The Intersectionality Between High Fashion and Social Justice
February 13, 2016, I sit on my golden-brown couch awaiting the live stream of the Prabal Gurung fashion show at New York Fashion Week from my MacBook. It finally begins and a multitude of beautiful chiffon dresses sashay along the runway for 25 minutes. By the way the dresses become progressively more lavish, I can tell the finale is coming. I anxiously await what extravagant ball gown Gurung has in store for his audience until the lights dim. A fierce Bella Hadid steps out wearing what looks to be a plain white shirt until the light reveals the message on it: “The Future is Female”. Several other models march behind her wearing similar basic tops reading more feminist statements. Audience members quickly whip their phones out and erupt into Snapchat frenzy and applause. Gurung has made a political statement at the most prestigious fashion event that has helped develop what is now the intersectionality of high fashion and social justice.
2016 was a pivotal year for America with the presidential election arriving and most Americans taking a stance on it. Activists rose up to protest the bigotry spewed by Donald Trump and his supporters using whatever platform they could. Fashion designers alike took inspiration from the outpouring of advocacy and translated these messages onto their runways. Unlike any time before, activism had infiltrated the lives of the rich and famous who would not have thought of these causes just ten years ago. Now, we have reached an era where supermodels and movie stars sport their wearable statements to protest injustices.
There are countless examples of creative directors and designers using their privilege to promote and support marginalized groups. 2008 Project Runway winner Christian Siriano has openly spoken out to high fashion magazine Vogue about the unrealistic body standards set by the modeling industry He believes designers have the power to change this by adjusting their hiring process and sizing. The 32-year-old challenged this by including models of all sizes in his 2017 New York Fashion Week show including short, curvy, plus-sized, and racially diverse women. This was a pivotal moment for the body positivity movement as no other prominent designers or retailers had translated this message into their couture and collections. More recently, Siriano designed a t-shirt for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America’s five-year anniversary. He along with designers Cynthia Rowley and Bonnie Young sold these for a retail price of $30 that almost anyone could afford.
Beyond overt political statements, many high fashion houses and companies have made statements through the opportunities they create for people apart of marginalized groups. As of March 2018, Louis Vuitton hired its first black menswear artistic director in the form of multitalented person Virgil Abloh. Within the few months that Abloh has taken on the role, he has already created opportunities for minorities. By hiring several black models, musicians, and influencers to walk in his debut show at Paris Fashion Week, Abloh showed one of the most diverse Louis Vuitton fashion presentations ever. Additionally, he invited French design students to the runway and gifted them free self-designed pieces to expose these students to experiences that they would have never seen. Before this, Abloh had created pieces and developed lines that support globalization, immigration, Planned Parenthood, and cultural integration. Abloh has made a name for himself as a pioneer in the fashion industry and continues his legacy through the opportunities he creates for those following him.
The impact that the integration of social justice into the high fashion world has had on low-end retailers is also one that has helped morph activism for the everyday person. Specifically with Prabal Gurung’s “The Future is Female” shirt, low-end retailers such as ASOS and Fashion Nova took inspiration from people’s generally positive response and replicated it for more affordable prices. Dolce & Gabbana’s “Love” collection also inspired the mass production of fashionable pride-wear that was affordable among low and mid-end retailers. Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce, co-founders of luxury fashion house Dolce & Gabbana, released a collection of shoes, tops, bags, and pants featuring the words “Love” and “Love is love” to promote LGBTQ+ pride and support their own community. Affordable brands like Banana Republic, ASOS, Urban Outfitters, and Walmart then released similar pieces with similar messages following the fashion show’s great success.
Many question if fashion should be separated from politics; however, the interconnection is inevitable knowing the history of the high fashion industry. There is a long lineage of closeted homosexual designers like Gianni Versace who were forced to hide their lifestyle. There is also a lineage of openly homosexual designers like Jean Paul Gaultier who faced discrimination and were forced to constantly defend their sexuality. Additionally, fashion is one of the most influential aspects of modern society with everyone dressing themselves and desiring to be dressed stylishly. Therefore, it is almost obligatory for designers to use their unique platforms to speak out for their respective marginalized communities whether that be the LGBTQ+ community or any other.
Overall, fashion has proven to bring people from all walks of life together through its multicultural progressiveness. To see high-profile designers band together to protest injustice just shows how important fashion has become. They have created a platform for themselves in which they can elevate the ideas and opinions of others using their multitude of resources. As a consumer of these products, it is important to invest in designers and companies who integrate politics with fashion to show your support of their work and create further progress in this ordeal. If this cycle continues, America can expect a new epoch where generations of activists take the front line to fight for justice in more creative and innovative ways just like their predecessors.