6th March 2017

Guardian Angel or Glamorising Arms?

Is there a danger in sporting a fashion accessory without understanding its power as a political message? How aware of we are the statements we make?

The fashion industry is no stranger to controversy. In fact, it thrives off it. At the forefront of artistic culture, designers regularly dictate what’s new and exciting in the coming months, frequently with a pinch of contention. To cite the obvious, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood immediately come to mind.

The industry reflects upon, if not instigates, political controversy. For one, Autumn/Winter 2017 runways seemed laden with feminist slogan t-shirts in light of the international uprising against Trump’s inauguration. The President’s misogyny continues to fuel feminist fashion but his political stance towards America’s Second Amendment appears to fall short of representation.

The Second Amendment states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Considering the number of deaths caused throughout the US for the unsafe keeping of firearms and readily available access to the weapons, the Second Amendment continually sparks heated debate across the globe.

It is therefore perhaps time for VLIEGER & VANDAM’s line ‘Guardian Angel’, launched in 2002, to return to the controversial limelight. The accessories featured embossed outlines of guns on the outside of handbags, backpacks and purses for both men and women in luxury leather. Their website states that the design arose when designers Carolien Vlieger and Hein Van Dem witnessed the ‘street violence in the city of Rotterdam’ after moving there. The line has since grown to feature styles sporting embossed kitchen knives, claws, handcuffs and dachshunds (in case weaponry isn’t your style).

Despite its launch occurring fifteen years ago, VLIEGER & VANDAM continue to be immensely popular amongst celebrities and designers; the gun bag can boast high profile outings with the likes of Rihanna and model Irina Shayk.

However the bag comes with a warning. Printed inside each ‘Original Guardian Angel’ is the message: ‘Do not use it for self-defence purposes. The weapon feature at the front is fake. To avoid any problems, do not take this bag on a plane as hand luggage and do not take this bag to the bank to pick up cash. Please do enjoy it!’ It would seem the ‘Guardian Angel’ is more likely to cause a problem than act protectively.

In 2015, despite the designs’ built-in warning, a proud owner traveling from Bremen Airport in Germany became a subject of suspicion. The airport since banned the bag to avoid any further false security threats. This is hardly surprising however — it is a loud passive aggressive statement, especially if styled in an emboldening orange.

So in light of the controversial politics reverberating around America, should one still sport the VLIEGER & VANDAM accessories? The underlying message may be supposed to reflect self-protection but does that translate appropriately?

I became aware of this bag when my housemate showed me its recent appearance on a fashion blogger’s Instagram account. After posting a picture of the bag and stating her love for it, the Instagrammer’s followers raised some reasonable concerns. One questioned whether it was ‘glamorising violence’ whilst another asked: ‘Slogans and symbolism are so often used to make a fashion statement, but do you feel your platform as a fashion blogger has made you more aware of what you might be promoting?’ These are perfectly reasonable questions to ask, especially considering the influence bloggers and fashion Instagrammers have on young people. Is this really something they should, perhaps thoughtlessly, post? I believe in this particular blogger’s ignorance, for she replied to one criticism: ‘It’s just an item of clothing. I like it, sorry you don’t x’. It is not just an item of clothing; controversial fashion is a statement that you must consider before publicly displaying it, especially if you are not willing to face a backlash.

Of course, the impressionable masses that choose not to read into the political implications also had their say. One writes ‘as if your style wasn’t killer enough now it looks like you’re carrying a gun’. This just demonstrates the appropriation and skewed symbolism of a bag that was once a statement of self-protection. Most frustratingly however was the comment: ‘The gun cannot hurt you, it is an inanimate object. You need an evil person to do harm to another person. “M” doesn’t look like the dangerous type 🙂 Gun is a symbol for badassness or protection’. Firstly, guns are a symbol of violence. They are a weapon designed to cause physical harm. Granted, this may perhaps be in self-defence but not to reflect a fashion blogger’s ‘badassness’. Secondly… Doesn’t look like the dangerous type? Smiley face? So if someone doesn’t look dangerous, clearly they cannot possibly do anyone any harm? This is the fundamental problem of the comment: making the assumption about one’s violent inclination based upon their physical appearance.

Personally, the appropriation of weaponry as fashion falls into a dangerous category. It is unfortunate that the original message of the ‘Guardian Angel’ has lost its previously intended symbolism but this was perhaps inevitable considering the fifteen years of political and social change since its release. Therefore should one choose to purchase an item of controversial clothing, there are several factors to consider. Firstly, be aware of what message you may be presenting to the public. Secondly, be conscious of what offence you may cause. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, you must be prepared to defend your decision with well-informed reasoning.

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