Style magazines rarely challenge their audiences to how they think, however a feature article on clothes designed for people with disabilities had caused quite a stir.
Back in 1998, the photographer Nick Knight, fashion designer Alexander McQueen, and Jefferson Hack, a magazine editor, collaborated to create a photoshoot which broke down one of the last bastions of body fascism.
The end result was a 14 page feature article in the magazine Dazed & Confused, titled “Accessible”, which depicted various people with disabilities in designer clothes, emanating a quite beautiful and powerful presence. The introduction read “”In a world where the mainstream concept of what is and isn’t beautiful becomes increasingly narrow, you have to be young, you have to be thin, you should preferably be blonde, and of course, pale skinned.”
Paralympic Athlete Aimee Mullins in Dazed’s September 1998 Fashion Able issue Photography Nick Knight
In the previous year, McQueen had decided he wanted to develop a project with people who had disabilities. While it was assumed that the idea was a result of a year of producing clothes for the rich, privileged woman, McQueen always had an eye for the unconventional. With help from his stylist, Katy England, they began contacting disability organizations throughout the country. The result was overwhelming; over fifty people wanted to be involved, and from that number only eight were selected.
“Ninety nine per cent of the organisations we contacted were positive,” says England. “It took a lot of explaining, because of people’s impressions of the fashion industry. They were immediately sceptical and wondered why we would want to do it. We had to break down those barriers with them and be very honest.”
Hussein Chalayan, Philip Treacy and Commes des Garcons were also employed for the project, with each designer being paired with a disabled person; the goal was to have each model’s personality reflected in the clothes they were to wear.
Sophie Dahl by Nick Knight
Nick Knight, who was chosen as the spread’s photographer, was also no stranger to the unconventional, pushing the boundaries of fashion photography earlier by being the first photographer to shoot the size 14 model Sophie Dahl, for Visionaire. Again subverting from the then ‘conventional’ model, he shot Sara Morrisson, a size 16 model, for Vogue in 1997, causing a stir in the fashion world. In his Levi’s Red Tab campaign in August 1996, Knight used octogenarian ranchers.
Such unconventional means have led many to think that Knight is criticizing the fashion industry and their ideology of models, however Knight has always spoken out against violence and his hatred for it, and such works as his photographs for the Spanish publication Big in May 1997 were so graphic that the magazine had to carry a warning label.
Allwood, E (2014) Is disability fashion’s forgotten diversity frontier? viewed on 22/09/2015:
Williams, C (1998) Fashion breaks last Taboo viewed on 22/09/2015: