A man for all seasons: Julian Assange, fashion model extraordinaire
So Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder and self-anointed hero of media freedom, is adding yet another headline-grabbing feather to his cap this September: modelling at London Fashion Week.
The Australian, who has been holed up at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for the best part of two years, will appear in a show modelling a collection inspired by Clint Eastwood by Ben Westwood, son of the industry’s most famous designer anarchist, Dame Vivienne.
“My view about Julian is that he is a popular hero and he’s done a great deal to change public opinion. I think it’s a citizen’s duty to stand up for justice and freedom of speech,”
said Mr Westwood about his decision to make Mr Assange a fashion model.
“I want to highlight his plight. What happened to him is totally unfair. Julian’s been in the embassy for two years and it’s important that he doesn’t slip into obscurity.”
His plight, as you may remember, is fighting extradition to Sweden on sex-assault charges. Others have accused him of compromising the safety of the free world. Regardless, the show itself is going to be moved into the embassy, to prevent any chance of a swooping arrest mid-catwalk strut.
So what to make of the news?
It is bemusing but not surprising. For one thing, Assange has proven himself to be a master architect of character construction and brand manipulation since his notorious catapult into the public eye in 2010, when Wikileaks first published US military and diplomatic documents leaked by Chelsea Manning.
Pale, diminutive and almost slightly androgynous, Mr Assange had a carefully curated self-image that was always designed to turn heads. The starkly-white haired white knight of free speech was bedecked in black leather jackets or slick slim-fit suits befitting of an international man of mystery, like the ones we see in the movies. Edward Snowden this was not.
Many have claimed Mr Assange historically paid no attention to clothes, but rarely did we ever see him in the archetypal hacker uniform of a hoodie and trainers. He’s a man who knows the number one rule in both international and sartorial politics – play to your audience – and to some extent their narcissism too.
After all, skater chic would hardly have worked during his big ‘Eva Peron’ balcony moment to the world’s press back in 2011 – this is a man who wanted to expose and bring down those in the uppermost echelons of power, to be counted as equals with the big boys, and so there must be mimicry and yet individuality to his look.
But what’s curiously unclear about this latest publicity stunt is what kind of role – if any – Mr Assange has played in the decision. His public profile has been very low as of late, with many once high-profile supporters silently slinking away.
His clout is diminishing, but is this really the way to get back into the spotlight?
“My publicist Richard J. Hillgrove VI, has been liaising with Assange and his people and making arrangements,”
said Ben Westwood, adding that there were some military inspired looks, berets and a Spaghetti-Western aesthetic underpinning the aesthetic of his unisex designs. Not once did we hear confirmation that Assange has agreed to actively play a role .
“I can’t think of anyone better to model my clothes. He is a good looking man.”
Ben Westwood’s mother Dame Vivienne was a pioneer of using fashion as a weapon of politics and powerful messages via punk the 1970s, and is clearly a supporter of her son’s clothes horse: she visited Mr Assange at the embassy wearing a T-shirt printed with his image and the words “I am Julian Assange” back in 2012.
But will the uncharacteristically quiet Mr Assange be wearing the clothes, or will the clothes wearing him? Are we meant to read between the lines, that he is muted – just like most fashion models – reduced to a figure now just desperate at least to be seen, even if he’s not able to be heard?
The real power fashion wields is often its ability to drive discourse through design, something often forgotten as the industry becomes increasingly blended with the cult of celebrity.
A real game changer then, would have been if he had created his own collection: lets call it Assange SS/15. Given he’s apparently gearing up to refashion himself as a renaissance man, and historically holds a few surprises up his sleeve, the world better be ready.
Because one thing is for sure: we haven’t seen the last of Julian Assange yet.