Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How the Fashion Industry is Responding to Brexit

June 23 is lurking like a raincloud on a sunny day. Citizens of the United Kingdom and Gibraltar will vote for their European Union membership in a referendum, on what could become the most infamous Thursday in the history of the nation. Over the past number of months, we’ve seen campaigning ignite, debates being sparked. It’s a polemic topic in the rest of the world too, with other countries weighing in on the colossal nature of the political maelstrom. 

Fashion always finds itself swept up with issues, doesn’t it? There’s always controversial musings on terrorism, fiscal crises, war, that rile people up, but encourage others. It’s been no surprise to see how the fashion industry has interacted with #Brexit, as it’s been dubbed. Jake Hall’s fantastic piece on Dazed last week decoded what it might mean for fashion. The answer: valuable funding to fashion institutions would be wiped, clothing prices could hike, and EU students would be disadvantaged and priced out of fashion industry—all three extremely dangerous facets to a larger issue.

Speaking vociferously about Brexit has been a formidable troupe of British-based designers. Chief creative officer of Burberry, Christopher Bailey was one of many signatories of a letter to British people to vote to stay in the European Union. Burberry is one of the biggest luxury power players in the world, and the effects of a Brexit could be both damaging and catastrophic. Engrained in British culture is Burberry, but as a company it is a global force.

Bailey isn’t the only designer worried about the future of Britain. At London Collections: Men last weekend, designer Daniel W Fletcher staged a guerrilla presentation on the main thoroughfare: 180 the Strand, the hub for men’s fashion week. Models wore stylish, 80s-inspired bombers and hoodies with ‘Stay’, in capitals, emblazoned across the chest. In true protest style, some stood waving signs accented with ’Stay’, others carried the collection’s name. One model toted a lunchbox with the European Union flag, another held a sign with the Flag of Europe. “I strongly believe that leaving the EU would be a huge cultural blow to our country,” Fletcher says, speaking to GQ. A fearless, politically-motivated designer on the menswear scene voicing concern about an issue as large as Brexit contributes to cultural element that would be tarnished, should Britain choose to exit the EU.
Also at London Collections: Men, E. Tautz designer Patrick Grant emerged to take his bow sporting an ‘IN’ t-shirt. Similarly on Instagram, designers such as the Agi & Sam duo, Cozette and Sid of Sibling have posted pictures wearing artist Wolfgang Tillman’s t-shirt collection-cum-campaign for the Remain vote. “Say you’re in if you’re in” and “No man is an island. No country by itself” are the most popular two. Tillman highlights in many posters that countries like Poland and Hungary rely on the EU to defend themselves from oppressive, racist governments in Eastern Europe.

“The reasons why I felt compelled to get involved in the UK-EU referendum are personal - my lifelong involvement with the UK, my love for the UK and its culture, music and people, my career’s groundedness in Britain and the always warm welcome I felt here as a German,” Tillmans offers at the beginning of his mission statement on his website. Found there is a trove of posters for active campaigners to post on social media channels, or to wear, to share your thoughts on Brexit. 

Fashion doesn’t shy away from a debate. The summer issue of i-D is wonderful politically-inclined, a nod to internationalism, with pieces on Brexit. Inspiring a generation that will go to vote on June 23 is a magazine doing it’s job correctly. More importantly, a fashion and culture publication focusing on the all important issue of politics. The frankly scary prospects of Brexit forces designers, publications to stand tall and do anything to possible to combat it. Only time will tell if that effect is positive.
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