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
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
News
Ireland will not find out whether gay couples have won the right to marry until Saturday afternoon
news
News
Kim Jong-un's brother Kim Jong-chol
news
News
Manchester city skyline as seen from Oldham above the streets of terraced houses in North West England on 7 April 2015.
news
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.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?