From left to right: Prabal Gurung, Public School, Creature of Comfort and Christian Siriano (photo: Rex and Getty)

FASHION NEWS

Should fashion profit from politics?

As New York Fashion Week ends, the prevailing trend is political statements. But, whilst some feel genuine, many are leaving Laura Craik feeling queasy

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By Laura Craik on

The jury’s still out on what sort of trousers we’ll all be wearing next season, but if you’re in the market for a slogan T-shirt, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Of all the four major fashion cities, it was inevitable that New York would become a political microphone, blaring out messages via slogan T-shirts, white bandanas, strongly worded show notes and carefully chosen songs. The ramifications of Trump’s presidency may be felt all over the world, but New York is Trump’s home. New York, that most liberal and proud of cities, was never going to stay silent on the subject of Trump. How could it? Like a bedbug, he lives among them. 

Fashion has always been political. Sometimes, its political statements are ridiculed and/or misconstrued: witness John Galliano’s infamous homeless-inspired collection for Dior haute couture in 2000, or Daisuke Obana’s more recent reprisal earlier this month during the New York menswear shows. Some designers – Katharine Hamnett, Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood – are genuine about their chosen causes. Others are guiltier of jumping on the latest bandwagon, their statements a cynical bid for attention rather than a genuine desire to effect change. 

Gloria Steinem T-shirts at Milly (photo: Rex)
 

Donald Trump isn’t a bandwagon: he’s a dangerous man. And Adam Lippes’ "Girl Power" banners, Christian Siriano’s People Are People T-shirts, Diane Von Furstenberg’s Planned Parenthood badges and 1rs "No, Ban, No Wall" knickers can’t merely be dismissed as cynical bids for attention. We’re living in extremely frightening times. People who never held a placard in their lives are marching: it stands to reason that designers who never expressed a political idea in their lives are now galvanised to do so. Like art and music, fashion is a product of its times. 

Jonathan Simkhai (photo: Rex)
 

So why do I feel so queasy at the sight of all the slogan merchandise being paraded down the catwalk in New York? Yes, "We Are All Human Beings" (Creature of Comfort); yes, we should "Make America New York" (Public School) and yes, "We Will Not Be Silenced" (Prabal Gurung). The problem is, it’s hard to see what greater good a $150 T-shirt is effecting beyond contributing to the designer’s personal retirement fund. Maybe all the bold statements would be a bit more convincing if a percentage of their sales went to the charity or cause in question. 

People who never held a placard in their lives are marching: it stands to reason that designers who never expressed a political idea in their lives are now galvanised to do so

I also feel queasy – actually, make that dismayed – at the fashion industry’s deafening silence in response to Trump’s immigration ban. The Business Of Fashion recently reported that when it emailed executives at LVMH, Kering, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta, they either didn’t respond or politely declined to comment. In contrast, tech brands including Apple, Facebook and Google spoke out against the ban. 

New York Fashion Week is ongoing: as I write, Kanye West is still to show, and we’re yet to see whether the habitually outspoken Marc Jacobs (one of the few American designers who has said he has 'no interest' in dressing Melania Trump) will make a political statement via the clothes he shows on Thursday night. But for the most part, it has been the smaller / younger / "not owned by a luxury goods conglomerate" brands who have nailed their political colours to the mast. Meanwhile, the bigger players are being careful. Presumably, they feel that now is not the time to rock the boat: Trump’s proposed Border Adjustment Tax will, if passed, burden brands who manufacture and import globally with an extra 20 percent tax, a levy which could put many out of business. No wonder Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton (and France’s richest man) was one of the first businessmen to meet with Trump last December. 

Happily for those not enamoured of an overpriced T shirt with a political statement splashed across its chest, some designers are dealing with the post-Trump landscape in subtler ways. Victoria Beckham’s contribution? Clothes as armour. "The world is so confused right now, I just want to make my customer feel secure," she said. That’s a statement we can all get behind. Or at least, those of us who can afford the trousers.

@LauraCraik

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From left to right: Prabal Gurung, Public School, Creature of Comfort and Christian Siriano (photo: Rex and Getty)
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