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Dress To Express – Fashion Speaks When Politics is Silent

“Images are not innocent. They tell us things about the world.” —Alfredo Jaar

Fashion and Art is not just about aesthetics and ornamentation. It serves a purpose. Fashion has played a significant role in activism through imagery and performances.

Over the centuries, artists have always been inspired by what happened around them. From songs of protest to politically inspired paintings and clothes: art was a form of self-expression and a way of communicating with society. However, most fashion designers typically do not make sweeping political statements as a way to play it safe. But those who think that politics has no business in fashion are wrong. The political dimension of clothing is intuitively understood from the moment individuals are born. Because essentially, human society equals dressed society. What one wears, how one wears it and when one wears it constitutes expressions of degrees of social freedoms and influences.

On the Valentine’s Day, the Italian brand Diesel launched its “Make Love Not Walls” campaign. “At Diesel we have a strong position against hate and more than ever we want the world to know that, to use our voice for good, love and togetherness is crucial in creating a society we all want to live in, and the future we all deserve,” artistic director Nicola Formichetti stated on the company’s website.

Could it be that like fashion studies, political dressing is a fashion trend?

Based on the number of collections that included political statements during the 2018 fashion weeks, the answer would be a rotund yes. Several collections during the last season of fashion weeks employed political statements. Political runway antics included pink pussy hats at Missoni. There were white bandanas as a symbol of inclusion in Tommy Hilfiger, Thakoon, Prabal Gurung, Phillip Lim, Dior and Diane von Furstenberg.

Karl Lagerfeld sent the fashion world into a tailspin when he staged a feminist protest march for Chanel’s  show. Megaphone in hand, Cara Delevingne led an army of rioting models down the Boulevard Chanel, chanting words of empowerment and brandishing signs like “Feminist but feminine” and “Ladies First,” in one of the most overtly political fashion shows of all time. The show tapped into Chanel’s long history of championing female independence: founder Coco Chanel was a trailblazer for liberating the female body in the post-World War I era, introducing silhouettes that countered the restrictive corsets then in favour.

Fashion’s enfant terrible Jean Paul Gaultier caused a sensation when he sent men down the runway wearing skirts in his 1984 Paris show “And God Created Man.” Opinions were sharply divided at the time: editors from Vogue and a string of other publications infamously walked out in disgust, while French designer Daniel Hechter excitedly exclaimed that the event was ”the most important thing to happen in fashion in the past 20 years!”

Revolutionary Alexander McQueen broke new ground with his 1998 guest edited Fashion-Able issue of Dazed, whose cover story featured models with a range of physical disabilities. McQueen – an advocate for wide-ranging, alternative forms of beauty that went beyond what was being shown on catwalks.

Demna Gvasalia presented his latest Vetements collection under a flyover in the middle of Paris – and this time he got personal. This season’s offering was inspired by his experiences of growing up in a troubled country, and the violence he and his family witnessed during the Georgian genocide of 1992. Inspired by “family and violence”, not only was the collection a tribute to his home, it was also designed to educate the rest of the world on Georgia’s struggle – by way of a downloadable app. That’s right: if you download a forthcoming Vetements app and scan pieces from the collection (which featured giant QR code graphics) when it hits stores you’ll be linked to the Wikipedia page that details the Georgian genocide.

Yes, the fashion and the politics have a long and multi-dimensional relationship. Fashion’s political voice is taking on a wide variety of shapes inside and outside of the countries. The communicative power of fashion’s artistic practices can bring challenges to a political status quo. Hope this will be the case for Georgia. Thank you Demna!

By Cecile Giraud