Fashion fosters activism

by Mia Zarrella / Beacon Correspondent • March 2, 2017

With fashion week coming to an end, what stands out the most to me, besides the fact that Christopher Kane still sends Crocs onto the runway, are the moments when designers used their prominence to make a statement about human rights, whether subtle or grandiose.

On Feb. 8, Imran Amed, the editor-in-chief and founder of the industry-savvy news site, Business of Fashion, published a statement. His announcement came the day before kicking off one month of fashion shows in New York, London, Milan, and Paris.

On Business of Fashion’s website, Amed called for everybody involved in fashion week to wear a white bandana. Amed said the bandana is “a sign to the world that you believe in the common bonds of humankind—regardless of race, sexuality, gender or religion.” Business of Fashion wants to unite people in making a positive statement and impact during a time when many people around the world are feeling dismay.

To spread word about the movement, for every social media post with the hashtag #TiedTogether, Business of Fashion donors and benefactors will donate $5 to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The goal is to reach $50,000.

Designers like Tommy Hilfiger and Diane Von Furstenberg, as well as models such as Gigi and Bella Hadid, have incorporated the white bandana into their shows and their own attire. The bandana allows prominent members of the industry to share their views without actually speaking, and that’s the beauty of fashion.

In this turbulent socio-political time, it’s important for brands to use their status, as well as prominent events, to make a difference in the world.

Designer Adam Selman showed his support for female reproductive rights at his New York Fashion Week womenswear show. Selman distributed buttons that read “Fashion Stands with Planned Parenthood” to everybody in the front row, including Vogue magazine Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour. The buttons were part of the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s campaign which is dedicated to raising awareness about the health care that Planned Parenthood provides.

At London Fashion Week, designer Gareth Pugh sent a political message through his clothing and set design. Models walked in all black cloaks, suits, and dresses with black bug-eyed goggles. Some of the garb resembled black plastic bags and reassembled seat belts, which added to the dystopian world Pugh had created in a dingy basement of a London building. With Brexit tensions in London and political agitation in the USA, Pugh’s ominous show felt apocalyptic, especially since a jumbled, menacing soundtrack with President Donald Trump’s voice saying, “Build that wall,” blared through the speakers.

Fashion is innately and historically political, from rising hemlines in the Roaring ‘20s to Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘60s womens pantsuit. Yet, there hasn’t been a runway show like this, until recently. TV, social media, the Internet, and the press are new tools for spreading the word fast and far.

Other designers also referenced Trump’s conduct and language. During Ashish Gupta’s “Wizard of Oz” inspired, show in London, Gupta’s models wore glittery, rainbow-patterned outfits emblazoned with statements like “Nasty Woman,” “More Glitter, Less Twitter,” and “Love Sees No Colour.”

Similarly, Prabal Gurung’s New York show ended with models wearing T-shirts that read slogans like “The Future is Female” and “This is What a Feminist Looks Like.” While in Milan, Donatella Versace’s dress had the word “EQUALITY” written down the sleeve and her models sported clothing with words such as “UNITY,” “POWER,” “LOYALTY,” and “COURAGE.”

Themes of unity and equality were evident in various shows, yet they weren’t all as literal as a printed word. In Milan, Gucci broke company tradition by casting men in their women’s Fall/Winter 2017 show. Many other brands, like Prada and Marc Jacobs, have also been embracing gender-neutral styling. The Fashion Spot, a news organization that routinely records demographics of models during New York Fashion Week (NYFW), reported that Marc Jacobs featured three of the eight recorded transgender models involved in NYFW.

In addition to improved gender diversity, the Fashion Spot reported that this NYFW season made history as the first time all 116 major runways show featured at least one non-white model. Last fall remains the most diverse show, stated the Fashion Spot, with a 30.9 percent diversity representation, but this season is only 0.4 percent short of that record.

Lack of cultural diversity has plagued the catwalk for decades, which is why it was refreshing and timely, considering recent immigration policies, to see that Kanye West, Max Mara, and Simone Rocha cast models that wore hijabs on their catwalk.

We are living in a socio-political world where people have the power to influence politics just as much as politics can influence people. And these fashion designers and influencers are using their privilege, their prominence, and their apparel to do just that.