Aleksandr Dyskin


I'll Take Fashion Week Sans Politics, Please

Why do we continue falling for fashion designers' efforts to sell us on politics with cheeky feminist slogans and collective conscious-style outrage? In the new United States (divided into America "pre" and "post" Trump's election), politics sell as much as sex does—or maybe even more. As we observe franchises, like Hooters, dissolving now that men realize perhaps it's exploitative to demand your waitress's tits touch the wall before her nose (was that myth ever dispelled?) and that they must spend their tips on tanning and further tips (the nail classification), we've gradually spiraled into an country where sex is out and politics are in. 

It's a bit absurd that an industry so predisposed to haughty obstacles of its own creation like the fashion industry—which still insists on size triple-zero models for its runways and pulls favors for daughters of Real Housewives and sisters of Kardashians regardless of their skill or desire to even work for it at all—would be able to creep past us with a few scrawled political ramblings and we'd all be like "yeah!" Sadly, that's exactly what's been happening since 2017, and that's only because Trump was elected post-Fashion Week the year prior, or we would have witnessed it sooner.

Brands have been capitalizing off of body positivity and the concept of empowerment for years, hitting its peak during the collective "grab 'em by the pussy" election and post-election wrath. The "body positivity" movement was essentially co-opted by brands and employed to sell things, and, yep, for a while it worked. But at times, the "movement" seems to expose itself. Zara launched a "Love Your Curves" campaign featuring two of the skinnies women I've ever seen in my life. And then there is the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, which in many ways tried to force women to feel bad about themselves for feeling bad about themselves. And who could forget the cheap "A Body For Every Body" slogan change by Victoria's Secret, whose version of "plus-size" looks a whole lot like me, a decently small size 4-6. Everlane even took heat for an ad starring a plus-size model (though in the ad she looks no bigger than the 68 percent of American women who wear a size 14 and up) lounging in a bra and underwear, when the brand doesn't even sell plus-size undergarments. What did they do? Make a pair specifically for her? The answer to that is likely catastrophically close to home.

For a moderately macabre (albeit short) period of my life, I worked for Thinx, the dumpster-fire "period underwear" company whose founder was ousted for being the quintessential megalomaniac tech-bro who called herself the She-E-O. Did Thinx's CEO put on a fashion show in 2016—during New York Fashion Week—decorated by the voices and bodies of women and transpersons of color while costuming them in underwear custom-made to their bodies? And for the purpose of selling attendees on the garment and journalists on the headline? Yes, I was there. A lot of people were. But when the staff all but begged to use real women and no photoshop in Thinx's ads, they were continually told advertisements shouldn't feature "fat people." Because then who would actually buy it? Because if "fat people" started buying the product, maybe it would become a product for "fat people," and then where would all the skinny people go? Surely such marketing would drive the good customers away if a brand started catering to the customers they consider second tier.

With Thinx and countless other brands, the body positivity movement—which never remotely lived up to its promises or cured itself or the public of fatphobia—perished in a hail of millennial pink bullets (at least, sort of). And we, the people (at least, most of us), caught up with brand trickery, too. We now know better than to let brands (aka companies aka corporations aka conglomerates aka The Man) sell us on make-believe ideals and aspirations. So why do we fall for it when fashion designers do it? Do we not see designers as brands because they're also people? And where are the politics this year—besides a few scattered "Vote For Cynthia" shirts at Christian Siriano's show—when it was such a big act on the runway the last year? Was it all merely another trend to profit off of and forget about, praying the audience for it would abruptly forget about it, too (which may be more plausible than initially believed considering today's attention span)? 
Fashion used as a statement is fairly new, and is also inherently political, but not when it comes at a cost.
A year ago, in Fall 2017, Adam Lippes had his models parade around Washington Square Park with signs that read "My Body, My Choice" and "Adam Lippes Stands With Planned Parenthood." Okay... it's a kind predilection but...Why? Because who the fuck is Adam Lippes? To someone who had in recent months become newly politically incensed and involved, this could have been a defining moment, like, "Wow, who is this Adam Lippes guy? I want to support him." And that's the entire point. Jonathan Simkhai chose to gift t-shirts with the all-caps slogan "FEMINIST AF" to runway attendees, leaving them folded on their seats. I should note, sadly, that last fall's Fashion Week was quietly overlapping with the beginning of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like the fashion industry cares about either movement, as 23-year-old model Ian Connor, a model accused of rape by over 20 women, can still be seen flittering around elite fashion circles—and in various and recent Yeezy campaign advertisements.

