Fashion & Feminism with Faran Krentcil

Fashion & Feminism with Faran Krentcil
Illustration by Krentcil

Illustration by Krentcil

There’s going to be a new code of pretty. It’s not as overtly pretty, because men who respond to overtly pretty things are not the ones we care about right now. The codes of pretty are going to change. In order to feel protected against a regime that has openly said it’s okay to touch us, there are going to be a lot of clothes that make it a lot harder visually to touch us, to know where our bodies even are. This is so not over. I think you’re going to see a beautiful, bloody fight and we’re ready.
— Faran Krentcil
Illustration by Krentcil

Illustration by Krentcil

by Cassidy Seggern


I recently sat down with Faran Krentcil to talk about the intersections of fashion and feminism. Faran is an artist, writer, editor, and digital strategist. She has a wildly popular Tumblr site, where she posts her own illustrations that inspire and empower her 300k+ followers. Faran is also an Editor-At-Large at Elle Magazine and a Contributing Editor at Yahoo! Style.

CS: Your illustrations are very powerful. What are you trying to say when you make an illustration?

FK: I think all of the illustrations always go back to young women. I always think to myself, what would I need to hear right now if I were ten years younger? What aren’t girls hearing? What isn’t part of the narrative? A big thing that I felt as a kid, that I still see now that really kills me is you have to choose between being smart and pretty, or choose between being a Jackie and a Marilyn. Sexy isn’t a dirty word. Smart is not a life sentence to being single. Being single is not a life sentence to not being beautiful or fulfilled. None of these things should tie someone down. And, they don’t tie dudes down. Nobody ever tells a dude: you’ve got the brains, you can’t have the brawn. Dismantling this silly idea that we can’t be strong and like nail polish- I find that to be a big part of my life’s work, and I’ll tackle it as long as it needs to be tackled. 
There’s a lot that still needs dismantling. This whole virgin-whore complex, it has to stop. The whole idea that Kim Kardashian can’t possibly be smart because she takes pictures of herself is bullshit. I can try and make it easier for girls now to understand they can be many different things at the same time without feeling that they have to be accountable to someone else’s idea of who they are. So I guess there’s a lot of identity politics in a different sense. There’s certainly a lot of feminism but I want to be really clear that it’s pluralist feminism. Just because you like lipstick does not make you a bad feminist. The same way that just because you like having sex with men doesn’t make you a bad feminist. It does make you a bad lesbian.

Cs: How do you define your personal views on feminism?
Fk: To me, the ultimate definition of feminism is that your choices, your successes and your failures, should be limited by your abilities and nothing else. Another thread in the feminist narrative is solidarity and sisterhood. When one succeeds, we’ve all succeeded. We can never be free until everyone is free The idea of solidarity is a huge part of my feminism, because I do believe that we are stronger together, in the Hillary sense or not.  The major ideas of feminism for me are that the limit does not exist, like Mean Girls. You can do anything that you want to do, not just regardless of your gender, but almost because of your gender. I don’t think one gender is superior to the other. But I do think that any body that is created to literally shove out another human being might have the edge. The geography of our own bodies is incredibly strong and wonderful, why wouldn’t we try to celebrate that?

CS: How have you seen your art and illustrations evolve?
FK: The messages have become a lot more universal. Before I was doing it to kind of record what was going on in my life. If you go through my old notebooks from high school and college, they’re all very tied to who I was dating and what I was thinking, and where I went shopping, and what movie star I liked. I hope now they’re more universal. The good thing about being angry is that it always leads to art. One of the upsides to this terrible catastrophe out country seems to be in is that we’re all really motivated to make things that matter. We need to hold each other to that motivation to make sure that everybody is testing the waters and making things. I would like the work that I make to have a long-lasting public impact on how young women feel about themselves and their capabilities.

CS: I heard in another interview you did that many young girls have reached out to you for advice. What do you think about being in that role and what do you think are the problems that the girls who look up to you face?

FK: I hope they tell me! I hope they reach out to me. I hope if they trust me to guide them and listen to them. First of all, it’s very difficult for me to see myself that way when I work in the fashion and media world where there are women who have an unbelievable, immediate economic, cultural, sexual on young women. And I see it happen. Sometimes I amplify it with something that I write.

CS: Example?
FK: If Alexa Chung wears a bag, it sells out. I can’t do that. That’s power. If you can make someone buy something, you’re powerful. Maybe you don’t like that definition of power, but that is the system we live in right now. I can’t do that. I can’t tell you what my favorite lipstick is and you go buy it. That is not me. In terms of how I feel about these people looking up to me… Thank you. I look up to you guys too. I think you’re coming into a time when you can be more than one thing, and you’re not going to be as interrogated for it. You have a lot of information a lot earlier. One of my favorite phrases is “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” because you get to choose. We’ve all been the good witch, we’ve all been the bad witch. If you’re looking up to my work and me it’s because you at least want to try to be the good witch.  I would also say if you’re looking up to me or looking to me for guidance, it’s because you feel a little bit lost or a little bit shaky. To that, I would say I’ve been there and I’m still there sometimes.  I promise you that if you keep focusing on being a good witch, which means if you keep focusing on being as powerful and as beautiful and as good- not only will it get better but everyone is going to want to be you.

