With fashion weeks around the world in full swing, we are all stroking our screens as we lament over the beautiful clothes we will never be able to wear. But amongst the designs and the models, there is a political undertone to the catwalk this year that hasn’t been so obvious in previous fashion weeks. Is feminism and politics just another trend, or is it a way to raise awareness for the important issues in our world at the moment? Louisa Davies investigates…
For many people, if you say ‘Fashion Week’, an image of a stick thin model parading round a room of pretentious people comes to mind, with evil fashion editors torturing miserable interns, forcing them to work 16 hour days on nothing but popcorn, diet coke and cocaine.
The Devil Wears Prada has A LOT to answer to.
To others, myself included, fashion week is a time for total escapism. A way to lose yourself in the creative minds of great designers who will shape the culture we embody for the next season, with clothes that will make you gasp, set designs that leave you floored, and a general air of inspiration that leaves you feeling totally ready to take on the world.
Given 2016’s absolute shit show with Brexit, Trump, AND the decision to change the Instagram algorithm (a true, global catastrophe…), 2017 has already been plagued with the repercussions of these shocking political movements. Women’s marches around the world took over news feeds, and Trump’s Immigration ban left us speechless.
So it’s no surprise that these political moments have weaved their way into Fashion Week.
From Dior’s range of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ t-shirts, to Pao-Yi and Maxwell Osbourne’s ‘Make America New York Again’ caps, politics and feminism have been a key trend this year. Mara Hoffman, a designer famous for her range of maxi dresses and bikinis, chose to have women from the marches triumphantly speak before her own catwalk show, and designer Prabal Gurung using the powerful ‘Nevertheless, She Persisted’ statement to show solidarity to Elizabeth Warren who was silenced as she tried to state her case in Government. All of these leading designers have spread important messages through their AW17 collections, and shown solidarity with minorities and groups that may be feeling ostracised at the moment. But there’s part of me, that can’t help but think…
Is this all just another trend?
It has to be said that, until a few years ago, feminism was not as publicly heralded as it is today. Women in the spotlight chose not to identify as feminists, shunning the questions in interviews, plastering a smile on their faces as they chose not to confront the issue. We were labelled ‘difficult, exhausting, opinionated’ by the media, and largely fashion shows remained artistic, but without an underlying nod to the feminist movement.
That was until ‘Flawless’ by Beyonce came out. A strong and bold song choice that used Adichie’s speech defining feminism. ‘FEMINIST’ jumpers came on sale, and Beyonce’s set design blasted out the word like she created it. Emma Watson created the fantastic ‘He For She’ campaign, and celebrities that previously would not call themselves feminists (I’m looking at you Taylor Swift) suddenly created exclusive ‘squads’ of strong, beautiful women. Feminism was so hot right now, and you’d have to have been a fool not to jump on the bandwagon.
Fast forward to today, where fashion shows almost require this political undertone to make it on the front pages, who need that backbone beyond the clothes to lean on, otherwise isn’t it all just a bit materialistic in a world that is falling a part? The cynic in me is screaming that it’s all for publicity, it’s all a ploy to get on side of the fashionable and beautiful people whose creative minds are the ones you would want wearing your clothes as they tried to fix the world we have ruined. After all, Melania Trump has been blacklisted by designers, whilst Michelle Obama probably has every designer on speed dial, desperate to see her in a dress whilst she delivers another motivating speech.
But I’d like to ignore the cynic in me for this occasion.
Yes, fashion is full of trends that will come and go (hello flared jeans, I wish you would disappear forever). But feminism and political activism will always be around. There will always be a cause to fight, and showing solidarity on such a public platform is a way of saying ‘we support you’. The influential people in the fashion world are showing their consumers that they are on board with the messages, the marches, the multiple protests. They are exercising their creative voice through their designs, their minds totally embodied by the political unrest of the world.
In one sense, how can it be possible to feature anything else? When the world is so divided, how can anything else influence their clothes? Fashion, whilst others may disagree, is about bringing people together, exploring new and exciting ways to perform your identity through the clothes you wear. Using the platform to spread positivity and united messages is something we should celebrate, not condemn and roll our eyes at.
Fashion has always been political, emotional and one that commented on the world we live in. From McQueen’s confronting ‘Highland Rape’ collection to the iconic ‘CHOOSE LIFE’ t-shirts, a statement has always been made during fashion weeks. Creativity in fashion should not be limited to whether a designer creates a dress or a skirt, it should be about what it means for society, and the underlying trends it promotes to the world. They are artists, sharing their most personal secrets to a captivated audience, desperate to escape into a world of beauty and meaning.
Fashion is feminism, fashion is politics, and it’s time we retired our cynicism to accept that the world needs more than models shaking their tush on the catwalk. We need voices. We need statements.
And there’s nothing more on trend than the power of unity.
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