A surgical room in Seoul, the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica, and a sex hotel in Rio aren’t usually the kinds of places you’d expect to find a fashion journalist. But then, as the host of Vice‘s web series Fashion Week Internationale Charlet Duboc explains, “that’s because it’s not really fashion journalism, is it?”
And it’s true — well, at least not in the traditional sense of runway shows critiques, discovering the next hot designer, and documenting the never-ending cycle of what’s in and what’s out. But the series, which kicked off its second season earlier this month, does find fashion in places you might not expect. Duboc has covered the far-flung fashion weeks of Islamabad, Nigeria, and Cambodia, and the latest episode, live today on Vice.com, takes us to Kingston, Jamaica for Caribbean Fashion Week. And hot as the latest swimwear trends are, they pale in comparison to the popularity of skin bleaching, a process by which girls and boys rub peroxide on their skin to obtain a lighter, more “fashionable” pigment. “We use the fashion industry as a vehicle to explore human issues in culture,” Charlet said when we spoke on the phone in the midst of the European collections. “Why they’re doing it and what fashion means in different places.”
There’s no question that, despite being dangerous and illegal, skin bleaching is the fashion in Jamaica. But it’s trying to figure out why this is the case that leads the crew to the booming dancehall scene, a slew beauty supply stores in the slums, and eventually to a strip club, where one former dancer lets the camera roll as she applies the painful peroxide. Though most weren’t willing to let them tape the process, Charlet mused that the locals who have lent their voice to the series might see it as a “kind of promotion or a demystification of the practice…they might want to let me in and tell their story so people realize that it’s not as scary as they think it is. Or maybe it is.” One such scary practice crops up in Seoul this season, where she sat in on a double-eyelid procedure, the plastic surgery du jour in South Korea, which gives women — or, more accurately, girls, since it’s fast become a common graduation present — rounder, more Western-looking eyes.
“It was totally horrifying,” she shuddered, confirming our suspicions. “I went to Colombia last season and watched somebody have an ass implant so I was kind of ready for it. But no, you’re never really ready for it.” A bit of a departure from air-kisses and cocktail parties, yes, although a tale Charlet recounts about haggling with a Korean taxi cab driver over fare, before finally giving up and handing over a wad of cash (“we were tired and just wanted to get out of the f****** car!”) sounds like our usual debacles in Europe. That is, until you get to the part where they woke up the next day to a package at the concierge containing “all our cab fare from the night before along with a packet of strawberry biscuits and a plea from him to please not call the police!”
And the series is far from all shock and awe — it also captures a kind of zeitgeist that is usually lost amidst the focus on the “Big Four” fashion weeks of New York, London, Milan, and Paris. Rio, for instance, is on the cusp of becoming a force to be reckoned with as the city prepares to host the 2016 Olympics. And although the city’s fashion week is already one of the more internationally recognized in the swimwear industry, Vice is more interested in the fact that they are also unusually accepting of transgender models (Léa T, for instance, hails from Brazil). Others, like Islamabad Fashion Week, are newsworthy by virtue of their very existence, held as it is in a country more known for its political unrest and strict ideas of how women should dress than its textile industry or style-conscious elite.
“I think what these other places have showed me is that fashion is more than just a multimillion dollar industry,” Charlet concludes. “It has this potential of being a universal language. Because everywhere I go women get such validation from fashion. Even if you’re wearing a burqa.”
Watch the newest episode of Fashion Week Internationale below: