Fashion Makes Noise for Women’s Rights

June 13th, 2013

Neil Hall/Reuters

Beyoncé performed June 1 at ‘‘The Sound of Change’’ concert at Twickenham Stadium in London.

LONDON — Can fanciful fashion become a force for good?

Since the disaster in Bangladesh in April, when the crumbling of a faulty factory killed more than 1,000 female seamstresses, fast fashion has developed a toxic reputation.

The ugly side of pretty things was epitomized by the image of a sultry Beyoncé wearing an inexpensive bikini on billboards across the world. Yet this same star was rocking it on June 1 at a concert in London as she sang a heartfelt duet of “Crazy in Love” with her husband, Jay-Z.

The music event was called “Sound of Change Live” and it was organized by the Chime for Change women’s campaign and underwritten by Gucci, once known as a brand of soft shoes and hard partying but now aiming to bring attention to women’s rights to education, justice and health.

“I am hoping this concert has inspired people to come together to support women — Chime is a sound of many bells vibrating, and through technology we can do it very easily,” said Salma Hayek, whose husband, François-Henri Pinault, has made it a mission for his luxury group, formerly PPR, but now named “Kering,” to support best practices in his own empire — and to support Chime for Change, a women’s empowerment initiative.

The superstar list of celebrities, from Jennifer Lopez to Madonna, who “chimed” for education and came onstage with the Pakistani education activist Humaira Bachal and the Academy Award-winning film director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, guaranteed a large online audience, estimated at more than one billion. The Web viewers joined the 50,000 spectators seated at the concert, in Twickenham Stadium in southwest London. The event raised more than $ 4 million.

Prince Harry opened the event in an onscreen appearance, and with royals like Charlotte Casiraghi of Monaco and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie in the audience, the event resonated across the world, even if a Twitter feed on the concert included people asking whether Beyoncé’s raunchy mesh hose and barely-there costumes were symbolic of female empowerment.

For Frida Giannini, Gucci’s designer, the idea, more than a year in the planning, had been to reinterpret Bob Geldof’s Live Aid from the 1980s by making celebrities the halo around an urgent cause.

“But the difference is that Bob Geldof didn’t have partners, you couldn’t follow him directly on TV,” said Ms. Giannini, who had already used Gucci to focus on the female factor at a New York Unicef event in 2008.

“I think it is a very personal thing, working for this cause,” Ms. Giannini added, referring to the recent birth of her daughter. “Gucci is one of the biggest brands in the world, and it is a great opportunity to create a community of people through new media. We have millions of fans on Facebook who cannot afford a Gucci bag — but want to follow us.”

Fund-raising is at the heart of Chime for Change, but there is something awkward about weighing a $ 2,000 handbag against the Afghan Institute of Learning, which offers education and health care to women and children, or a Pakistani school sponsored by Madonna.

Yet the event drew Desmond Tutu’s daughter Mpho to speak up for women’s empowerment and say: “Let us not fear that our individual acts are too small to change ‘his-story’ into ‘our story.”’

Those who sniff at the idea of stars turning out for a charitable event should listen to Ms. Obaid-Chinoy, who has brought the reality of life in Pakistan to the big screen.

“In places like Pakistan, grass roots activists need a boost and outside support is often critical,” the film director said. “Even within the country, pop icons lend their voices to educational and health projects and it does wonders. Catching the attention of youth isn’t always easy and engaging them is even more difficult. If a celebrity is able to further a cause just by lending his or her voice to it, I’m all for it!”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 11, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the amount of money the “Sound of Change Live” event raised. It raised more than $ 4 million, not more than 4 million pounds.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 12, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the month when the disaster in Bangladesh, the crumbling of a faulty factory that killed more than 1,000 female seamstresses, was.  It was in April, not May.

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