Designers send political messages down the runway

At the Private Policy show during New York Fashion Week: Men's (right), a multiracial cast of models had words such as "terrorist"?and "violent" written on their foreheads or cheeks. Designer Robert James, meanwhile, incorporated the spirit of protes
At the Private Policy show during New York Fashion Week: Men's, a multiracial cast of models had words such as "terrorist"?and "violent" written on their foreheads or cheeks. Designer Robert James, meanwhile, incorporated the spirit of protests in his show (above), with models carrying placards printed with pointed messages.PHOTOS: NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST

NEW YORK • Of course, reality intruded. Fabulousness is no barricade against politics.

Reacting to United States President Donald Trump's executive order banning the entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations and refugees from any country, designers who showed their work during the four days of men's fashion in New York last week expressed dissent in gestures that, while mainly small and symbolic, added gravitas to the usual street-style antics and overall frivolity.

Sooty-faced models in Robert James' show at the New York Men's Day event carried placards blockprinted with pointed messages, such as "Not My Govt", "Made In A Sanctuary City" and "Bridges Not Walls".

At a Private Policy presentation, members of a multiracial cast, clad in quilted bomber jackets and hot pants, had words such as "terrorist", "green" and "violent" stencilled on foreheads or cheeks.

Taking a bow at the end of a show, in which models' faces were obscured behind neoprene ski masks, German-born designer Robert Geller wore a sweatshirt that read: "Immigrant".

And in a spirited introduction to Nick Graham's Mars-themed collection, presented against a giant projection of Earth seen from space, educator and television presenter Bill Nye - the "Science Guy" - addressed climate-change deniers with a paean to the fragile atmosphere.


At the Private Policy show during New York Fashion Week: Men's (above), a multiracial cast of models had words such as "terrorist"?and "violent" written on their foreheads or cheeks. Designer Robert James, meanwhile, incorporated the spirit of protests in his show, with models carrying placards printed with pointed messages. PHOTOS: NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST

Backstage are models from nearly every point on the globe - India, Mongolia, China and Sudan were just some of the countries represented in New York last week - showing that fashion is a plurality undertaking.

Sure, the panoply of multi-ethnic faces is a relatively new addition to a business not always known for welcoming diversity.

Yet, behind the scenes, fashion has always been global, as Ms Fern Mallis, the former executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, says.

"You have no idea how many visa forms I filled out in my career," she says, referring to her work on behalf of the craftsmen from distant countries, whose skills were essential to realising American designers' visions.

The garment industry itself was built by immigrants, she notes of a business that continues to be one of the city's top economic drivers.

Free-floating societal anxieties seemed to inject themselves into the proceedings in other ways. Take a Krammer & Stoudt presentation inspired by streetliving, rail-riding transients, one in which the baggy layers often worn by "crustys", or gutter punks, were used as a form of armouring.

Or look at the N. Hoolywood show inspired by designer Daisuke Obana's and stylist Tsuyoshi Nimora's observations of homeless people on a recent cross-country trip.

Wearing dazed expressions that made some look as though they had forgotten to take their medication, an array of street-cast models paraded around a Chelsea showroom.

The coats they wore were adapted from utility blankets slung over multiple layers.

One model wore a denim jacket pulled over a woollen coat squeezed atop a nubby Aran Island fisherman's sweater, which was tucked into a pair of the baggy pants that have been all the rage in Tokyo for a while now, and that are slowly making inroads in the West.

Still another jacket was knotted at the neck like a scarf.

Streets and rail yards are familiar territory in fashion.

Few can forget John Galliano's "homeless chic" 2000 show for Dior, in which purposely raggedy models strutted onto the runway swathed in "newspapers", clothes with torn linings or inside-out labels, frayed tulle glad rags, belts slung with little green empties of J&B whiskey.

Editorial writers, homeless advocates and moralists in general seized on that show as proof that fashion and its narcissistic practitioners are hopelessly disconnected from the real world.

Yet, what those who are quick to deride it often forget is that the glass of fashion is mostly a reflective device. Galliano may have misjudged his moment, given that the 2000 Dior collection coincided with a series of raids on shelters and arrests of the homeless directed by Mr Rudy Giuliani, mayor of New York at the time.

The N. Hoolywood collection could also be judged to be insensitive.

Yet, it served as a reminder of an often invisible population - one that, in light of recent studies showing that in almost no place in the US can a person working a 40-hour week at minimum wage afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent, seems destined to increase.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 09, 2017, with the headline 'Designers send political messages down the runway'. Print Edition | Subscribe