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Kanye’s Paris Fashion Week mask violates France’s niqab ban. So where exactly is his fine?

Muslim women like me are policed and fined for wanting to wear modest clothing, but apparently it’s a different story if you’re the rich, famous, male Ye

Hafsa Lodi
Wednesday 26 January 2022 16:50 GMT
Julia Fox and Kanye West arrive at Schiaparelli show
Julia Fox and Kanye West arrive at Schiaparelli show (David Fisher/Shutterstock)

From the much-anticipated Kenzo show to Schiaparelli’s glorious haute couture runway, Paris Fashion Week is Kanye West’s current sartorial stage. Headlines discussing his appearances over the past few days have largely focused on the woman accompanying him — his new girlfriend Julia Cox — and the cheesy, matching outfits they’ve been wearing. But forget the double-denim get-ups and all-black leathers — there’s something far more pressing to be said about his attire, especially when it comes to his current accessory of choice.

To Schiaparelli’s couture presentation on Monday, Kanye wore a black mask that covered his entire face, save for two small slits for his eyes. “He added some drama with a black face mask,” reads a Harper’s Bazaar story, with the nonchalance more fit for describing colorful shoelaces than for a mask that conjures up images of bank robbers. Publications have repeatedly deem Kanye’s masked aesthetic “daring” and “head-turning,” and even referred to the black mask as “Paris Fashion Week’s Must-See Accessory” when he wore one to Balenciaga’s Paris show last July.

But what most have failed to notice is the fact that Paris Fashion Week’s supposedly must-see accessory is actually legally forbidden under its Law of 2010-1192. France’s “Act prohibiting concealment of the face in public space” has been in effect since 2011, outlawing the donning of niqabs, balaclavas and masks in public spaces. Those who break this law can be fined up to 150 euros.

In 2020, France controversially confirmed that it would continue to uphold this ban, even while making face masks mandatory due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s quite unreasonable, not to mention unfair, to force your citizens to wear a face mask while at the same time forbidding female Muslims from wearing niqabs, or face veils, which essentially cover the same area of skin as medical face masks do. This inconsistency inevitably brought to light the country’s Islamophobic motivations for implementing the law in the first place, made more evident with the introduction of recent rulings: its Separatism Bill, passed last July, outlaws hijabs on minors, and just last week, the French Senate voted in favor of banning hijabs in sports competitions.

Time and again, Muslim women are made painfully aware of the double standards that dictate societal trends and political policies. Covering up is deemed elegant and demure when “modesty” becomes a buzzword that influences the mainstream Western fashion industry, but is connoted with oppression and patriarchy when seen on Muslim women of color. Women who wish to wear niqabs in France face fines and “citizenship education” classes, yet Kanye is free to walk around on public streets and at prestigious fashion shows with his face fully covered. He is photographed by paparazzi and his images go viral, inspiring humorous memes on social media, all while in a country where his head-turning accessory is supposed to be forbidden. But his fame, it seems, saves him from such scrutiny; he is allowed to don his full-coverage face mask because of his privilege and celebrity status — and also perhaps, because he is male.

Kanye has a long history of hiding his face. Whether it’s to attract or to avoid publicity is anyone’s guess, but he has worn face-concealing accessories previously to public events, even in Paris. In a particularly poorly worded headline, Australian men’s website DMARGE stated that Kanye had committed “style terrorism” with his mask at Balenciaga’s Paris Fashion Week show last July. And, back in 2013, only two years after France’s face covering law (which explicitly mentions balaclavas) was implemented, Kanye was seen wearing a red balaclava in Paris. Now, almost a decade later, balaclavas have been back in the limelight after gaining popularity on TikTok, with Muslim women pointing out the hypocrisies laced within the widespread glorification of this knitted headwear trend.

Kanye’s mask-wearing culminated at his heavily hyped-up Donda listening event last year, where he completed his look with a completely skin-tight black face mask once again. A similar design, complete with zips for the eye slits, is available from his Donda merch, for a whopping 230 euros. Variations of “the veil” are glamorized with Kanye’s celebrity stamp while elsewhere, such ghoulish masks would be seen as outlandish, intimidating and threats to security — the latter being a purported cause for burka bans in areas of Europe and Canada.

Ye’s penchant for masking has even made a rather unfortunate impression on his estranged wife, Kim Kardashian, who opted for an all-black, face-covering Balenciaga ensemble at the Met Gala, and was called “edgy” and “mysterious”. Her ill-timed and culturally insensitive ensemble brought about backlash because she wore it in the wake of the Taliban’s triumph in Afghanistan, when burqas, which cover the wearer from head to toe in black in a similar fashion, were being used as symbols of fundamentalism and anti-feminism in the mainstream media.

In October, NSS Magazine ran a story exploring Kanye’s obsession with masks, concluding that for the rapper, they may be “a way to hide, to escape from one’s ego, but above all a collective illusion with which to make fun of ourselves once again.” In need of a serious reality check, Ye needs to read the room. If Muslim women are outlawed from covering their faces because of their deeply rooted religious and spiritual convictions, then it’s hardly fair for him to be able to do so for fun, for art, or for self-expression — certainly not in a country where veiled women are not only vilified, but disallowed that freedom of expression themselves.

Kanye’s masks should have never boarded the jet with him to Paris. At the very least, he should be fined 150 euros under France’s face-covering law — pocket change for the billionaire rapper.

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