The attention of the world is currently on US President Donald Trump who provoked global chaos, outrage and confusion at the weekend after he signed an executive order banning people from seven predominantly Muslim nations - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen - from entering the United States for 90 days and stopping indefinitely the admission of Syrian refugees. Apart from being unconstitutional and violating human rights law, the ban, as highlighted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also goes against the principles of international refugee help and international cooperation.
It didn't take a long time to start witnessing the negative consequences of the ban with all sorts of innocent people finding themselves detained in airports or being left in a limbo and wondering whether they would be able to enter the United States or not, while ordinary citizens took to the streets in major cities, and organised demos and protests in and around airports to express their disappointment and anger at the executive orders.
Scenes were different instead at Fiumicino Airport in Rome where a group of 40 Syrian refugees arrived via humanitarian corridors promoted by the Community of Sant'Egidio organisation and the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy. Among them there were quite a few families with children and maybe politicians should start thinking more humbly and try to imagine what feels like not just for a grown up, but for a child, being misplaced to another country and start your life from scratch in a completely new place where they speak a language you may not know and where you may feel completely lost.
In the face of all these issues, fashion looks like a pathetically frivolous industry. Yet, at the same time, fashion also represents a more open and liberal industry where anything may happen and where people from different countries and nationalities work and collaborate together. Besides, one of the trendiest fads ever created by fashion designers could be defined as "transnational fashion", that is a style with no borders: think about Yves Saint Laurent and his passions for Berber artifacts or Jean Paul Gaultier and his daring mixes of traditional and modern styles.
While traditions are important to establish our identities, it is also true that we are better human beings when we understand each other and when we learn and borrow the best from each other.
If you're into fashion, one way to fight the ban is getting inspired by, reinvent and subvert traditions in an intriguing way. In February the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum in Getaria, Spain, will organise a two day workshop (5th and 12th February) dedicated to interpreting and recreating a Basque traditional costume. Participants will be making the various parts of the outfit - skirt, apron and headdress - but they will also learn more about the origin and evolution of the Basque farmer's costume and study the social, economic, political and cultural events at which they are worn.
This workshop moves from Balenciaga's own inspiration and his passion for interpreting traditional clothing as a source of creativity.
The event is linked with the "Coal and Velvet" exhibition (until May 2017), juxtaposing Balenciaga's Haute Couture designs with the traditional garments donned by ordinary people for popular, religious or family celebrations as portrayed by photographer José Ortiz Echagüe. As part of this event the museum has got on display a neska dress, made in 1933 at the Cristóbal Balenciaga workshop in San Sebastian.
The garment - comprising a navy blue pintuck blouse with white stripes atop a red wool gathered skirt, a mercerised black cotton apron with patch pockets and white cotton kerchiefs with brown stamping - was made to resemble a festive and/or regional costume and belonged to a friend of Rosa Balenciaga Eizaguirre, Cristóbal's niece.
In 1933 the young woman was studying at the Convent Palace Gate, a Catholic school for girls in Exeter (England), where well-to-do families from San Sebastian would send their daughters to complete their training and education. The nuns there organised events that were attended by the girls wearing the traditional dress of their region. Rosa Balenciaga and two friends wore the neska dresses made in Balenciaga's workshop at the request of their families (who were regular clients of the couturier).
On 18th Februaty instead the museum will organise a day of lectures entitled "Reintepreting Tradition: Fashion and Popular Roots", that will be analysing José Ortiz Echagüe's technique and art for the Spanish popular portrait and showing how inspirations from traditional costumes, decontextualised from their space-time coordinates, were turned by Balenciaga into unique starting points for his Haute Couture collections. So here's your way to fight the ban: not appropriating or disrespecting traditions, but moving from them to come up with transnational styles that can prove that there is more power in unity than in division.