wear your heart on your sleeve

METROPOLITAN LIFE There's no contradiction in being a feminist and a fashion designer, according to Karen Savage, queen of tongue-in- chic. She talks to Lorna Russell

when Germaine Greer launched a vitriolic attack on her younger sister- in-feminism, Suzanne Moore, her main complaint seemed to be that Moore didn't look like a feminist. To be specific, she wore far too much lipstick, "fuck me shoes" (stilettos) and overdid things on the hair spray front.

The remarks were a throwback to the days when your credentials as a feminist were seen to depend on lack of concern for your appearance. Yet, despite an increased acceptance that women can want to look good and want to be considered an intelligent life form, fashion still poses a multitude of dilemmas.

Karen Savage is 26, a feminist, and a fashion designer. She is best known for her T-shirt designs, which deftly subvert the modishly girlie "boy- toy" and "babe" type slogans that have recently multiplied. Like all good tops their cut is the figure-hugging, "body" shape and they come in the girlie colours of pastel pink, baby blue, or white. Unlike them, in cute "post-feminist" style either "Virgin" or "Baby" is emblazoned across the front. So far so safe. But with a quick Wonder Woman-style twirl the back of the T-shirt reveals an alternative message: "Whore" or "Bitch". "The stereotypes throughout the centuries have always been that a woman is either the good fairy or the bad witch," says Savage. "My message is that she can be both."

These are the sort of T-shirts that would make you consider where you might end up that evening before putting one on in the morning. Grandad ain't going to like it. The builders might not get it. Savage admits that you need to be sure of yourself to wear her designs: "It's having the confidence to walk down the road past a load of work guys and have them going 'baby, baby' and then give them that pay-off of 'Bitch' on the back. It's the confidence to provoke.

"I know people who bought the Virgin/Whore T-shirt and they had to keep it in the drawer for months before they got the confidence to wear it. Next thing I know they're going to me, 'OK, what's next?' "

How about one of the T-shirts from a later show, featuring a blow-up doll's face on the front and "Blow My Mind" on the back? Or a white PVC flasher's Mac which opens up to reveal pictures of nude women? "When I started this collection I didn't know where I stood on porn. I came to the conclusion that for me, in my sexual life, soft porn isn't a problem, but I do draw the line at hard porn - basically when someone's being hurt. To me a nude image of a man or a woman is erotic, not degrading. I think women need to get their own personal stance sorted out."

Savage is all for feminism in general being a personal thing and is embarrassed about the ideological arguments that go on: "The only way for me is the individual feminist living it herself, every day."

She arrived at her own beliefs more-or-less from just sitting around in her room. "I had always really loved the Pre-Raphaelite women; they were just so dreamy and romantic. Then one day I suddenly realised that it was always guys painting women. Then I turned round and looked at all the books on my shelf and they were all by men. I thought, there must be female artists, authors, film makers, and I want to know about them."

This opening of her eyes has filled her head with new ideas for design after design. The next collection may look at swimwear, or bridal dresses, or the conundrum that is Baroness Thatcher. Her spring/summer collection, previewed at the London Fashion Show, is entitled "Beautiful Is Painful". Wanting to find out where she stood on plastic surgery, she got her hands on as much material as possible on going under the knife and concluded that, "basically, it really, really hurts".

Savage has no time for the more unsubtle ploys of the fashion industry. She is horrified at the apparent return of corsets and disbelieving that designers could be trying to tempt women back into stilettos and strappy sandals. "It's just not intelligent," she says, "people's memories aren't so short that they're just going to slip straight back into corsets and stilettos. We're not going to fall for it again."

On the other hand, in her last show she used "so-called perfect-type women" to model her clothes. But she thought this was great because they were wearing her flasher's Macs which opened to reveal another Savage trademark: the "up yours!" fingers: "The guys were like, tongues hanging out, and yet the models were like this ... !" (cue enthusiastic demonstration).

As far as Savage is concerned the deal seems to be that as long as you're making people think, communicating an idea, taking the piss, or just having fun with it, fashion can give women power.

"I'm aware that there's some conditioning involved in beauty and that makes me angry. But then I think, 'OK, time to get some new messages across.' "

8 For stockists call 0171 729 7680.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Negotiator - OTE £23,000

    £13500 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning, Bolton base...

    Recruitment Genius: Client Account Executive

    £23000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Account Executive is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing Executive

    £7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Full Time position available now at a growing...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive + incentives + uncapped comms: SThree:...

    Day In a Page

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future