Creative endeavor is a way to proactively engage with mental health issues, but how much do creatives risk, and is it worth it?

Fashion, like many industries, is populated with people with mental health issues.

It’s probably fair to say (as the pandemic highlighted) that each of us suffers with our mental health at some point/s in our life.

And while it’s untrue to suggest that creatives suffer more with mental health, some creatives are more frequently in the public eye, and their work can be a channel for their mental issues, often with publicly viewed results.

Exploring the Depths

In fashion, Alexander McQueen remains the given public representation of a deeply troubled individual who trawled the depths of his own inner complexities to create, in his case, great fashion.

Do we view McQueen’s example as the legitimate price to pay for an outstanding body of work?  Are the attendant ills of long hours and increasing business pressures a valid price to pay for adulation and a respected output?

Double Edged Sword

As McQueen’s untimely end proved, the payoff can be a double-edged sword. Some creatives do need to tap their own mental insecurities to produce work that creates self-esteem and helps them see the world objectively, whilst also risking exposing themselves to greater insecurity.

But what if the work is judged unfavourably? What if the act of creation itself is too great a toil, or if the devil (the boss or that inner voice) ups the stakes and lowers the reward?

Social Media Madness

Designer Kenneth Cole has been one of several in the fashion industry to engage the issue of mental health and has highlighted the additional stresses that social media creates in creative careers, “Unfortunately, our industry embraces [favourable social media coverage) and rewards it. The more likes you have and the bigger audiences you have, the more access you will often have.”

Cole’s comments are clearly valid from the perspective of the public as well as creators. Social media engagement can be a wrought experience dependent, as it is, on favourable outcomes.

Stimulus and Reward

And like other mental health related problems such as addiction, in which more stimulus is required to reach previously attainable heights, absence of that stimulus creates withdrawal and insecurity.

In the 21st century, and thanks to the efforts of the likes of Cole and Christian Siriano, the issue is at least out in the open; it’s now less of a social stigma to confess to having mental health and addiction problems.

Designers Prabal Gurung and Brandon Maxwell have been open about their own struggles with mental health (especially during the pandemic), with both advocating coping and recovery via journal entries and target setting.

Industry Changes

Work by Cole(The Mental Health Initiative) and Calvin Klein show bravery in placing the issue front and centre; advocating mental health either through their brand or as intrinsic parts of their runway collections.

But as creative fuel, mental illness continues to be profitable as much as its
problematic. Central to the work of more experimental designers like McQueen or Gaultier are related tensions between guilt and expression, grace and transgression, realised in ferocious bodies of work that – in the absence of a designer’s voice – the public are left to judge.



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