Mara Hoffman, weirdly channeling what my prior boss had done the preceding year's New York Fashion Week, opened her late-2017 show with a speech from the co-founders of the Women's March's detailing intersectional feminism, resistance and female empowerment, and even playing Maya Angelou's "Phenomenal Woman" as the fakery progressed. Missoni joined in on the madness with Women's March-themed pussy hats (awful) atop every model's head on the Fall 2017 Milan runway. And this was in addition to fashion models, designers and editors sporting bright pink
"Fashion Stands With Planned Parenthood" pins in accordance with the CFDA.

Designers assume you're ignorant and can't concede you're being sold something whether you can afford it or not—because even if you can't afford the clothes, selling an idea is free. A seed of respect for a designer could become planted in your head upon seeing they crafted a political declaration or took a brave stance. You could find yourself saving up for a $175 t-shirt, especially it it's said that 15 percent of the proceeds go to a charity you want to be involved with. But these "empowering" slogans are phrases I'd hope to see only in Limited Too stores. What kind of grown, adult-ass woman wants to drop a rack on a bunch of shirts with kindergarten-y phrases like Zadig & Voltaire's "Girls can do anything” shirt (now also a fragrance), or Creatures of Comfort's "We are all human beings" tee, or Alice + Olivia's (Hallmark card-esque) top that literally reads, "Be the change you wish to see in the world" (All from Fall 2017). Seriously, it's like if you give a toddler a piece of chalk and told them to harness all their "girl power" into a sentence. And if you add Simkhai's "Feminist AF" shirt to the mix, most of these shirts are simply plain white tees with basic black text.

The worst thing about the Politics x Fashion collaboration is that people, on their own, without the help of advertisements, celebrities or brands, have been furthering political discourse through clothing since expression via clothing selection became a tangible thing (when brands started marketing styles to us in the 18th and 19th centuries). Fashion used as a statement is fairly new, and is also inherently political, but not when it comes at a cost. The intersection of fashion meeting politics has come at the expense of women, people of color and the LGBTQ community, as styles used to express sexuality, color and identity have long been considered obscene to the ordinary person.

The Black Panthers used all black dress and a prominent black beret to distinguish themselves, and last year Dior co-opted the black beret for an ad and suddenly, for a split second, berets were back in style—and more expensive than ever. That's what I mean by "at a cost," as your beliefs shouldn't cost anything, and it isn't necessary to wear a uniform in order to possess them.

Antifa protesters have also adopted all-black gear and there is no cost because they chose—as a community—the color they wish to embody and define themselves. Even a pretty large group of actors wore all black to support the Time's Up movement at the 2018 Academy Awards, against the Academy's wishes.
Punk as fashion was also political in nature because it flipped fashion on its head and allowed women to dress like their boyfriends—donning mohawks, piercing their noses and cheeks with safety pins, and even exposing their breasts like Siouxsie Sioux. Punk, real punk, doesn't have a price tag on it because it's synonymous with attitude, which is why the inventor of punk style Vivienne Westwood's son Joe Corré burned £5 million of his Mum and Pop's (Malcolm McClaren) memorabilia in 2016, three years after the Met Gala's punk-themed night and ongoing exhibition. While it may appear melodramatic at first glance—a kid burning his parent's creation—his justification aligns with my own feelings on fashion meeting politics: "Punk has become another marketing tool to sell you something you don’t need. The illusion of an alternative choice. Conformity in another uniform."

Political statements crudely slapped on t-shirts truly is conformity in a different uniform—it just looks unconventional because it's basic and uncomplicated, not loud or considered appalling by the general public. But the best statements, especially those that are intrinsically political, are often loud and shocking to the average joe.

Fashion is also innately political in communities of color, which is why white women should never thoughtlessly sport box braids or wear bindis to festivals. While we've collectively calmed down a bit about appropriation versus appreciation (though we're not quite there yet), it's still essential to know why you shouldn't, as a white person, dread your hair or wear a Native American headdress to a Halloween party. Cultures have been politicized through extreme oppression and the costume-ization of minority cultures is, quite frankly, wrong.

Corré wasn't just right about punk fashion losing its way as it was co-opted and marketed to youth as a way to give The Man the middle finger, his statement of "another marketing tool to sell you something you don’t need" could be copied and pasted following the cringe-worthy political sentiments and body positivity we see hotshot brands and designers trip over themselves trying to sell us.

A general rule of thumb is that movements aren't started by brands or designers who already have all the riches in the world. And a uniform, on its own, can't hold down a movement. Only people can, and when brands get involved, it's best to take everything with a grain of salt or just kiss them goodbye. Your money is likely going to another corporation whether the shirt you just purchased claims you're a revolutionary or not.

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