Wrestling With Politics at New York Fashion Week
For much of the fashion community, President Donald J. Trump’s election was a disappointment (to say the least). Though many designers stayed quiet in the following months, the spigot opened during this fashion week as designers used the platforms available to stand up for the causes that most concern them.
“The election has colored everything that we do,” Tracy Reese said. After walking in the Women’s March on Washington, the designer and her team felt inspired. “We wanted to use our voices, something that was new for a lot of us,” she said.
She invited four poets, including her sister, to read at her show, giving them no parameters except that the poems should tell women’s stories. “We put very little restraint on them because it was all relevant,” Ms. Reese said. “I’ve never designed for one kind of woman. It’s always for different women, different shapes, different colors, different ages.”
Mara Hoffman took a similar approach, inviting the four co-chairs of the Women’s March to recite lines from the activist Angela Davis and the poets Maya Angelou and Audre Lorde.
“These four women organized the largest protest in the history of the world for human rights,” Ms. Hoffman said. She wanted her show to continue the apparent momentum they sparked. “The march happened, but now what?” she said.
Several designers sidestepped performances and instead incorporated political statements into their collections. Prabal Gurung and Christian Siriano, for example, turned to T-shirts. At the end of his show, Mr. Gurung sent his models out in tops printed with phrases like “The Future Is Female” and “I Am an Immigrant,” while Mr. Siriano showed a T-shirt with “People Are People” inscribed across it, paired with a pink skirt.
“I didn’t want to do anything that was so specifically political,” Mr. Siriano said. “We thought one simple, bold T-shirt was the way to go.”
Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, of the label Public School, decided to make a more pointed statement, riffing on the red “Make America Great Again” hat that President Trump and some of his supporters wear. The designers tweaked the language, stitching “Make America New York” across their version (also red).
“The collection started off with a conversation about borders,” Mr. Chow said. “We felt like we needed to make some commentary about nationalism, isolationism and xenophobia.” Why New York? “Because it’s made up of people of all different cultures, of immigrants,” he said.
At Chromat, Becca McCharen-Tran channeled her postelection feelings into all of her designs, conceptualizing “garments that can help the wearer stay afloat and protected” in partnership with Klymit, an outdoor goods company. That meant rain boots, flotation devices, bathing suits and mesh netting. “I definitely think the collection grew out of the collective anxiety we’re feeling,” she said.
It was a way for her and her team to take a stand. “During the protests, we were in the studio sewing,” she said.
Perhaps the subtlest reflection on America’s present and future was Raf Simons’s first collection for Calvin Klein, in which the designer celebrated “different characters and different individuals” with a series of easy, unfussy looks that included an American flag turned into a skirt.
Fashion week is often more about escapism than about politics, but for these designers, the shows were a chance to make their voices heard in a way that comes to them most naturally.
“It’s clear that being vocal is working,” Mr. Chow said. “There is pressure this administration feels. The only way that can happen is if we keep speaking up.”
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