Friday, 20 December 2013

Recurring Images: Snow


It's fast-approaching that time of year when we start to look hopefully out of the window each morning, searching eagerly for a white-topped rooftop. If you're in the Northern hemisphere, then snow has an undeniable association with Christmas and the holiday season, along with memories from childhood: building snowmen, stories of magic and mysterious lands (The Snow Queen and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe spring to mind), staying home from school and having breathless, over-competitive snowball fights with friends.

(Just before we get going, a quick warning that this post will contain spoilers for Dead Poets Society and The Secret History!)


It is this through using this imagery of snow in the Chanel A/W 2010 ready-to-wear collection that Karl Lagerfeld evokes a playfulness in the clothes. The whole collection is festooned with faux fur, to the extent that some of the models appeared to emerge from the icy wonderland setting as yetis. He also plays with this association with childhood by creating outfits of an almost schoolgirl-esque nature, with pretty dresses and woollen tights. There is also, however, a certain sophistication to the collection, in keeping with the brand's aesthetic. The hair and make-up puts me more in mind of a scheming snow queen than an innocent schoolgirl.


And that brings us onto the darker connotations of snow. When it blankets the entire landscape, snow can be extremely beautiful, but it also renders everything remarkably bleak. Track the use of snow in film and often you'll find it reflecting the inner despondency of the protagonist. Consider in Dead Poets Society when the boys find out about Neil's death; is there anything more heartbreaking than grief-stricken Todd stumbling off into the completely white landscape? It can also be associated with covering things up. In Donna Tartt's The Secret History, unseasonal snow hides the body of a murdered man: "The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation." The concealment of Bunny's body by the snow seems to reflect the way Richard and the others try to appear innocent despite their guilt, while the fact that the snow appears out of season, in April, showing their innocence to be false.

Because snow is, of course, also visual shorthand for innocence and purity. Alfred Hitchcock called the blonde leading ladies of his films to "virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints", which demonstrates one sadness of snow: it can't remain perfect forever. If nothing spills onto it and nobody walks on it, it will still eventually melt away. But perhaps this adds to its beauty; it can only be enjoyed for a limited amount of time.

So snow can mean all sort of things in fashion, literature, and film. From innocence to unhappiness, childhood to magic, it is truly unique in the effect it has on us. On an aesthetic level, it makes the perfect backdrop for a fashion show or shoot, since it is both plain and pretty. On a practical level, it is cold and can be somewhat uninviting. In fact, it has a long-standing association with exile, spanning right from the Anglo-Saxon poem The Wanderer, in which the speaker has to make his way through a land where "Frost and snow fall/ Mixed with hail", all the way up to Monsters Inc, when Mike and Sully are banished to snowy Nepal.

Despite its negative connotations, I hope you all stay safe and warm this Winter, whilst enjoying any snowfall which comes your way. And with that I will sign off and wish you a merry Christmas!

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