The Fascistista: Moammar Gadhafi Wants to Show Off Wardrobe

May 17, 2011

Last month, the New York Times’ T Magazine received an odd request on behalf of reviled clotheshorse Moammar Gadhafi. He’s been busy committing war crimes, so a cultural minister asked the Times to help Gadhafi secure an exhibition of his wardrobe at the Met’s Costume Institute. An intelligence official should investigate. Maybe his hat collection is also hidden in the bunker.

But the bizarre request raises serious questions: Can fashion and war coexist? Can brutes really love beauty? (Cue Aristotle, rolling over.)

Famous villains — Hitler, Stalin, Pinochet — limited themselves to authoritarian military uniforms, displaying sartorial tastes only in their sinister mustaches. Why, then, does Gadhafi care that his sunglasses are Louis Vuitton?

One explanation is that he’s a lover of status. Tween girls, investment bankers and, yes, even despots use fashion for power, not beauty.

But curated high fashion transcends the worldly. Fittingly, the Costume Institute is now celebrating the works of the late Alexander McQueen. His vision and “high sewing” transformed mere textiles into art. Gadhafi, once the chicest autocrat around, can’t fathom that kind of power.

Photo by FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images

Katherine Boyle reports on arts, museums and culture for the Style section.
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