Most fashion designers typically don't make sweeping political statements as a way to play it safe — they have to sell their clothes to consumers who could have a wide range of beliefs and opinions. But this year, specifically after this election, artists of all types, including fashion designers, have decided to use their platforms to speak out, usually against president Donald Trump. And not just in America, but also in London, Milan, and Paris.
Whether it was the entire Council of Fashion Designers of America supporting Planned Parenthood, designers having models walk through refugee tents at their shows, or suggesting guests make donations to the ACLU and UN Refugee Agency, fashion people are using the runways to raise their voices.
See every strong statement they've made this year.
After a collection of striking ball gowns hit the runway, Talbot Runhof closed their March 4 show in Paris with a parade of colorful knits. Each one was emblazoned with familiar words, like, "persist," "lie to me," "unpresidented," and Donald Trump's favorite Twitter catch phrase, "Sad!" written in texturized tiles.
"With all of the lies, the fake news, and alternative facts, we wanted to do a collection about truth," co-founder Johnny Talbot told Vogue backstage of the show. "If you have a platform to say something and you don't, then shame on you."
Several designers, including Tommy Hilfiger, Thakoon, Prabal Gurung, Phillip Lim, Dior, and Diane von Furstenberg, included white bandanas in their shows.
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Leading up to her show at Paris Fashion Week, creative director of Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri, was already making political statements. T-shirts screen printed with "We Should All Be Feminists" and "Dio(R)evolution" were sold and proceeds went to Rihanna's Clara Lionel Foundation, which fights against injustice, inequality, and poverty and promotes access to education.
Then, at the designer's March 3 runway show, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the author who coined the phrase "we should all be feminists," sat front row as models topped their heads in black leather berets for the finale. That particular hat is a universal symbol of protest and revolution, worn by armies and activists worldwide.
Additionally, each guest's seat had a #TiedTogether white bandana that read, "Feminist: A person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes."
According to attendees of this Milan Fashion Week show, pink pussy hats (made famous by the Women's March on Washington in January) sat perched on every seat. Guests immediately put them on and watched the show with their hats proudly positioned on their heads. All of the models who walked, including Gigi Hadid, wore one down the runway for the finale walk as well.
The show notes signaled what this message was all about: "[Creative director] Angela Missoni communicates the femininity of our times, prepared to confront the conflicts and dilemmas of our contemporary society: the conditions, needs, and rights of all women and minorities."
During London Fashion Week, designer Ashish Gupta dragged the president with sparkly slogan T-shirts that included gems like, "More Glitter, Less Twitter."
Almost every look of the collection featured a politically charged statement, and, perhaps as a nod to the political smackdown happening on the runway, Gupta had his models' faces painted in the style of Mexican wrestling masks.
The show began with four national chairs of the Women's March on Washington — Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour — standing in front of the audience and delivering a powerful speech about unity and acceptance.
"We stand together honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us … Unity of actions doesn't mean we have to have the same thoughts, but an injury to one is an injury to all … We stand for the undocumented, the under-represented … the women who show up, and the ones who cannot."
All four women then raised their fists in a symbol of power before the fashion show commenced. Show notes revealed that Hoffman's pieces were inspired by "women whose songs are not yet sung, the allies, the named and the nameless." After the finale, the designer received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Creative directors Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne's gritty, athleisure-focused show featured sweatshirts with the phrase, "We Need Leaders" on the back. Many of the models wore red baseball caps that parodied Donald Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again," insisting instead that we "Make America New York." During the finale, the song "This Land Is Your Land" played in the background.
There was a lot going on at German designer Philipp Plein's fashion show (which took audience members back to the early 2000s with gothic-font bedazzled coats and gowns) on Monday night, so it's unclear exactly what his political point was. But here are the facts:
The show happened at the New York Public Library, and guests were greeted on the iconic steps of that building by a hoard of models dressed like the Statue of Liberty. The Naked Cowboy (a New York celeb and self-proclaimed Trump supporter) and a couple of Elvis impersonators also made an appearance. Inside, neon signs echoed Trump's "MAGA" slogan with "Make NYFW Great Again." Models walked in graphic tees depicting the upside down American flag, a symbol that typically means the country is in distress. Then again, Tiffany Trump was seated in the front row. So, make of that all what you will.
The collection included a graphic sweatshirt featuring a message of unity and equality that should transcend partisanship: "We are all human beings."
Ahead of his show, designer Rio Uribe gave a passionate speech that brought particular attention to the issue of homelessness and refugee tent cities.
