SHOULD FASHION BE POLITICAL?
Illustration by Chris Hull a.k.a JUNIORSKEPTIC
Fashion has always been a reflection of its era’s tendencies, and particularly during the recent years of political uncertainty, it almost seems like the words “politics” and “fashion” have become linked more closely than ever – and have also become lucrative means for achieving fame and notoriety. While some designers have managed to put out concepts and products that accurately reflect current-day issues, others have utilized this method as leverage to promote their own brand while trivializing or disregarding the real consequences of political struggle.
The recent spirit of protest – from the Women’s March to #BlackLivesMatter rallies and other such peaceful demonstrations – have inspired various new takes on the runway, like Chanel’s infamous Spring 2015 ‘march’ or Balenciaga’s current take on the Bernie Sanders t-shirt. While both instances have received their fair share of criticism (adding a price tag to democracy, anybody?), at least these designer’s took on the image of protest with respect for the spirit of rebellion and social justice. Nonetheless, it seems like other iconic brands like Dolce & Gabana failed to receive the memo. Being categorically opposed to gay adoption is one thing, proudly dressing the wife of a president who’s got more protesters outside his white house than supporters inside of it is another, but dismissing the whole thing in favour of political ridicule, now that’s new low. Rather than attempting to celebrate the protest movements, D&G decided to opt for a “meta” take on the backlash against their own brand by creating a “Boycott D&G” themed Spring 2018 menswear collection. For this protest-parody show, D&G invited millennial celebrity models to “march” (smiles and all) in order to highlight the futility of social justice and political correctness. Not only was the show deemed insensitive, but the attempt to use it court millenniall shoppers backfired, with young people feeling scapegoated by the whole set-up. One artist who proved this fact is American singer-songwriter Raury, who removed the designer clothes during the finale to reveal his own slogans - “PROTEST”, “DG GIVE ME FREEDOM” and “I AM NOT YOUR SCAPEGOAT” - written across his bare torso. “I felt like Dolce & Gabbana was literally trying to use the youth to wash their hands of any sort of heat from anyone who wants to protest against them,” the artist told GQ. Although the simple fact that they dressed Mrs. Trump might not be an outright (or alt-right) political statement, allying oneself, directly or indirectly, with a leader who feeds off the disenfranchisement of marginalized groups can be considered something like an endorsement. And by ironizing the opinion of those who feel particularly affected by their non-inclusive government, D&G is essentially mocking the struggle and trivializing the act of counter-demonstration as a whole. In an interview with GQ, Raury furthers this notion by explaining that “The Boycott Dolce & Gabbana T-shirt [D&G] created completely makes a mockery of what ‘boycotting’ is. Boycotting is the people’s voice. A protest is the people’s voice.”
Today, this particular topic is especially relevant in countries like Germany, Sweden, France and England where differing opinions on issues such as mass immigration, religious conflicts, and economic disparity has created much tension amongst the population. In fact, this past year, French candidate Marine Le Pen and British Prime Minister Theresa May dominated the political stage during their respective countries’ elections by projecting a hostile image of minority ethnic groups with the promotion of their tough anti-immigration policies. It is in these unstable moments, filled with streaks of past and impending terror attacks, riots, and oppression from law-enforcement, that everyone in fashion should be charged with the responsibility to prove that the industry is capable of highlighting the non-superficial aspects of society. At the same time, it is also important to avoid playing the “protest” or “awareness” card as a publicity stunt to sell one’s brand to a broader audience. And while the majority of labels are cashing in on this opportunity, not all consumers are falling for the trick.
Historically, fashion has been a subsidiary form of protest used as a uniform for protest groups, activists, and renegade subcultures. But with the commercialization of politics in the fashion industry, there seems to be a move to replace real political action with consumerism – an easier (and ultimately, far less effective) way to ‘create awareness’ about an issue. Remember the #BlackLivesMatter safety pin controversy? The one where non-P.O.C. decorated themselves in safety pins to prove that they were “allies” to the struggle, without actually making any significant contribution? Now take the same idea, replace the safety pins with white bandanas, and you’ve got #TIEDTOGETHER, a concept created by the reputed fashion website Business of Fashion. This movement, which encourages people to wear white bandanas “in support of human unity and inclusiveness,” walks the fine line between pretention and political inactivity. How is a white bandana going to change the mentality of those who view others through blurred non-accepting lenses? This symbol, that riffs on the universal color of peace is just that, a symbol. And without any affirmative steps to accompany it, it will forever remain that way. If there is one thing that a well-meaning message needs, it’s a genuine action to back it up – otherwise it is mostly self-serving. Witnessing such simplistic attempts to “unite people”, it’s hard not to wonder if all you need to assume the title of a pro-diversity/pro-inclusivity activist is a piece of white cloth and a celebrity status.
We’ve reached a point in our history where every word we proclaim, every idea we manifest into the world has an impact on almost every facet of our daily lives. For many, being vocal is not only a responsibility but a necessity when you do not possess the political power to escape the cage of social dissolution; when your honest complaints are ignored in favour of copy-cat imitations of activism from the rich or renowned, who glorify rebellion as if it were a stylish statement rather than a desperate cry for help. The sad reality is that today, any form of a struggle or support for a certain cause has no mileage without approval from a notorious name. And consequently, sometimes even the most meaningful efforts are ultimately diminished by the banal efforts of social climbing individuals.
Arguably though, any effort is better than none and at the end of the day, it’s still a step in the right direction, away from ignorance and bigotry. If we could incorporate more political or social initiatives onto the fashion platform, it would give us one more outlet to promote just causes that continue to affect many in our communities and around the world. All things considered, if you’re currently wearing a white bandana tied around your wrist with the words “Make fashion not war” bedazzled on it, don’t be ashamed; your heart’s in the right place. In the future, however, just make sure you’re putting in as much effort in your political actions as you are in your fashion accessories.