By Katrina Froelich
The most Instagrammed look of the previous Paris fashion week was the now famous t-shirt designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior’s Spring/Summer 2017 show.
The shirt, a white statement tee with “WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS” penned across its front in bold dark letters, quotes the writing of Chimanda Ngozi Adichie.
Dior is not alone in the politicization of their shows. Since Paris Fashion Week, there have been a plethora of political statements made by high fashion brands on the runway, especially during this past New York fashion week. Zadig Voltaire featured graphic tees that read “GIRLS CAN DO ANY-THING” while Christian Siriano debuted a black tee that read “People Are People.” Some brands took it one step further, like Adam Lippes who had models carry signs in Washington Square Park with slogans like “My Body, My Choice” and “Adam Lippes Stands With Planned Parenthood.” Mara Hoffman’s show opened with the co-founders of the Women’s March delivering a manifesto on intersectional feminism.
So now it seems that feminism, a valid and increasingly important social movement, can now be considered a “trend.” From Vogue editorials to the avante-garde collections, there’s no denying that feminism has secured a spot in the fashion industry.
It might be frustrating to some that it took so long for the fashion world to recognize the "coolness" of feminism. What can be even more frustrating is that the fashion world still hasn’t taken some other very important steps in the feminist agenda (gender and size inclusivity on the runway, for examples). Figuring out a brand's true motives behind slapping the word feminist on a t-shirt can be tricky: is it a reflection of their values or a capitalistic ploy?
And yet, there is power in that word, feminist, and there is power in wearing things like “The Future is Female,” “Steinem AF,” “We Should All Be Feminists,” “Wild Feminist,” “Girls Just Want To Have Fundamental Rights” and more on your chest. I’ll never forget the chills I got when Beyoncé stood in front of the word Feminist (with Chimanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk playing in the background) during the MTV Music Awards. The word is important and powerful. The more we use and wear it, the better. Furthermore, the effect that high fashion has is not one to be underestimated. Luxury brands tend to dictate culture and the trickle-down into more common (and accessible) clothing is clear. If it was on the runway, a version of it will be in Forever 21 by the end of the week.
Making feminism an everyday conversation topic is a necessity. Normalizing a very loaded and often polarizing topic needs to happen. As Chimanda Ngozi Adichie once pointed out, feminism and feminist are often treated like dirty words, or insults. Normalization of feminism can be a very influential and positive thing, regardless of the potential ulterior motives behind it.
Having high fashion brands send models down the catwalk wearing feminist wear also holds them to a certain level of accountability – and while they haven’t quite been held to that level of accountability yet there have definitely been some positive changes. While some brands (like Mara Hoffman) are taking strides to make sure that their feminism is fashionable AND intersectional, others are not. However, The Fashion Spot released its diversity report for New York Fashion Week’s Spring 2018 season and the report revealed that this was high fashion’s most diverse season yet. Racial diversity reached an all-time high and there were improvements in transgender, plus-size and over-50 representation. The stats are still low and improvements need to be made (an all-time high for racial diversity means that 36.9 percent of the runway models were of color: we can do better) but part of having feminism be such an important part of the current fashion sphere means that brands are starting to be held accountable and making changes, however small those may be.
Small steps are not the same as huge strides and the apparent “wokeness” of the fashion world can often be shattered in a matter of seconds. Just last week , style influencer Miroslava Duma posted a note from couture designer Ulyana Sergeenko that said “To my n*ggas in Paris.” Neither the person who wrote the note or received the note was black.
The rest of the fashion world immediately spoke out about racism in the fashion industry, and a petition emerged for Business of Fashion to remove Duma from the BoF 500 list of most influential fashion professionals. This movement had little to no momentum and the fashion world went back to business as usual. So yes, there are more people of color walking the runways than before, but racism is still prevalent in the fashion industry.
“Wokeness” has become fashionable, but the fashion world has yet to fully embrace it. They can put it on their runways but behind closed door they might not be representing the cute graphic T-Shirts they just made. It’s hard to tell if a brand is using the current political atmosphere to make money, to make a statement, or both.
The best that we can do as consumers is hold brands to a higher standard. If you’re making T-Shirts about feminism then your brand better represent all the values of feminism (and let’s make it intersectional feminism while you’re at it). If your brand *cough Ulyana Sergeenko* has been praised for its diverse couture week casting don’t write a note to a fellow colleague in the fashion world with the N-Word. Better yet, don’t use it at all.
We as consumers need to call out fashion brands and influencers when they do things like Sergeenko and Duma did. What could have been a powerful movement in the fashion industry sparked by a blatantly racist incident fell short and resulted in nothing. The industry needed to step up and call the perpetrators out, but so did the consumers.
The fashion world can only exist as long as we consume it. High fashion is powerful and we often consume it without even realizing it. Just because you haven’t bought the latest Prada bag doesn’t mean that you aren’t consuming different aspects of the high fashion machine. Now, thanks to social media, consumers have the power to call out brands and influencers when they do something wrong. Hashtags trend for a reason and the people can use whatever social influence they have to talk about what’s going on in the world. The momentum of #MeToo serves as just one example. If the high fashion world is going to print T-shirts about feminism, they need to start holding itself to a higher standard, but so do we.
Katrina Froelich is the Fashion Editor at Tough to Tame. She’s worked in the fashion industry for over four years, gaining experience in PR and Editorial work at companies such as GUESS and Forme. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org