The Limits and Ambitions of the Fashion Industry’s Protests

Fashion has always been about standing out, with designers forging innovative ways to separate themselves and their art from the rest of the crop. But now, it seems, designers are opting to come together and embrace gestures of solidarity. Tommy Hilfiger, Prabal Gurung, and Tadashi Shoji sent models down the runway with white bandanas tied to their wrists, a symbol of the #TiedTogether campaign’s message of “unity and inclusiveness.” Anna Wintour, Tracy Reese, and Diane von Furstenburg all showed up with Planned Parenthood pins, in accordance with a partnership between the organization and the creator of New York Fashion Week, the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

This was the first fashion week since the election, so the anticipation for designers to make a statement was palpable. Fashion’s matriarch, Anna Wintour, has been an active Clinton supporter, while designers like Marc Jacobs and Diane von Furstenburg contributed to Clinton’s campaign last year with custom-designed T-shirts. But participation in protest doesn’t necessarily mean alliance with one party or another; Hilfiger was also one of the few designers who openly declared he’d be proud to dress Melania, and many in the industry remained silent following Trump’s travel ban.

This doesn’t say much about the industry’s hypocrisy. Fashion-week shows capture the mood of the season, and if future trends can be deduced from runways, then it’s clear that protest — or the spirit thereof — is in style. Mara Hoffman opened her show with the organizers of the Women’s March, while Prabal Gurung’s models wore T-shirts saying “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like,” as Huma Abedin looked on from the front row. A recent story on the Guardian claimed that brands understand that sex doesn’t sell anymore, but activism does. During the Super Bowl, for example, commercials from Airbnb to Coca-Cola used diversity and inclusion as main themes. It seems that the fashion industry — an industry that’s mastered the art of selling sex — has come to the same realization.

Walking through the streets of Soho, I can’t quite tell whether a throng of loud young women are convening for a Planned Parenthood protest, or a Kylie Jenner pop-up shop. Political and social statements in fashion can be powerful, but the industry’s inherently commercial pull ensures that any critique can be countered.

In this divisive climate, neither politics nor companies can get away with not choosing a side. Not reacting to the travel ban can get a designer in trouble, and offering to dress Melania Trump might do the same. Fashion magazines have already taken their cue: Vogue featured the organizers of the Women’s March in a photo shoot, while Teen Vogue has developed into a reliably critical voice, spearheaded by editor-in-chief Elaine Welteroth and driven by writers like Lauren Duca, who infamously took on Fox News.

Cynics believe that nothing can take down global neoliberalism, while pragmatists are convinced that, no matter how fraught the system, every little contribution helps; in between these two extremes is a space where we can separate what fashion can accomplish as an industry and how fashion can function as art.

Fashion, as an industry, is no less damaging than the sharing economy that abuses its workers or the oil companies that pollute the earth. Whatever protest the industry mounts, the effort may seem bleak. Initiatives were put in place after the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh that killed over one thousand garment workers, yet very few believe conditions have actually improved, or if fashion companies even intended them to. In this case, fashion operates within the framework of capitalism: Should we be surprised when an industry preserves business and profit, whether it’s protest-flavored or not?

But fashion is also a mode of expression, a collection of symbols sitting at the intersection of individual identity with markers of the times. After the French Revolution, Parisian youths from elite families started wearing exaggerated shapes to go against the revolutionary spirit. The black and ripped clothes of punks in the 1970s projected the discontent of the youth. In contemporary Iran, where women are required to be veiled by law, the position of a headscarf or the length of a coat can be a subtle act of political subversion. An example closer to home is Raf Simons’s spring 2002 collection, “Woe Unto Those Who Spit on the Fear Generation… the Wind Will Blow It Back,” reflecting on post-9/11 culture.

Fashion has always been used as a tool to express dissent in fraught times, and it will continue to be used as such. One of the most memorable images of the Women’s March is of the pink pussy-hats, donned with pride and defiance, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that it was the individual marchers who knitted and wore them. Fashion as an industry can only sense where the public taste is shifting. What happens with the symbols that it produces is up to us.


Power Dressing: How to Wear Your Heart — and Your Resistance — on Your Sleeve

Wearing your heart on your sleeve takes on a new meaning with these T-shirts, which, like many of the tees in this story, broadcast messages of empowerment while benefitting organizations that are doing the real work.

Photography by Vanina Sorrenti and Sylvia Simon; Styling by Laura Ferrara for the Village Voice

More from the Voice’s spring fashion issue:

Sasha Fierce: American Honey’s Sasha Lane Is Forging Her Own Path

For Photographer Harley Weir, the World Is Her Oyster

An Intimate Look at Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Early Days

Power Dressing: How to Wear Your Heart — and Your Resistance — on Your Sleeve

A Day in the Life of Brother Vellies Designer Aurora James

Remembering the Village Voice‘s Fashion Insert Vue

Opening Ceremony and Justin Peck Team Up for a Trump-Era Ballet of Resistance

Abra Boero’s Off Season Boutique Is at the Center of a Stylish Renaissance in the Rockaways

Hidden Gems: These NYC Boutiques Deliver a World of Unexpected Finds

Vincent and Marianna Martinelli Honor Tradition While Breaking Boundaries

Meet Your Maker: A Détacher’s Mona Kowalska

My New York: Three City Style Influencers Reveal Their Favorite Local Spots

The Bag You Can’t Have (Probably)


Long Lines and Photographers Galore: The Scene Outside NYFW Shows

After eight straight days of sartorial splendor, the penultimate day of New York Fashion Week was no less packed with runway shows around the city. There were long lines of people hoping to get into the shows seen alongside photographers angling to get the perfect shots of celebrities and street-style stars. The Voice captured the frenzied fashion scene outside of both the Michael Kors and Boss Women runway shows at Spring Studios and Skylight Clarkson North, respectively. 

