From The Devil Wears Prada to America’s Next Top Model, popular media often portrays the fashion industry in a negative and cutthroat light. But a new collaboration between Cornell Fashion Collective and Thread Magazine is challenging this stereotype with a clothing campaign titled Debunk The Tortured Artist Myth.
Fashion design management majors Caitlyn Park ’22 and Sophie Wang ’21 launched the campaign April 1 with the opening of their online store. Wang is the president of CFC, the student-run organization that holds a fashion show every spring, while Park is the president of Thread Magazine, the student-run publication that highlights fashion, lifestyle and art, as well as the vice president of graphics for CFC.
The campaign’s mission is to fight against the idea of the “tortured artist” that romanticizes poor mental health as a catalyst for creativity. By encouraging a focus on mental health and art, the campaign hopes to redirect the narrative away from the stereotype. The campaign is selling apparel that will go toward the nonprofit organization Twentytwenty Arts, which works to challenge stigma around mental health, homelessness and addiction.
“They’re a really cool organization, and they’re a small organization, which was really important to us because we kind of know that no matter how many or few sales we make it will actually make an impact,” Wang said.
Wang and Park generated the idea for the campaign after CFC hosted a Mental Health Awareness Week in October 2020. The event featured a series of speakers from brands ranging from Madhappy to Glossier.
Now, the campaign online shop open until April 10 is selling sweatshirts, T-shirts and sweatpants with the slogan “debunking the tortured artist.” Its website and social media pages feature a photo shoot with members of CFC and Thread Magazine posing in their self-created clothes.
Wang explained that while she and Park considered launching the campaign that same week as Mental Health Awareness Week, they decided it would receive more momentum later in the school year.
“[We’re] trying to subvert that narrative to say how art and creativity is a way to emotionally ground yourself and a way to promote mental health instead,” Park said.
Park said the intersection of art and mental health has become even more relevant during the pandemic. She added that the campaign aims to evaluate how art is used as a form of expression in times of solitude and as a way of processing emotions.
But Wang also emphasized that the campaign is not just relevant to the fashion industry.
“This is something that really affects everyone who consumes media,” Wang said. “Media does really push the idea that different mental illnesses make a person really complex and captivating. That’s not to say that those do not make somebody complex and captivating but that kind of mindset really prevents a lot of people from seeking help.”
Wang hopes that over time, industry culture will change to celebrate individuals who prioritize their mental health as well as their art and their work.
“Some of the most interesting, incredible people that I know are people who work daily on their mental well-being,” Wang said.
According to Wang, she and Park also chose the organization TwentyTwo Arts because of its emphasis on the accessibility of art.
“Everything that they do is in the public sphere, which is really important,” Wang said. “We don’t really want to be advocating for ideas and people who then will never see the art because it’s not accessible to them.”
Park said she hopes this campaign will evolve into an annual event, particularly as dialogue around mental health has become more important than ever.
“This conversation isn’t ever going to end,” Park said.