The rise of 'Fashtivism'

Izzi Watkins finds out what happens when the worlds of fashion and politics collide

Izzi Watkins
20th February 2017

Models at last week’s LRS show bared all to the show’s exclusive FROW’ers with messages of ‘Fuck your wall’ sprawled across them. In making political statements, Mexican born Raul Solis was not alone, as a few days later Raf Simmons made his own feelings towards a certain tangoed-man loud and clear by blasting out Bowie’s ‘This is not America’ to general applause.

While fashion and politics are no strangers, this year’s NYFW has seen their union become closer than ever, with designers and attendees alike raising their voices about a broad spectrum of political issues. But is this ‘fashtivism’ a mere passing trend à la tassled jeans? And, more importantly, does it really have the capabilities to engender any actual policy change in The White House?

“Fashion is, at the end of the day, a business and thus profits will always come before protest”

Anna Wintour appears to think so, since this week she stepped out donning a hot pink badge that read ‘Fashion stands with Planned Parenthood’. The pins were specially designed by Conde Nast in partnership with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and were distributed to a range of high-profile figures as an act of defiance against Trump and his plans for cut-backs for the organisation. The flashes of hot pink on various FROW’s across New York have already garnered media attention, serving to reinforce fashion’s place in politics, if only for raising awareness if nothing else. After all, Jeremy Corbyn’s most recent Insta (a knitted Corbyn doll, for anyone interested) is unlikely to reach the swathes of followers (currently 74 million) that religiously double tap Kendall Jenner’s every move and inevitably, political statement.

Although Wintour’s actions were commendable, they were also savvy; in the weeks leading up to NYFW three million people attended women’s marches around the world, a large proportion of whom were millennial women, a key component of the Conde Nast customer base. It is therefore worthwhile noting that Wintour has never used the Vogue brand to wade into more controversial topics such as gun control or police brutality, and that she personally paid Trump a visit in his New York Tower earlier this year- did she therefore simply have a change of heart? Or does Wintour have alterior motives when it comes to Vogue’s ‘fashtivism’?

“It is worth noting that Wintour has never used the Vogue brand to wade into more controversial topics such as gun control or police brutality”

Criticism has also mounted over the perceived hypocrisy of the Calvin Klein brand. While Raf Simmons, creative director at Calvin Klein, may have made a statement with his choice of backing music, Mr Klein himself has very publicly stated his desire to dress the new First Lady, reminding us that fashion is, at the end of the day, a business, and thus profits will always come before protest.

Regardless of the reasoning behind this surge in ‘fashtivism’, the end result is surely the same, and if the industry is provoking more people to become engaged with politics, then it cannot be condemned. Looking forward, it will be interesting to see how London reacts to the political turbulence of 2016, and will we follow in Solis’ footsteps and brand ‘Brexit’ on our bums? Only time will tell…

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