Do designers and brand houses use their fashion shows to send a certain message? Are designers becoming more agitprop? The latest trends says so
As technologies evolve and social media networks and platforms such as Facebook and YouTube become stronger and more effective in reaching and connecting larger and varied audiences, fashion shows are available to far more viewers and decision makers than any time before. In comparison to a decade ago, when fashion shows were seen to be ultra-conservative and stiff upper lip, nowadays the role of the catwalk has changed. With its emphasis on novelty and spectacle, as fashion theorists suggest, fashion shows became a switching station for postmodern identities.
And the change is taken seriously. In the last decade, certain designers saw an opportunity to take their fashion shows to another level and use the models, i.e. the clothes and accessories, as walking persuasion messages. Their vision of the fashion shows is interweaved through their certain beliefs, regarding social or political movements. We had an opportunity to see some of the most direct messages through catwalks of some of the biggest fashion designers of the modern age.
One of the freshest examples is Milan Men’s Fashion Week 2014 and Miuccia Prada’s collection, in which she mixed womenswear into menswear collection. I know what you think: it doesn’t seem that unordinary. However, there was an important subliminal message she wanted to send: “I think the combination is more real. It is more today. Otherwise it looks like we are in classes, in the time of my grandfather, when women were divided from men. I think to people, not gender”, said Miuccia to the press after the show.
The men behind Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld has lifted a few of his catwalks on a performance level. However, in the last couple of seasons that performance effect has hit yet another level – the level of raising awareness. For instance, two seasons ago his vision froze the audience – the most important accessory on the catwalk for A/W 2010 was a huge melting iceberg in the centre stage, which had been shipped specially from Scandinavia! The frozen landscape and the melting ice caps put the global warming into Chanel’s, and therefore global spotlight.
However, the master of using a fashion show for persuasion purposes and raising awareness is Vivienne Westwood. Since she started working with the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), Dame Westwood used her runway occasionally to promote her social and political ideals, especially global warming and climate change.
As a famous fashion provocateur, at the last year’s London Fashion Week she opened her fashion show with an eerie modern dance, along with the appeal for the audience to fill in a postcard, which will be sent to the UN to raise climate awareness. The opening dance, performed by Lily Cole, an English model and actress, expressed Westwood’s concerns about this issue. The designer’s environmental messages were visible also on her collection, with the word ‘climate’ featuring on T-shirts. At the end of the show Cole and the designer came out carrying a postcard that said ‘This Is My Voice’. The designer also used Lily for her first short film with Sky Rainforest rescue, to the aim of inspiring people to protect the environment and tackle climate change.
Last year’s London Fashion Week wasn’t the first time Dame Westwood used a fashion show to promote an idea. For the S/S 2009 menswear Milan show called ‘Tolerance’, the designer used Roma gypsies as models. Driven by the notion that fashion is a “cultural and artistic force that has the power to challenge people’s prejudices”, the designer wanted to draw attention to cultural differences, aiming specially at Italy and its immigration issues. Naturally, Milan council criticised the show and the designer.
The Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), an organization that supports the work of thousands of women micro-producers from marginalized African communities, also worked hard on raising awareness through fashion. They collaborated with big designers as well, including, naturally, Dame Vivienne again. For instance, her A/W 2012 African Collection has been created using recycled canvas, reused roadside banners, unused leather off-cuts, and recycled brass. Her pieces were produced in Nairobi, where discarded padlocks and car pieces were collected then melted down.
As fashion’s production goes ever faster, the designer’s vision and creativity for the look of the fashion show is in the spotlight. When designing, the imperative for them is to be able to follow through with the detail that makes the product unique. And in the same way they cannot overlook the details on a specific garment, they cannot overlook the visualization and the statement effect their fashion shows can make. Ultimately, they need to ensure their fashion show is memorable.
The creativity can be a powerful tool. When combined with a certain personal notion regarding a global issue, the creativity becomes more of an influence and dominance. The power of a fashion show and the power of what is showcased within are indispensable and unavoidable. And without an additional effort, a designer is able to send a type of subliminal stimuli through the show. And in the same way we follow trends after fashion weeks, we might as well follow the message portrayed through it. In the end, it is on us whether to act on it or not. In the fullness of time, by doing so, does a designer become a politician?
The catwalk show has moved into the arena of culture and movement. They are no longer in the business of fashion, they are in the business of idea promotion.