why fashion’s protest trend needs to last longer than one season
From slogan tees and charity badges to refugee models and anti-Trump soundtracks, the biggest trend at New York Fashion Week was being political. Should the runway be used as a platform for protest?
Public School fall/winter 17 by Stefan Stoica
When Donald Trump issued an executive order banning immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries on January 27, fashion answered with a defeaning silence. Designers and brands weren't responding through their public social media accounts. And apart from Opening Ceremony, which pledged 100% of the proceeds from its resistance-themed ballet to the ACLU, and Diane Von Furstenberg, who told the Business of Fashion that she was "personally horrified" after earlier saying she was open to dressing Melania Trump, few companies made clear statements. Hopefully some designers were still protesting and/or making phone calls, but the lack of public statements was in stark contrast to fashion's enthusiastic response to the Women's March on Washington a week earlier.
That changed as soon as New York Fashion Week came around. Chromat showed a survival-themed collection soundtracked by an empowering pre-runway dance performance by UNiiQU3 and a political post-show club banger instructing "Fuck Donald Trump, Who Donald Trump, Fuck Donald Trump." Mexican-born designer Raul Solis of LRS showed underwear that told the president "No Ban" and "Fuck Your Wall." Gypsy Sport's Rio Uribe headed to protests — including the Muslim ban demonstrations at JFK — to cast model/activists who marched down a tent-lined runway to the beat of bucket drums. Before the show, Uribe spontaneously hopped on the speaker system to issue a call for compassion towards Muslims, the mentally ill, and the LGBTQ community.
Uribe's speech felt a bit more heartfelt than the Planned Parenthood badges and white "solidarity" bandanas that were left on seats and mailed with tickets to many shows. Raf Simons asked guests to wear them to his debut Calvin Klein collection — though hearing David Bowie proclaim "This Is Not America" over the soundsystem felt far more compelling. The CFDA later announced it would donate $5 to Planned Parenthood for each pin shared on Instagram with the hashtag #IStandWithPP — though capped it at just $5,000.
Perhaps the most powerful statements were the ones that weren't so widely reported. At Jeremy Scott's souped-up take on the turbulent 60s, we noted that the icon-printed pieces could be read as a caution against idol worship. Less heavily Instagrammed were Gigi, Stella, and Scott's front-of-house team sporting t-shirts printed with the phone numbers numbers of Congressional representatives. After Uribe linked arms with a model-marcher for his own runway finale, he told W magazine that he was giving part of the proceeds to the Bowery Mission. Apparently he wanted to ensure the brand was doing its part "without being braggy about it."
Prabal Gurung and Christian Siriano also pledged a portion of the proceeds from their slogan tees — Gurung's reading "Our Minds, Our Bodies, Our Power," "Revolution Has No Borders," and "I Am An Immigrant" — to the ACLU. Gurung, who was raised in Kathmandu, recently used his six-year-old education charity in Nepal to raise millions of dollars for survivors of the 2015 Nepal earthquake. While the "Future is Female" shirt ripped off a radical 70s lesbian separatist design — did he miss the whole Cara Delevingne Controversy? — slogans weren't the most powerful thing about the show anyway. The most radical-feeling thing about Gurung's outing was the refreshing race and size diversity of the women on his runway. Ditto with Public School, which showed t-shirts and red hats reading "Make America New York" on a colourful cast of models. Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow have a history of celebrating diversity — two months before the first presidential debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton, Osborne wrote an open letter to the fashion industry imploring his peers to take a stand on Black Lives Matter.
One of the strongest symbols of hope came on the final day, when rumours were confirmed that Kanye West had cast hijabi model Halima Aden in his Yeezy Season 5 show. Whether the image of a Muslim model at one of the buzziest shows of the season compensates for the photograph of West meeting Trump at his infamous Tower is beside the point. Her success is its own form of protest. "I signed with the top modelling agency in the WORLD and still wore my hijab as my crown," Aden wrote on Instagram the day of the show. "Don't ever change yourself… Change the game." Actions speak louder than slogan tees.
Marc Jacobs's hyper-diverse, hip-hop Lexington Armory outing — which included trans male model Casil McArthur, activist Winnie Harlow, Instagram muse Slick Woods, and Gurls Talk founder Adwoa Aboah — felt more radical for its lack of set or soundtrack. When asked back in November whether he would dress Melania Trump, Jacobs replied, "I'd rather put my energy into helping out those who will be hurt by Trump and his supporters." Aboard Collina Strada's "Noah's Ark" to Mars was a Sudanese refugee as well as models from Libya, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and Yemen. Mara Hoffman's show opened with a speech from the organizers of the Women's March. Muslim designer Anniesa Hasibuan had an all-immigrant cast of models.
Maybe the true test will be whether fashion can be as loud — literally or demonstratively — when others get tired. Trends change every few months, but we still have Trump for four more years.
Text Hannah Ongley