Just weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, here we are at New York Fashion Week – a hive of passion, positivity and creativity in the city Trump calls home. And a significant portion of the design elite shaping what we’ll wear next season are at pains to distance themselves from the controversial Republican leader.
Politics and fashion have always intertwined on the catwalk, be it through stunts standing up for gay marriage or animals rights to protests against sexism or climate change. From Mary Quant’s mini-skirt signalling greater sexual freedom for women in the ‘60s, Katherine Hamnett’s bold political slogan t-shirts of the ‘80s, to the burgeoning white bandana movement of today as a sign of “solidarity and human unity,” fashion is frequently a tool for social and political commentary.
This season several high-profile designers have made an unprecedented move towards a common cause – protesting the controversial actions of America’s new President. It’s proving a tricky balancing act for designers and fashion houses who need to maintain brand integrity, appeal to wealthy customers and engage wider audiences at the same time. Cool labels like Public School and Chromat can afford to be more direct and passionate in their catwalk criticism, while a more subtle ire is required of names like Calvin Klein, Victoria Beckham and Altuzarra.
It’s not a one-sided crossover either. Last week one of the US President’s paid advisers publicly endorsed Ivanka Trump’s eponymous fashion line on TV, telling Americans she was doing a “free commercial” for the collection that had just been dropped like a hot potato by luxury department chain Nordstrom for poor sales. “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” Kelly Anne Conway advised, sparking a row about violation of ethics laws.
This followed the President admonishing Nordstrom from the official White House Twitter account for rejecting his daughter’s line. He retweeted a message from his personal account that read: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person -- always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!”
Presumably he didn’t run past her whether the “right thing” was to use government services to air grievances about his family’s personal income. Regardless, Nordstrom’s stock surged after Trump’s tweeting tantrum, so the designers who have not stayed silent on the President’s actions may well have done their own reputations no harm.
See the many ways the President has come under fire at Fashion Week...
Rapper UNIIQU3 sang out the show with the lyrics “Fuck Donald Trump, Who Donald Trump, Fuck Donald Trump.”
No ambiguity there then.
Mexican designer Raul Solis had a message for Trump that he put across in no uncertain terms on models’ exposed knickers.
Others said: “no ban, no wall”.
Banners were loud and proud at the Flying Solo presentation showcasing emerging talent.
Models wore berets in what’s being interpreted as a nod to the Black Panthers, a militant group set up in the 1960s to defend minority groups from police and government oppression.
The collection was also inspired by ‘90s fashion, with show notes seen by CNBC citing Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, explaining: "The '90s was a decade promising communal diversity and unity. Recent events seem to unravel this progress, and it's now relevant to revisit the promise of the '90s."
The Vogue editor-in-chief is not one to accessorise with a political statement on a whim, which is why the pink plastic Planned Parenthood badge pinned proudly to her expensive ochre scarf is a very big deal.
The badges have been handed out at Fashion Week since Congress announced plans to withdraw funding from the family planning organisation in the US and abroad.
Raf Simons made his debut for the respected American fashion house with a subtle but definite swipe at the US political situation by opening and closing the show with David Bowie’s This Is Not America.
While Calvin Klein himself recently stated that “of course” he would make clothes for the First Lady Melania Trump, he sold his eponymous label in 2002. And of course designing for the wife of the President is a whole other story...
Creatures of Comfort
A simple, obvious statement that gets right to the heart of issues with the President’s policies. In case there was any doubt this message is aimed at Trump, Creatures of Comfort clarified its context on Instagram, explaining that 50% of proceeds from sales of the top go to the National Immigration Law Center.
Hashtags accompanying the message included #weareallhumanbeings #noban #NILC and #climatechangeisreal.
Public school mocked Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan red baseball cap with an alternative suggestion: “Make America New York”. Trump’s hometown, of course, did not vote for him and has not voted for a Republican President since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Designer Rio Uribe cast his models from the recent Women's March and the Muslim ban march, W Magazine reports. He said in a speech before the show highlighting the plight of homeless people.
“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,” he told the magazine.
She’s not known for rocking the boat but Victoria Beckham did give a tentative nod to her feelings on Trump coming to power in an interview about her autumn/winter ‘17 collection.
“There’s never been a more relevant time to talk about empowering women,” she tells ES. “With everything that’s going on in the world right now, a woman really wants to feel secure.”
Her collection, she says, is optimistic and centred around an attitude “of freedom, of confidence and power.”
Another simple slogan with a powerful punch at Christian Siriano.
Scott used the idolisation of celebrity culture as the focus of his show after telling NPR: "I've been thinking a lot about how we worship celebrity, and how we have Elvis and Marilyn Monroe and Jesus all on the same playing field. That is really the same situation what's happened to our politics, that we have elected a celebrity."
The label auctioned two tickets to its show with all proceeds going to Planned Parenthood – after all, the organisation needs all the funds it can get now.
The campaign to wear white bandanas as a “sign to the world that we believe in unity and inclusivity for all humankind,” led by Business of Fashion, has gathered pace.
As well as adorning the wrist of Gigi Hadid at Tommy Hilfiger’s LA show, the campaign was supported by Raf Simons, who sent them out with invitations to the Calvin Klein show with the message: “Unity, inclusion, hope and acceptance: Join us at Calvin Klein in wearing the white bandana #tiedtogether.”
All the models in Tadashi Shoji’s finale were sent down the catwalk wearing the white bandanas.