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PSA: Fashion Shows Inspired by Homeless People Are Still a Terrible Idea

N. Hoolywood didn’t get the message.

Model from N. Hoolywood Photo: @erikmaza

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It's a concept so foolish that it was harpooned by the movie Zoolander, and yet tonight, N. Hoolywood showed a real-life Derelicte collection at New York Fashion Week: Men’s. Unlike the funny plot point of a movie that should have never gotten a sequel, this was just gross.

According to the show notes, designer Daisuke Obana was inspired by his travels around the "cities of America, [where] he witnessed the various ways in which people lived on the streets... His observations of these so-called homeless or street people revealed that [sic] them to be full of clever ideas for covering the necessities of life.”

N. Hoolywood show notes

Show notes are handed out before the collection’s presented to inform the audience about what they’re going to see, and what we saw was a parade of men carrying trash bags and bundled up in layered winter coats, with their legs wrapped in plastic bag-like material.

"Space blankets can be fashioned into coats for cold days, and plastic bags can double as waterproof boots when it rains," the notes read. Nothing is “being fashioned” when you’re trying to survive without shelter. Homeless people wear extra coats to avoid the bitter cold because they don’t have a roof over their head, not because they want to look extra chic.

There are more than half a million homeless people in the US, or 17.7 homeless people per 10,000 people in America, according to the most recent stats provided by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. It’s a number that’s on the decline, but that doesn’t really matter. Even one person forced to search daily for shelter and bundle up to avoid hypothermia is not to be used by fashion designers, to be turned into high-priced products.

One passage from the notes about “embracing" homeless people's "unconventional layering or senses of color" is particularly tone-deaf. It seems to imagine a world in which the people afflicted by homelessness choose to wear their garments with a particular kind of flair to which we should all aspire. It's gross to fetishize someone's struggle at all, let alone turn a profit. Last season, N. Hoolywood sold gloves for $150 and a sweater for $590.

These prices are far out of reach for most, let alone the homeless people from whom N. Hoolywood is taking inspiration. Somehow, fashion hasn’t learned the very important lesson that homelessness isn't "chic.” The Dior spring/summer 2000 show designed by John Galliano was similarly inspired by the homeless (and was the collection Zoolander's Derelicte meant to skewer). The show was met by protestors who called for Galliano to “respect the homeless.” More recently, model Erin Wasson was also slammed after saying “homeless people have the best style” during a promotional video for her RVCA collection in 2008.

It wouldn’t have taken more than a Google search — or a sensitivity chip? — for N. Hoolywood to discover that this was a terrible idea, so let this be a helpful lesson for future designers who are “inspired” by the homeless: Don't be.