"I wanted to talk to you guys a little bit about my show," he said from a mic backstage. "The fall/winter '17 collection was inspired honestly by people who live on the street and just don't have much fashion in their life or any of the luxuries that we take for granted. ... I don't want anyone who is gay, or Muslim, or disabled, or mentally ill, or a veteran, or a drug addict, or a runaway to have to live on the street just because someone's not willing to give them a chance."
After that, models (who, by the way, were scouted at the Women's March and the Muslim Ban protests in NYC) walked a runway lined with "refugee tents" as a family of drummers who play in New York City subway stations provided the live soundtrack.
The clear message of Christian Siriano's show was written on a graphic T-shirt that made its way down the catwalk, but it was underscored by the Depeche Mode song of the same title that played during the finale:
"People are people, so why should it be you and I should get along so awfully? So we're different colors and we're different creeds, and different people have different needs. It's obvious you had me though I've done nothing wrong. I never even met you, so would could I have done? I can't understand what makes a man hate another man. Help me understand. People are people, so why should it be you and I should get along so awfully?"
During his show, Siriano also demonstrated his own ability to be inclusive by casting 10 models who don't fit the fashion industry's "sample size" description. While that's not political per se, it does speak to his ability to lead by example on any issue he cares about.
The political statement here wasn't so much seen as heard, since the soundtrack the models walked to included lyrics like "the future is female."
The Chinese designer told WWD that she's "not political" but seating Tiffany Trump in your front row still makes quite a bold political statement, either way.
On each seat, attendees found T-shirts with phrases like "unbreakable" and "Steinem AF" printed on them. The creative director of Milly, Michelle Smith, wrote a passionate note about the mood of her collection, which she called "Fractured":
"During the time I was designing this collection, the world changed dramatically. The elections left me feeling defeated, especially as a woman. I now feel like I have to fight hard for all sorts of rights I once took for granted …I struggled for a while to find the right mood and look for this collection — all while it was right in front of me. Fractured."
Mexican-born designer Raul Solis wrote political messages, like "Fuck Your Wall," on the underwear worn by each of his models.
"I love everyone" T-shirts made it clear that inclusivity and acceptance are values close to this designer's heart.
Designer Raf Simons juxtaposed the overtly American aesthetic of Western, cowboy-influenced designs with David Bowie's "This Is Not America" playing in the background. If you don't know the song, it basically says "This is not America" over and over again. It's safe to say, with such a strong and repetitive message, that Simons isn't happy with the direction of the country. It's a sentiment he hinted at in a pre-fashion week interview with GQ:
"IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m constantly thinking about what could I do on a bigger scale [about Donald Trump]," he said. "IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m watching a lot of the people who do speak up. Like the March and all these women ... I open the newspaper and I see that heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ordering a wall. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m like … ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s almost like the middle ages or something. I cannot believe it."
Outside the Adam Lippes presentation, models stood with women's rights signs and a huge banner that read, "Adam Lippes stands with Planned Parenthood" — a nod to all the recent protests around the country.
Before NYFW even began, the CFDA announced that it would be handing out hot pink Planned Parenthood buttons at certain shows in solidarity with the family planning clinic. The campaign is about awareness and a show of support, more than anything else.
"We know that so many people stand with Planned Parenthood — including designers and entertainers — because they and their loved ones have relied on Planned Parenthood for health care, including life-saving care like cancer screenings, birth control, STI testing and treatment, and sex education," said CFDA board member Tracy Reese, who helped design the pins. "Planned Parenthood is often the only option for this type of care in underserved communities. By creating a visually engaging and fashionable pin, we hope to create an organic social media movement promoting awareness and education."
Designer Tracy Reese, who was heavily involved in the CFDA's "Fashion Stands With Planned Parenthood" campaign, said of her fall collection, "I thought it would be a great idea to celebrate the strength of women, creativity, femininity — all of our many facets. I realized I can make a difference, it may be tiny but I have to act. And we have to speak up about the things that are important to us."
During her show, four female poets performed various empowering pieces. Among the poets present was Aja Monet, who read lines from her piece, "My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter," a feminist work she also performed during the Women's March on Washington.
For the show's finale, Gurung sent models down the runway in T-shirts printed with empowering messages like "we will not be silenced," "yes, we should all be feminists," "girls just want to have fundamental rights," "the future is female," and more.
The show also marked the first time Gurung has sent non-sample size models down the runway, most likely a nod to his upcoming collaboration with Lane Bryant.
Like at Tommy Hilfiger, the models at this show also wore #TiedTogether's white bandanas on their wrists to signify acceptance, inclusivity, and support of refugees and the ACLU.
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