Does Politics Have A Place On The Runway?
- Thalia Fairweather
After Kanye West launched his new collection inspired by the 2011 London Riots, and Naomi Campbell fronted a catwalk show raising money for Ebola, Thalia discusses how much of a place politics and social issues have in the world of fashion
You could say that the worlds of fashion and politics are so different that they never collide. But, in this day and age, there have been evident growing connections between the two of them. What this has got me wondering is why have they become more interlinked than ever.
I imagine that, in the past, many would be concerned with either one or the other, and these pathways rarely crossed. Now fashion shows have become a place suited to political activism, whereas before they focused primarily on artistic expression. Despite the emphasis still being placed on art, design and intricate construction, designers such as Vivienne Westwood and her involvement in 2014’s IndyRef have popularised the presence of politics on the runway. I don’t see this trend ending anytime soon, either.
Kanye West, a name and face we’ve all seen everywhere over the past decade, has once again caused controversy when he claimed last month that his AW15 collection shown at New York Fashion Week was inspired by the 2011 London Riots. West told Style.com in February: “I was living in London at that time and saw the way that the kids wanted the clothes and I didn’t have the skill set to do the more inexpensive clothes.”
Now, he may have lived in London at the time of the riots, but as someone who is both from the city and has spent most of my life living here, I’m unsure how to feel about this. What does this say about London, exactly? The collection, in collaboration with Adidas Originals, has faced some major criticisms since the show on February 12th. Some on social media made negative references to ’15 denier tights’ while others struggled to understand West’s creative thought process.
Does he really have the right to comment on British politics? Although I’m not a fan of West, I am someone who supports the idea of free speech and, with that taken into account, I cannot fault him or the peculiar connection between his designs and previous issues in our capital.
“…Fashion shows are the ideal time to communicate about politics.”
So why exactly is it considered controversial to delve into the topic of politics on the runway? If fashion’s purpose is to deliver artistic expression, surely those feelings can be fuelled by factors in your life, political opinions included? I feel that fashion shows are the ideal time to communicate about politics. People have been invited and are expected to turn up with a certain level of interest in the show itself. Does this not seem like a prime opportunity to deliver further messages on the runway?
I do have my concerns about fashion shows held with the purpose of funding money for charities, though. I think the concept itself is brilliant and something we should encourage, but I cannot help but have my doubts about the underlying intentions and motives behind them. Does Naomi Campbell truly care about Ebola? I’ll never know; I (unsurprisingly) do not know her on a personal level.
So the question sticks – can fashion and politics go hand in hand? Personally, I believe that authenticity is the key behind all of this, and using politics or a ‘celebrity brand’ with a motive can only have a negative effect. We must be careful to not let political messages act as a biased force, leaving the garments in the shadows. At that point, fashion would fade and political bias has the potential to reign and I doubt that would be something anybody would aim to promote.
Feature image from the Mirror, inserts of Kanye’s collection and Naomi Campbell at Fashion for Relief.