Photos by Christian Hansen for the Village Voice


It Was Mayhem Outside of Kith’s New York Fashion Week Debut

Ronnie Feig showed his first-ever New York Fashion Week collection, dubbed “Kithland” experience. As one of NYFW’s most anticipated debuts this season (even Bella Hadid showed up), the scene outside was equal parts hectic… and hip.

Photos by Christian Hansen for the Village Voice


Chromat’s New York Fashion Week SS17 After Party Makes a Splash

After showing at NYFW, Chromat hosted a pool party at Le Bain, featuring DJ sets by JUBILEE, Lauren Flax, and DatKat.
Photography by Maro Hagopian for the Village Voice



Cloak and Dagger: Huge Coats and Drapey Dresses Are In This Season

Cozy up with this season’s oversize apparel — from Nineties-style dad coats and drapey dresses to sky-high platforms.

Photos by Cheryl Dunn for the Village Voice


The Agony and the Ecstasy of Yeezy Season 4

The Milgram experiments, which began in 1961 at Yale, studied human’s willingness to inflict pain on other people. The experimenters instructed subjects to administer high-voltage shocks on another participant — that participant was, in fact, an actor. Even as the actor began banging on walls and screaming, more than half of participants obeyed orders to increase voltage.

I was reminded of Milgram’s study at Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 4 show, watching a model with a broken stiletto boot perilously limp down the runway. It took everything her limbs could muster to simply keep upright, and as she inched forward, the crowd stood with mouths agape. The question on my — and, I imagine, everyone’s — mind was: Should I intervene before her ankle snaps? Or should I follow orders and behave as one does at a typical fashion show?

Yeezy Season 4’s mood was, overall, apocalyptic. Mostly, this seemed intentional. There was the dark, dissonant music, somewhere in between a La Monte Young drone and a horror-movie soundtrack.

There were young, streetcast black and brown women in increasingly sweat-drenched bodysuits. The hot sun blared down on the models — this all took place in a public park on Roosevelt Island — while guests including Kylie Jenner, Kendall Jenner, Anna Wintour, and Pharrell watched from scant patches of shade. (At one point, one of the models fainted, poor thing.)

And then there was the sheer magnitude of the event. Fashion shows are typically 15 to 30 minutes long. Yeezy Season 4 lasted four hours. It began at 1:30 p.m., when guests boarded shuttle buses on Manhattan’s West Side (cabs weren’t allowed near the entrance to the park) and ended at 5:00 p.m. The clothes in the show were — as in previous seasons — mostly beige, cream, and black, in either oversized or body conscious silhouettes. Parkas, sweater-bralets, and off-shoulder hoodies were all paired with the aforementioned boots, wobbly on more than one occasion.

Past Yeezy shows have positioned themselves as performance art. At Yeezy Season 3 in February, extras were instructed to channel Rwandan refugees in distressed, neutral clothes, as West debuted tracks from his latest album. That show, like yesterday’s, was billed as a work by visual artist Vanessa Beecroft. Prior to becoming West’s chief collaborator, Beecroft was represented by gallerists including Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian.

Was yesterday’s show art? Capitalism? Sadism? The line seems hard to draw. Eventually, one man did intervene to help the wobbling model. As she limped off the runway, leaning on his shoulder, the crowd applauded. — Alice Hines

Read more from our adventures at the Yeezy Season 4 show (and beyond) at NYFW. 
Photos by Christian Hansen for the Village Voice




50 Head-Turning Street Style Looks From NYFW Fall/Winter 2016

Twice a year for New York Fashion Week, the glitterati floods the streets of New York City, heading to and from the season’s hottest shows and presentations. The Village Voice was at NYFW FW16 — from runway shows to after parties — to capture the week’s most outstanding style. Here are some of the most interesting looks we spotted at NYFW.
See more from NYFW, Fall/Winter 2016:
The Best of Jeremy Scott’s FW16 NYFW Show
Chromat’s AW16 NYFW Party Takes Over Le Bain
Standout Street Style at New York Fashion Week
Behind the Scenes at the Nolcha Shows for Fashion Week

Photos by Jena Cumbo, Maro Hagopian, and Kylie Shaffer for the Village Voice




Behind the Scenes at the Nolcha Shows for Fashion Week

Independent designers showed off their collections at the Nolcha Shows during NYFW FW16. The Village Voice was there to catch the action — both on the catwalk and behind-the-scenes — from designers like Rohitava Banerjee, ACID NYC, Intrepid by AO’C, and All Comes From Nothing. 

Photos by Jena Cumbo for the Village Voice


The Best of Jeremy Scott’s FW16 NYFW Show: Runway Looks, Celebrities, and Street Style Stars

The Skylight at Moynihan Station was packed to the brim on Monday afternoon for the big reveal of designer Jeremy Scott’s FW16 show: Cowboys and Poodles. The front row was awash with celebrities — including Coco Rocha, Charlie XCX, Perez Hilton, AnnaSophia Robb, Violet Chachki, and Miss Fame among others — checking out Scott’s new collection, which was bold as ever. Flurries flew as attendees and models filed in and out of the show, but a little winter weather couldn’t stop them from flaunting their street style A-game.
Photos by Kylie Shaffer for the Village Voice