The fashionistas fighting antisemitism – The Jewish Chronicle

Wearing his trademark kippah, influencer Benji Park has been a  fixture on the front rows of London’s fashion scene for years.

Aged just 22, he has established a strong reputation in the industry, advising big brands and social-media companies on what makes Gen Z tick when it comes to fashion. With more than 233,000 TikTok users following his @FashionBoy handle, Park has also established a fanbase for his open commentary on celebrity looks and runway collections.

Before October 7, Park – who openly celebrates his Judaism – was welcomed by the wider fashion community, and snappers loved taking his picture. “There was some fascinating exoticism around me wearing a kippah, like there was some ‘otherness’ to me looking very European and wearing this ‘funny hat’,” he says.

But since the Hamas atrocities, a lot has changed for Park, who has worked with leading fashion houses including Prada, Gucci, Alexander McQueen and Burberry.

He has been told he’s not the right “fit” for a job, received an outpouring of hate and death threats on social media, and was told to remove his kippah by some photographers at London Fashion Week in February, while others lowered their cameras as he walked by.

“It makes me feel quite defeated, but there is not a lot that can be done,” he says.  “I have become quite accustomed to getting death threats, I am quite desensitised to it.”

For Park, descended from Holocaust survivors, the conflict has hit hard. He has lost friends from the LGBTQ+ community, some who were killed in Israel on October 7 and more since who were serving in the Israel Defence Forces, as well as gay friends killed in Gaza and the West Bank.

At home he feels that that his Jewishness has made him a target. “The moment Israel started to defend itself, the hate started; it didn’t take long,” says Park, who has lost 14,000 social media followers since October 7. “Any tragedy that happens to the Jewish people, is always spun to make it our fault.

“Antisemitism has spread through the fashion world and across the left.

“There is this perception that Jews have been given everything, that we are ‘pretenders’ who can’t create art in a meaningful way because people think we all come from vast wealth.” Park is grateful for a group of Jews working across the fashion industry in the UK who have come together since the Hamas atrocities.

“This community has given me a safe space where I can ask questions, where I can learn from amazing people in the industry. It has enriched my life.” He is talking about the Fashion and Beauty Against Antisemitism group, which was founded by Deborah Lyons in response to rising Jew hatred across the UK since the Hamas terror attack.

With more than 15,000 followers on Instagram, the founder of sustainability brand Maison Lyons, who has more than 15 years’ experience in womenswear design, felt she had to do something as influencers, models and publications started to spread anti-Israel and antisemitic hate. She posted calls for the release of hostages, only to lose hundreds of followers and receive antisemitic messages.

She spoke to Jewish people working across all sectors in fashion who felt they had to hide their identity, and who said they were  unsupported and intimidated at work.

So she set up the group to provide a support forum, as well as a space to lobby for change in the sector. “Fashion has always been a place of freedom and individuality; a safe space where creatives could collaborate,” she says. “But since October 7 a lot of Jewish people have not been able to be creative or feel like they are working in a safe space, let alone collaborate with people who are putting out so much hate on their social media feeds, especially when a lot of it has come from people we thought were friends or colleagues.”

Lyons, who is now wearing a gold Magen David necklace for the first time since she was a teenager, adds: “Whether it’s by choice or design, we have become more Jewish – internally and externally.

“Would I even be hired for a job in fashion if I posted a message supporting Israeli hostages, or if I wore my Magen David to an interview? The industry could lose a lot of future talent going forward, as well as ostracising a lot of existing talent.”

Since its launch, the group has published a letter signed by more than 1,300 people in the industry calling on heads of companies to do more to combat antisemitism.

In March, it hosted its first event; a traditional kiddush at Western Marble Arch Synagogue.

It was attended by more than 100 people, including fashion authority Suzy Menkes, the former editor of Vogue International; designer Dame Zandra Rhodes, Browns Bride founder Caroline Burstein and the retail entrepreneur Harold Tillman. Menkes told me: “Drawing good out of bad is an everlasting need. It would be great to bring together so many people who fight for the good in fashion and how people of diverse backgrounds can come together when creating fashion. In my long role as fashion writer, I have seen layers of people – especially women – arrive from across the world and stitch a future. Long may needle and thread make friends – as much as clothes.”
Says Lyons: “I refuse to acknowledge that I am powerless. I do feel treated differently because I am Jew, but I am going to do as much as I can. Even if I receive 25 messages of hate, I am not going to stop if it makes a difference to one person.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Israel-based Vjera Furman.

Born in Croatia, the London and Paris-trained designer has posted messages to more than 11,000 people who follow her Instagram platform calling for the return of Israeli hostages taken by the Hamas terror group.

Furman – whose sustainable Vjera V brand is famed for its hand-embellished pieces – has lost hundreds of social media followers, her brand’s online reach has fallen by 80 per cent and since October she has received only two orders from the UK, which used to make up 70 per cent of her buyer market.

“Antisemitism on this level is very new to me.

” I wasn’t aware it goes this deep,” says Furman, who converted to Judaism 15 years ago.

“I have received some really terrible messages, telling me: ‘You deserve this’ and ‘What did you expect?’ 

“I had never got a message calling me a ‘dirty Jew’ but now, I regularly delete these kinds of messages.

“This has all definitely changed me.”

And she’s shown this in her aesthetic. In London Furman sold knitwear embellished with crystals in Selfridges and boutiques. Now, she has turned to elevating everyday looks with thread-work – and designed a range of vintage jeans inscribed with messages such as “dream”, “heal”, “rise”, “love” and “hope” inspired by the sense of community in the Jewish State after October’s attack.

Like many local designers she has also adapted her business model by selling her brand to local pop-up shops and focusing on the wholesale market in Israel, as opposed to international sales promoted on Instagram.

“Things have become very clear. We have decided to not let fear and hate guide us, we have come together,” she says.

“My biggest take? There is life outside of social media.”

Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button