CS: How do you think pop culture affects how women view themselves?
FK: Pop culture now is great for feminism because you have a lot more options. You have a lot more colors. You have a lot more ages. You have a lot more body types. You have a lot more professions being depicted on television. I think its kind of lazy when we blame pop culture on exclusiveness or body image problems, because pop culture is a reflection of who we want to be and a reflection of what we’re afraid of. Are there girls who are going to go to the plastic surgeon when they’re 15 and beg to look like Kylie Jenner? Yeah. But you know what? 10 years ago they would’ve tried to look like Paris Hilton, and 10 years before that they would’ve tried to look like Brittney Spears Pop culture is like drugs, or junk food, or sex… Anything with power can go either way. Money, fashion- they can help you realize who you want to be, or they can be a voice in your head that says “you’re never enough”. You’re the one who’s going to have to be strong enough to choose which way it’s going to go.

CS: Do you think fashion and feminism work for or against each other?
FK: It’s kind of like asking if a fast car is useful or dangerous. It’s super beautiful and super useful because it will get you wherever you want to go. May be dangerous if the wrong person is behind the wheel. I think instead of assigning value to fashion, what if we look at it practically in terms of its power? Fashion literally creates an image, and it’s used to construct an identity. We’re not just talking about clothes; we’re going beyond that and talking about fashion. It’s a classic good witch/bad witch situation. You can try and use fashion to make women feel bad about themselves. I don’t know any fashion brands that have succeeded.

CS: That would be a pretty terrible marketing strategy.
FK: I think a runway collection becomes empowering not just because of the clothes, but because of the women you put into the clothes. How different are they? How strong are they? How happy? It’s tricky, because representation matters. Images matter. If you only show one body type or one skin color or one age, you’re making a lot of other women feel bad. When you don’t see yourself represented, you feel like you don’t exist. When you feel like you don’t exist, is there anything more sad? The industry has to work hard to make sure that we acknowledge the full scope of beauty in the world- all ages, all sizes, all colors.  But is fashion inherently limiting in terms of feminism? No way. If we’re talking about how the only real power in our world is economic power, fashion is the second biggest industry in America. It’s also the only industry in America where women are routinely the CEOs of companies. We are the only industry, fashion and beauty, where there are as many female CEOs as male CEOs. We’re the only industry that touches art, commerce, and environmentalism. I feel like people so say that fashion isn’t feminist, are the same people that say you can’t be a certain type of feminist. You’re obviously not paying attention.

CS: So they work together.
FK: I think they should work for each other. I think there are examples when they don’t, but those examples, in my experience, are usually when a designer is thinking more about their art than they are about women. Sometimes you see women sacrificed at the altar of someone’s higher idea of art. For me, that’s fashion doing it wrong. If it’s not in your closet, if it’s on a wall, that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the intersection of aesthetics and economics and your body. That’s why it’s exciting for me.

CS: Thinking about the commodification of feminism, you see a Dior “We Should All Be Feminists” t-shit that you can buy for $500.

FK: Is it 500?

CS: I was just guess-timating.
FK: That’s cheap, I think it’s going to be around $1200. I’ll ask. I also think it’s going to be sold out in 5 minutes.

CS: So what then do you think about the commodification of feminism?
FK: I think that if that were the only way to experience feminism – pay this $1500 member fee, buy this Dior shirt, be able to fit in this Dior shirt – then we would have a problem. I see (the shirt) and think, what would I think if I were 15? And what I would think is: this major fashion house that I look up to, but could never afford, was validating who I was, what I believed, and making it cool or visible for (people) that didn’t consider feminism part of their lives.
It takes a lot of effort to sell out. You have to be good at something, and you have to make people want what you have. If feminism becomes so popular that everyone wants to be apart of it, that’s not a defeat, it’s a win!
You know someone is going to say, Maria Grazia Chiuri is making money on our suffering. There’s this idea that if you’re doing something good, especially as a woman, how dare you make money for it?  Baseball players make millions of dollars and there’s very little complaint about that. Nor should there be. If they can make that kind of money, great. If Maria can make a million dollars for her company and do good work, why the hell not? That’s another argument set up by the patriarchy to divide us. Why shouldn’t we be making good money for doing good work? I hope that t-shirt sells out. Go forth and make money, female designers. Also the shirt isn’t’ celebrating suffering, it’s celebrating the strength and the movement that women around the world are doing. Feminism is a celebration.

CS: The fashion industry was heavily invested in Hillary Clinton for president.
FK: Yeah we did!

CS: I know in my office [at Tom Ford] the day after the election, a very heavy loss was felt.
FK: We all showed up wearing black. Every single person.

CS: So moving into 2017 with a sexist president, how do you think or hope fashion and feminism will work together?
FK: So there’s a precursor- collections are not designed the week before they hit the runway. There’s only so much reaction a collection can have if it’s already been built and its already being produced. I don’t think that we should expect every collection to all of a sudden react to a new reality that it hasn’t had time to literally manufacture for. I personally think that you’re going to start seeing a lot of the Joan of Arc iconography. This could be so wrong, but you might want to go back and look at what Marc Jacobs was doing in 2005. You’re going to start seeing a soldiered woman who isn’t going to let anyone grab her behind because she’ll turn around and fucking stab you. Also, there’s going to be a new code of pretty. It’s not as overtly pretty, because men who respond to overtly pretty things are not the ones we care about right now. The codes of pretty are going to change. In order to feel protected against a regime that has openly said it’s okay to touch us, there are going to be a lot of clothes that make it a lot harder visually to touch us. To know where our bodies even are. This is so not over. I think you’re going to see a beautiful, bloody fight and we’re ready.