Christopher Kane taps the British government to make a nuclear fashion statement


christopher kane Resort 2010/style.com


You may recall the furore over Kate Sylvester’s use of war medals in the styling of her 2008 Rosemount Australian Fashion Show in Sydney. Well frockwriter can’t help wondering if Scottish fashion darling Christopher Kane might be heading down a similar path. Overnight, prominent fashion website style.com gushed over images of Kane’s “first-ever pre-collection” on its homepage, complete with headline, “It’s the bomb”. The collection’s mushroom cloud graphics were sourced, at least according to style.com - which is owned by Condé Nast, calls itself the online home of Vogue and is regarded as an authority, so we must assume that the details are correct - from “free public-access photos” on the UK Ministry of Defence website. Kane told the website, “I wanted something natural, but I'm so fed up with florals. And then I came across these images of nuclear test explosions from the fifties to the seventies on the Internet. I like the crazy-bright chemical colors. The way they're sinister—but beautiful". UPDATE 15/6: SEVENTY THOUSAND WERE NUKED IN NAGASAKI. NOW YOU CAN BUY THE T-SHIRT FROM CHRISTOPHER KANE.



screen grab/style.com

On her collection review, style.com’s senior fashion critic, Sarah Mower, a Brit, makes the following quip:

“The dresses in Christopher Kane's first-ever pre-collection radiate instant-appeal commerciality in just enough of a subversive way to be interesting”.



christopher kane Resort 2010/style.com


There are potentially several problems with this. It is interesting that noone sought to clarify the details.

Firstly, if you decide to use images of nuclear testing to make some kind of artistic or political statement, why not get a designer to conjure up exclusive graphics? Kane makes no mention of a political statement, simply that he was jack of florals.

Secondly, there’s the issue of copyright. Here are the MOD's terms and conditions for the use of the images in its database:

“The material featured on this website is subject to Crown Copyright protection unless otherwise indicated. The material may be downloaded to file or printer for the purposes of non-commercial research and private study.

Any other proposed use of the material is subject to a copyright licence available from the Ministry of Defence in accordance with standard Crown Copyright licensing policy”.


Frockwriter was unable to locate the images which Kane claims to have used for the graphics in the MOD database. It's unclear if, due to the time frame, any British government images from the 1950s would be considered public domain.

Did Kane seek permission to use the images for commercial purposes or was he just "inspired" by them, in the same way that Shepherd Fairey was directly inspired by an Associated Press image of Barack Obama for Fairey's iconic HOPE poster of the 2008 US presidential campaign? The case became mired in controversy.

In the extremely unlikely scenario that the MOD in fact licensed Kane to reproduce military imagery to make nuclear war a fashion statement, a number of people would most likely have issues with this.

Starting with the Atomic Veterans Group: 1000 British, New Zealand, Fijian and Australian war veterans who, just last Friday, won a five-year battle to sue the British government for compensation over a raft of health problems which they claim are the direct result of exposure to radiation during the government’s atomic tests in the South Pacific and Australia between 1952 and 1958.

Although the majority of the group is British, it includes 200 New Zealanders, 180 Fijians and approximately 30 Australians.

The retired servicemen were among 25,000 forces who were exposed to the tests. Air and naval servicemen were, reportedly, ordered to pass close to the testing, with ground forces provided with scant protection.

Earlier hearings concluded that the British government and military administration of the day had withheld information about the dangers of the testing.

Don James, who was stationed on Christmas island during five tests in 1958, told The Guardian on Friday:

"We had no special kit. They just told us to turn your back to the blast and cover your eyes. You could see the bones in your fingers."

Friday’s High Court ruling has also greenlit the compensation claims of hundreds of other Australian, New Zealand and Fijian war veterans who participated in the testing program.

Update 11.00pm: Comment is being sought from both Kane and the UK Ministry of Defence, the latter nevertheless confirming that a license would definitely be required for use of the images. The MOD is looking into whether or not this was obtained by Kane.

Neil Sampson, a partner of the London-based Rosenblatt Solicitors, who has led the Atomic Veterans Group case, said he would be "astounded" to learn that the MOD licensed the images to Kane - or that Kane's use of the atomic test images at this time was coincidental.

"In June 2009, when the UK Ministry of Defence's role in the development of atomic warfare is on the front pages of newspapers throughout the world, it seems a little cynical" Sampson told frockwriter. "But I could ask, since when has advertising not been cynical and opportunistic?"