The fashion industry has a long and complicated history with protests: in our heated political moment does fashion have a voice that can be heard through the wave of activism?
Unless you have spent the past eighteen months living under a rock away from all other human interactions the current wave of political change cannot have gone unnoticed. From Trump and Brexit to anti-abortion laws in Poland, protests have dominated the British media effecting all industries in one way or another — including the fashion industry.
Fashion has a complicated relationship with protests, partly due to the way ‘fashion’ functions: it can be fashion as an area of commerce, one that is particularly subject to interrogation; or, personal style as a way of presenting yourself, showing the world your opinions in your physicality.
Women chose to wear trousers in the late nineteenth and early-twentieth for practicality, to ride a bike and for ease at work, and this simple change was an act of defiance against the version of femininity endorsed by patriarchy.
It has only recently become accepted that make-up is not limited by gender, in the past year mainstream make-up brands Covergirl and Maybelline have employed men as the face make-up campaigns (James Charles and Manny Guiterrez respectively). The way we present ourselves can break boundaries if we dare.
However, the fashion industry uses, breaks and creates these boundaries to suit its purpose – inevitably, tapping into consumers.
The Chanel Spring Summer 2015 runway show was a prime example of the fashion industry objectifying protests — the runway show was a mock protest. Admittedly, the signs the models carried tapped into the injustices woman face in the world but this was a staged event designed to encourage wholesalers and customers to purchase the collection the models were wearing. A protest was turned into a shopping event. Consequently, Chanel asserted themselves as a brand that is liberal, feminist and unashamed to shout about it, they made it fashionable to be politically active.
As much as there are so many positives to arguably the biggest fashion house in the world doing this, there is an underlying current of the business behind the protest. Chanel only used the protest form to show their clothes because they knew it would draw publicity – which ultimately leads to more sales, they made use of increasing cries for gender equality for profit.
Back in the 90s fashion shows were more likely to be the subject of protest rather than host one, and always for the same reason: Fur.
The Peta movement was strong in the 1990’s and 2000’s, celebrity faces were lining up to show their support for the ‘I’d rather go naked than wear fur’ campaign. Protesters were regularly waiting with red paint to throw on those fashion show attendees who wore fur, and then, fur went out of fashion. The quality of faux fur produced improved and it’s ethical status made it more desirable. Unfortunately, fur is gaining popularity again but the clean/vegan world we live in is vocal enough to rally a decent cry.
Now, the issue celebrities are most vocal about is undoubtedly Mr Donald Trump. Whether it’s turning up to the Screen Actors Guild Awards with paint on your chest or attending the anti-Trump rallies like the Hadid sisters, fashion is engaging in politics.
This took an even more literal turn during the Fall/Winter 17 men’s shows when Demna Gvasalia sent his model’s down the runway in clothing that used the format of the Bernie Saunder’s logo for the Balenciaga logo. Firmly stating the presidential candidate he was backing. Equally, New York menswear brand By Robert James had his models hold anti-Trump signs, showcasing a menswear line as pro-abortion.
Collectively, fashion houses seem keen to assert where they stand in the 2017 political climate; however, as with all things fashion you are left wondering whether this is just a trend that will be long gone in two seasons time.