Although I do not self-identify as such, if you ask my best friend, I am what one might call a skeptic (unless we are talking astrology, in which case I am all in). I am not easily convinced by ghost stories or conspiracies; however, I would attribute this more to fear of what would happen if these tall tales were real as opposed to actual susceptibility. I am thus what could be called a skeptic by necessity rather than by nature. That being said, I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy, especially if the likelihood that it will keep me up at night is kept at a minimum. That is why mixing PG-rated conspiracies with fashion history is just my speed. Although perhaps not as enthralling as stories surrounding Area 51 or the 2,032 Bigfoot sightings in Washington State, fashion has a few conspiracies that range from pretty convincing to just straight up bizarre. Although I had hoped to pull together a top five, the surprising lack of fashion conspiracies has resulted in a brief top 4 list, those of which I will divulge below…
Fashion-spiracy #4: Illuminati Case Number 1
At the top of the list, we have a strikingly large number of Illuminati-related conspiracies. And by a lot, I mean two (but two still seem significant given the context). For those that don’t know (although rumors of the Illuminati were an almost universal middle school experience), the Illuminati originated in 1776 as a secret society known as the Bavarian Illuminati, originating as a means for Adam Weishaupt (a German law professor) to rise to power alongside his Illuminaten Orden. Grounded in Enlightenment ideals, the Illuminati sought to disrupt the world order and promote their beliefs. Although the Illuminati’s ideals were rooted in a fuck-the-system mentality that wanted to overthrow monarchies and embrace self-rule and rational thought, their particular affinity for symbols, pseudonyms, and hierarchies unearths the underbelly of this cult-like secret society. The two big questions to this day are were they successful, and how did they disappear? These two questions have haunted the infamous Illuminati legacy for years and helped give rise to many conspiracy theories emerging in the wake of the group’s so-called “disappearance”.
Regarding the topic at hand, Riccardo Tisci (of Burberry, formerly of Givenchy) has been known to dabble in the Illuminati scene. In association with two of the most famously accused Illuminati celebrities (those being none other than Kanye and Jay-Z), Tisci was drawn into the realm of Illuminati conspiracies by the album cover he designed for Watch the Throne (2011). While referencing the occult figure Baphomet, a favorite of the Church of Satan, isn’t quite enough to categorize Tisci as an Illuminati conspirator, his Spring/Summer 2017 menswear collection for Givenchy may convince you. Quite blatantly, this collection references some of the Illuminati’s beloved symbols: pyramid motifs and the words “REALIZE / REAL LIES.” I will let you draw your own conclusions about this one…
Fashion-spiracy #3: “Satanic Breasts”
Although slightly convinced by the former Illuminati conspiracy, I am less convinced by this next one which claims model Claudia Schiffer to be entrenched in Satanic worship and the Illuminati. In an incident dubbed “the Satanic Breasts” by the Journal du Dimanche, Karl Lagerfeld inadvertently sent Schiffer strutting down the runway with a Quranic verse embroidered on her chest for his Spring 94 couture collection. Under the impression that it was an Arabic love poem inspired by the Taj Mahal spewed across the corset not part of a Muslim holy text, Lagerfeld immediately rushed to the Grand Mosque of Paris with his sincerest apologies for committing such sacrilege and offending the Muslim community, promising to get rid of the offensive designs.
Whether you see this as a mere cover-up for the Chanel fashion house or a genuine apology, the incident did have one definitive impact (at least to the realm of avid conspirators): implicating Schiffer in the scandal and designating her a “devoted Illuminati puppet […] worshipped as an idol, by empty, miserable masses of infidels” according to one avid-conspirator. Although the ties being made between sporting a corset with Qur’anic verses and the Illuminati are less clear to me, it appears the Satanic worship tie was drawn as a parallel to Salman Rushdie’s novel “Satanic Verses” which also sparked controversy. Rushdie’s novel was dubbed as sacrilege primarily for its contentious title, which refers to a legend of the Prophet Mohammad in which a few supposed Quranic verses were spoken to him only to later be revealed that the Devil had sent them as deception. The withdrawal of said verses is a sub-plot of Rushdie’s novel; however, the phrase “Satanic verses” was not a term coined by Muslims themselves, who refer to the incident as gharaniq verses, but rather Western academics. The title of this book was met with calls of sacrilege as many took it to imply that Rushdie was claiming the verses of the Qur’an were “the work of the Devil.” Although Schiffer appears to just be implicated in the “Satanic breasts” controversy as mere baggage to the real offenders (Chanel House), the Satanic accusations, similarly to those received by Rushdie, that this anonymous conspirator is contriving are most likely rooted in the fact that she willingly sported a sacrilegious corset, dubbing any Schiffer supporters as “infidels”.
