Rena Niamh Smith

The ugly truth about beauty

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Rena Niamh Smith unpicks fashion’s ambiguous relationship with gender, revealing how it relies on the labour of poor women, while both exploiting people’s insecurities and claiming to celebrate “empowerment”.

Every fashion show I’ve ever attended names “strong women” as inspiration in the show notes, whether the collection was conceptual art pieces, or micro dresses and four-inch heels.

Style can be empowering. Angela Davis’s afro was a bold, beautiful middle finger to the Eurocentric beauty standards imposed on black women, symbolic of systematic oppression of black people. Like music, style is an art and individual garments, or hairstyles, both hold aesthetic merit and operate in a wider, often political, trend.

When hypocrisy’s in fashion

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A handful of significant appointments of black designers and cover stars marks something of a change for the fashion industry, but racism is rooted in much deeper structural problems.

This year is being hailed as a breakthrough year for black figures in the fashion industry.

Virgil Abloh was appointed creative director for menswear at Louis Vuitton. Ghanaian-born Edward Enninful, who took over as editor-in-chief of British Vogue in late 2017, made Rihanna the first black woman to star on the all-important September issue. A record number of other major magazines had black September cover stars, from Beyoncé for American Vogue to Slick Woods for Elle UK.

Behind the cloak of glamour

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In a new series of columns Rena Niamh Smith will look at aspects of the fashion industry, from ideology to racism, sexism and the environment. She begins with Fashion Week and how it conceals the system beneath.

This month, Spring/Summer 2019 Fashion Week swaggers into New York, followed by London, Milan and Paris. The carnival of shows is one of the most visible elements of an industry which cloaks itself in mystery. It is a multimillion-pound charade masking practices typical of capitalism: worker exploitation and artificially high consumption of the world’s resources.

Kahlo’s stature on display

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As the world-leading V&A opens its Frida Kahlo exhibition, Rena Niamh Smith looks at the complex life of this iconic artist.

Frida Kahlo’s image has become a pop cult touchstone. With the crown of flowers, monobrow, dark eyes and the sometimes-omitted moustache, this disabled bisexual Mexican communist’s image is eclipsing Che Guevara’s as the in-the-know poster child for rebellion with a zeitgeist feminist update.

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