OPINION | Is Politics Something “à la Mode”?

From Raf Simons to Public School

NYFW is now over and we have spotted one major trend: politics. Unexpected? Not really!

The world has recently been living a real political turmoil, a turmoil which climax was probably the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. As people fear for the dismantling of democracy, some of them chose to advocate for their fundamental rights and liberties. Nothing of an unprecedented situation…

However, what appears to be more original is fashion’s recent implication in these political matters. Even if some designers had already voiced their claims, what was really peculiar here was the generalisation of the political concern. Raf Simons coined: “When you have a voice, you should use it”, and this seems to epitomise the spirit of the designers for NYFW this season. NYFW was hence the occasion for designers to display rather unequivocal political point of views, but always sticking to their aesthetic identity.

Make America New York by Public School. Source: Getty Image/Slaven Vlasic

Make America New York by Public School. Credits: Getty Image/Slaven Vlasic

People feel a desperate need to take a stand, do they?

No need to describe how artists have considered their productions as a way to express their political stances throughout history; their creativity has always been a way to make their voice heard in a unique way. In fact, even though the current political enthusiasm in the fashion sphere may surprise, it seems to me quite paradoxical that it has not happened before. Indeed, fashion can be defined as both a work of art and a social reality, which makes it twice as much legitimate for fashion to take a political stand.

As we previously mentioned, what is especially surprising here is the momentum gathered by this tendency to voice a political point of view. According to the designers and to the fashion institutions, Donald Trump’s election and the decisions he made shook all of them. If some of the issues at stake today have always been in the forefront, what appears to be really alarming is the accumulation of all the controversial topics embodied by the POTUS. This state of fact pushed the designers to expand their field of activism, refusing to restrict it to the mere aesthetic area.

The streetwear brand Public School, for instance, chose to directly point out Donald Trump by distorting his “Make America Great Again” cap-slogan. With their “Make America New York” red caps, they rejected Trump’s anti-immigration decisions and on the contrary highlighted New York’s diversity as a best practice for the United States. But the fashion sphere also took a stand on abortion with their “Fashion stands with Planned Parenthood” action.

Credits: CFDA

Credits: CFDA

The initiative is led by CFDA member Tracy Reesen, supported by brands such as Tory Burch, Diane von Furstenberg or Prabal Gurung and aims at promoting a pro-Planned Parenthood message, going against Trump’s threats. Important figures such as Anna Wintour wore these “Fashion stands with Planned Parenthood” pins as a mark of solidarity and to catch people’s attention on the necessity to get involved in that cause.

Another example is the choice of Raf Simons for his first Calvin Klein’s show to be maybe a bit more subtle but not less incisive. Having picked David Bowie’s “This is not America” song to introduce his show, he featured pieces that reminded people of the United States flagship as a way to promote his vision of America.

The consecrated bread to become viral

Thus, fashion houses and institutions are waging a war for the people they are dressing. Indeed, for the first time, fashion wants to get involved in the same dynamic as their consumers. In fact, fashion’s advocacies had always been a bit out of touch. For instance, if we consider Yves Saint Laurent’s 1971 “Collection Libération”, the designer was displaying an outrageous feminine liberty which was effective in terms of marketing but did not really change the habits. Women waited some time before wearing short dresses or deep V-neckline tuxedos. In 2017, fashion designers and consumers seem to be on the same page and fashion can really assume a democratic responsibility.

This connection with their consumers’ reality fuels the viral effect of their activism. Actually, one cannot help but considering the great power that models, designers, socialites etc. gain from their visibility on social media. News travel faster and faster and create a fact swelling, that becomes even bigger when designers page the current icons for their fashion shows. Prabal Gurung, who turned his show into a feminist manifesto, chose to develop a collection of tees with slogans such as “The Future is Female”, “Nevertheless she persisted” (as a reference to Senator Elizabeth Warren) or “Voices for Choices”. Having Bella Hadid or Candice Huffine as models and Huma Abedin, the former vice-chair of Clinton’s campaign, in the audience were decisive assets for the influence of the show.



Moreover, fashion’s big personalities seem to consider that their rightful place is to turn themselves into heralds of this political message. As a result, just like when they encouraged the population to vote before the election, they gathered to create the “I’m an immigrant video”. W Magazine gathered models, photographers, designers and stylists at Milk Studios to send a pro-immigration message, highlighting the importance of diversity within the fashion sphere. They attempted to show and promote their melting-pot as an asset for success.

But is this the best place to wage a political war?

We need to reconsider the efficiency of this political attempt on the grounds of three main aspects. To begin with, the target of these actions. When designers take an anti-Trump stand at fashion shows, is it really useful? Indeed, they are not preaching in wilderness, on the contrary they are probably in front of a bunch of already convinced people. But clearly, the pro-Trump hotbet will probably not feel offended by Bella Hadid promoting women’s rights.

Then, the gap between the issues at stake and the mean of expression itself. This was especially obvious during the controversy surrounding the fact that some designers refused to dress Melania Trump for the inauguration.


Sophie Theallet first, then Tom Ford or Marc Jacobs announced that they were refusing to dress the First Lady. Some mass-retailers also tried to drop the brands that accepted to dress the Trump family. But they did not fight on equal terms with Donald Trump, whose supporters asked for a boycott of those retailers such as Nordstrom or Macy’s. Furthermore, in an industry as mercantile as fashion, Melania Trump would have always found a designer agreeing to dress her – and so she did.

Finally, what can be a bit confusing in this political involvement is its authenticity. Isn’t it the perfect opportunity to gather momentum and give rise to passion? What about the #Tiedtogether initiative? We can interrogate the necessity to wear a white bandana in order to raise fashion’s voice against political turmoil. The marketing swelling can sometimes disturb and one can somehow sense snobbery in the desire to belong to this new political top-notch circle.

Credits: Business of Fashion

Credits: Business of Fashion

To end up, let’s mention the fact that the 10 Downing Street will be featured for the first time on the front page of Vogue US. Theresa May, a proof that politics is “something à la mode?”

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