Will New York Fashion Week's Runways Be as Politically Charged as Last Season?

Brian Ach

So far, all signs point to yes.

Last February, the public was still reeling from one of the biggest political upsets in history.

Women, people of color, immigrants and members of the LGBT community — four groups who play a major role in any realm, but particularly the fashion realm — were apprehensive about their futures, so it was only to be expected that their anxiety, as well as their spirit of resilience, would manifest in both their clothes and their presentations.

Jonathan Simkhai, Public School, Opening Ceremony, Prabal Gurung, Tracy Reese and many more turned their runways and presentations into public protests through poetry readings and political PSAs. Since it's the fashion world, designers and showgoers alike showed their various alliances outwardly, pinning pink Planned Parenthood badges on their political statement tees that declared “I am an immigrant” or “Feminist AF.” (Whether such slogan tees and merch were effective forms of protest or simply another fashion trend designed to make a buck is another subject of debate entirely.)

But that was six months ago, and it's time for New York Fashion Week yet again, Sept. 7-14. Will this season be as politically charged as the last?

From the looks of it, the answer is a resounding yes. Especially in light of the news that the Trump administration is ending DACA, the fashion industry — which relies heavily on immigrants, both in a design and production capacity — is certainly in a position to take a stand.

Once again, the Council of Fashion Designers of America will continue to show its support for Planned Parenthood with its pink “Fashion Stands With Planned Parenthood” buttons, which were worn by designers, editors (even Anna Wintour!) and show attendees last February.

This season, however, the CFDA has expanded its repertoire to include support of the American Civil Liberties Union. The blue-ribbon pin got a fashionable makeover for the occasion, with "NYFW" stamped on each one.

Though not an inherently political organization, the ACLU has been called upon several times this year in reaction to various Trump administration policies (from immigration to the very recent announcement regarding the ending of DACA) to stand up for the rights of marginalized groups.

The Designers:
So what can we expect from designers? More statement tees? Or perhaps something a little more subtle, more metaphorical, like designer Michelle Smith’s “Fractured” collection for Milly last season?

From the looks of things, it’ll be a little bit of both.

A glimpse at the debut collection of Hollywood power stylist Jamie Mizrahi for Juicy Couture features a shout-out to 2017’s favorite congresswoman, California Rep. Maxine Waters. (Spoiler: It’s a velour tracksuit reading, “What would Maxine Waters do?” in Gothic script.)


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Edie Parker’s Brett Heyman will present her own version of “Fake News” in a presentation of the same name, using the president’s attack on the media as a backdrop for her fall collection, no doubt with her own commentary peppered in.

Prabal Gurung, who brought showgoers to tears after he sent models down the runway wearing tees bearing slogans like “Yes, we should all be feminists” and “The future is female,” said during a recent panel that his peers shouldn’t "just put stuff out there," but that they should "put something out there that means something."

Following his February show, he told The Hollywood Reporter, "More than ever, fashion and politics should mix."


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Virgil Abloh, the founder and creative director of Off-White (which shows in Paris), who is in town to present his Nike collaboration, has noted how current events will be present in his next collection. "The events in Charlottesville are very jarring," he told Business of Fashion last month. "For me, as a creative, I can say it's having an effect on how I see the world, which subsequently will affect future collections."

Diane von Furstenberg, Zac Posen and Alice + Olivia’s Stacey Bendet were among those who took to social media to condemn the actions of the white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, while Kenzo and Opening Ceremony's Humberto Leon was quick to post on his personal accounts in defense of DACA. Several prominent designers in the American fashion scene are themselves immigrants, including Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim of Oscar de la Renta and Monse, Jonathan Saunders of DVF and Stuart Vevers of Coach.

"I think that it’s important that you stand up for what you believe and that you talk about the issues that are important to you," said Vevers when asked if the industry had a responsibility to speak up. "But however people choose to do that is their own choice."


RepostBy @alexachung: RG @sarahsophief Grossed out by the news. #DefendDaca #resist DREAMACTTOOLKIT.ORG

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The Models:
Thanks to the age of social media, models have more of a voice than ever — which is to say they have a voice at all, after years of being pretty-but-silent faces.

Women including Candice Huffine, a plus-sized model with more than 10 years of industry experience, said that discussion is the best way to improve size diversity, both on the runways and throughout the industry. "Conversation and collaboration are key," she told THR in August. "You can’t just point fingers and fault brands or magazines for not doing their part. Sometimes it’s just very innocent oblivion."

Maye Musk, the 69-year-old model and, yes, mother of Elon, will also be participating in New York Fashion Week, expanding the notions of inclusivity to mean diversity of race, size and age.


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The Fashion Folk:
Everyone is their own brand these days, and if there was ever a group to rival bloggers in terms of clout, it's fashion editors and figureheads.

This season will no doubt see women like Teen Vogue's Elaine Welteroth and former Lucky magazine editor-in-chief turned head of brand partnerships at Instagram Eva Chen calling out lack of diversity (be it in size or race) on the runways. These women, as well as bloggers like Bryanboy and Susie Bubble, were among the influencers who wore political-statement tees while being photographed by street-style photographers last February.

Elle editor-in-chief Robbie Myers predicts at least a bit of a political stand. "There’s definitely a lot going on culturally, politically; it’s always interesting to see how and where that manifests," she said of the upcoming season.

The Audience:
Fashion week doesn’t just happen in New York anymore, but around the globe.

“You saw that in the last two seasons, when certain shows cast only one type of ethnicity,” said Chen during a panel about Instagram engagement during fashion week (per Glossy). “They are called out on their Instagram. Seven hundred million people around the world are making their voices heard.”