Fashion-spiracy #2: Kate Moss Lives On
Or does she? In an utterly unbelievable tale of Kate Moss having died in 2005, Moss-impersonators (all her friends, of course) have stepped up to the plate to carry on her legacy for all her adoring fans. Beginning with merely propping her body up every once in a while at the club, the charade quickly escalated into having to adorn themselves in their best Moss-inspired outfits and makeup in order to stand in place for her on the runway. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, this tale lacks credible (or any) sources. So while I’m not entirely sure how this extravagant tale was born, I am finding quite a bit of enjoyment imagining a group of Moss’s high-status friends scurrying around trying to impersonate her.
Fashion-spiracy #1: Crazy Cat Lady’s Favorite Takes Top Spot
Coming in at number one and implicating Lagerfeld in yet another conspiracy theory is my own personal favorite: Choupette Lagerfeld and her elaborate tax-evasion schemes. Known to have earned her place in Lagerfeld’s will (rumors have surfaced that she was left a fraction of the late designer’s $200 million estate), Choupette has earned her own spot in the realm of the 1% — with a $3.3 million modeling campaign in 2015 alone. However, following the footsteps of her beloved guardian, she has also been accused of implicating herself in tax evasion schemes by none other than avid Reddit frequenters. These accusations surfaced following Lagerfeld’s own run-in with French authorities in 2016 regarding tax evasion. Those avid Reddit users have drawn parallels between Choupette’s successful career and Lagerfeld’s tax schemes, claiming her successful career has all been a cover-up. I am wholeheartedly against this theory and would like to believe Choupette’s career is a product of her natural talent.
Why all the conspiracies?
Although I was able to scramble together a few bizarre conspiracy theories, my biggest takeaway from this deep dive into the underbelly of fashion’s conspirator realm is that these tales are few and far between. Conspiracy theories seem to be of no short supply surrounding political or historical events, which led me to a simple question: why is the realm of fashion not the same? Psychologists say conspiracies often surface following traumatic events or during times of uncertainty (COVID-19 being the perfect petri dish for our beloved conspirators, take the far-fetched link people are making between the pandemic and 5G technology). Psychologists also attribute the following characteristics to people who tend to believe in conspiracies: openness to experience, distrust, low agreeability, people who have lower levels of analytic thinking and tend to overestimate the likelihood of co-occurring events, and Machiavellianism. Don’t worry, I didn’t know what Machiavellianism was either. Still, a quick Google search got me this: someone exhibiting Machiavellianism is “so focused on their own interests they will manipulate, deceive, and exploit others to achieve their goals” and exists as part of the “Dark Triad” alongside narcissism and psychopathy.
The “I’m different” persona is also characteristic of these believers as psychologists attribute the need for uniqueness as a reason why conspirators are susceptible to believing far-fetched tales despite scarce information. By nature of the “secret” knowledge aspect of conspiracy theory communities, this also provides conspirators with a sense of being “special” as they supposedly have access to knowledge that is largely inaccessible or incomprehensible to the majority of society, making them more informed individuals than their peers. This also links us back to the second attribute of the “Dark Triad”: narcissism (which has links to the necessity of uniqueness). Furthermore, psychologists attribute many in conspiracy sub-communities as having ‘anomia’ (a subjective disengagement from social norms) and experiencing feelings of social isolation, making these safe-havens (now transnationally connected thanks to our good friend the Internet) a perfect place to connect to people with similar beliefs.
In recent years conspiracies have shifted from lighthearted provocations about things such as the legitimacy of the moon landing to being deeply entrenched in U.S. politics (take QAnon), but still little gravitation towards the realm of fashion. Although I am in no place to make my own assumptions, part of me would attribute this to the fact that fashion is such a widespread phenomenon that it doesn’t provide enough of a niche community to people searching for something to make them stand out. Furthermore, fashion is less event-oriented as much as it is trend-oriented. Since fashion and clothing are a constant in everyone’s lives (minus perhaps nudists) and, for the most part, not traumatic (thank God), it is harder for conspiracies to erupt as most tend to pop up surrounding specific life-altering events. My last plausible scenario for why conspiracists have tended to steer clear of fashion is that it is a relatively social endeavor, which may not be the most inviting realm for those with ‘anomia’. Dress to impress, am I right? NOT to sit alone and troll the Internet. I would like to think it is an overall positive thing that fashion has only existed on the outskirts of conspiracy theory circles. However, I can’t help but wish there were a few more stories to fuel my interest in PG-rated conspiracies. One thing I have gathered from this deep dive into fashion conspiracies is that I may just have to create my own internet sub-community dedicated to forging fashion hoaxes and erroneous tales of the runway.