Jón Gnarr to the fashion world: we are all prisoners


Mayor of Reykjavík Jón Gnarr speaks about the profound effects of fashion

Jón Gnarr walks out of Reykjavík City Hall in a pink suit.

Courtesy Aleksandar Radulovic

Jón Gnarr: actor, comedian, mayor of Reykjavík, and now scourge of the fashion industry. Invited to give the opening address to this year’s Reykjavík Fashion Festival he made an intelligent, humorous, and sublimely impudent speech. Let’s say not all the gathered fashionistas saw the funny side — which makes it even more delightful. Here it is, in full brazen glory.

Dear guests,

It’s a pleasure to be with you tonight here at the second Reykjavik Fashion Festival.

We are all prisoners. We are prisoners of time and space. We are prisoners of the body. The designer is an escapist. Fashion is art. Through fashion we decorate the prison and make it into home. Through fashion we take over the prison. We take over the world. All it takes is courage.

I want to share with you an extract from the diary of Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin DSO, who was among the first British soldiers to liberate Bergen-Belsen in 1945. DSO does not mean Dark Star Orchestra but ‘Distinguished Service Order’. It’s a military decoration of the United Kingdom, awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime.

I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next months of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere, some in huge piles, sometimes they lay singly or in pairs where they had fallen.

It took a little time to get used to seeing men, women, and children collapse as you walked by them and to restrain oneself from going to their assistance. One had to get used early to the idea that the individual just did not count. One knew that five hundred a day were dying, and that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect. I saw women drowning in their own vomit because they were too weak to turn over, and men eating worms as they clutched to a half loaf of bread, purely because they had to eat worms to live and now could scarcely tell the difference.

Piles of corpses, naked and obscene, with a woman too weak to stand propping herself against them as she cooked the food we had given her over an open fire. Another woman standing stark naked washing herself with some issue-soap in water from a tank in which the remains of a child floated.

It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don’t know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post-mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again. They were someone, no longer merely the number tatooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.

Dear guests, designers, and fashion escapists, I want to open the Reykjavík Fashion Festival 2011 with a quote from Marilyn Monroe, the famous words of Marilyn Monroe: ‘Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius, and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.’

Thank you very much. Enjoy your stay.