-surveillance
As surveillance goes ubiquitous, the fashion industry responds

Last month, one of the more exciting things that happened in London was the bi-annual London Fashion Week (LFW). One of the “Big Four” global fashion events alongside Paris, Milan, and New York, LFW is always a big-ticket event. And this year was especially interesting, with many sustainable fashion lines being showcased and conversations being triggered around many uncomfortable subjects within the realm of high fashion. This included topics such as sustainable fashion, with many designers and fashion houses doing “zero carbon” shows and featuring “recycled” materials. But one of the more extraordinary things at LFW was the significant rise of what is being spoken of as “anti-surveillance” fashion.


We now live in a world of near-constant surveillance. Other than the steady stream of data that is harvested about our whereabouts, likes, and dislikes by our phones and the many apps in it, facial recognition is making it nearly impossible to go through most cities (at least in the first world) without being seen. In places such as Hong Kong, where the threat of incarceration and punishment loom large for those taking part in street demonstrations and other forms of protest, anti-surveillance measures such as face masks and paint were more armour than fashion. But the LFW took the conversation about privacy, anonymity, and the ability to be in public without being seen to the next level. Members of The Dazzle Club, which organises walks around London to raise awareness about surveillance, it was reported, did so with red, blue, and black stripes painted on their faces to confound facial recognition cameras. Designers have been experimenting with “decoy” patterns on textiles and fake licence plates on clothes to feed “junk data” into surveillance systems. If it doesn’t prevent reading genuine ones, at least one can feed bad data to the system. One American designer even created sunglasses that block infrared facial recognition cameras.

The fashion industry is one of the most aspirational, lucrative industries in the world, not always known for its socially responsible behaviour. But when the bigwigs of this industry notice a cause, you know it has arrived. As masks, camouflage, and other ways of subverting surveillance become high fashion, and the best minds of the glamour world tell the rest of us how one can look fabulous and protect our privacy, one can both grasp the spread of surveillance and the deep desire to resist

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