Friday, September 7, 2018

'I Predict a Riot' - American Designers Get Political at New York Fashion Week // Spring 2019

With the midterm elections in the United States quickly approaching, the overarching question at New York Fashion Week is how the designers will interpret this juncture in politics.

The fraught landscape of American politics has proved difficult territory for American fashion designers to negotiate. Primarily, they don’t directly interact with it. They avoid it entirely or else quietly, and sometimes ineffectively, offer something else—using clothing as a means of protection or as a tool for channeling power in the face of adversity or reflect the themes of overconsumption and excess. 

Some have grabbed the bulls by the horns. Brands like Levi Strauss & Co. are trying to effect change in the American political landscape: They have pledged over one million dollars to end gun violence. (Italian luxury brand Gucci donated $500,000 to the survivors of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida, in February 2018, who participated in the March for Our Lives protest.)

Nike featured NFL star Colin Kaepernick in their latest ‘Just Do It’ advertising campaign. The portrait of the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who protested against police on the field when he knelt during the national anthem, is accompanied by the quote, ‘Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.’ It caused a media frenzy—on one side there were calls to boycott Nike for supporting someone they think disrespected their country but also a positive response from supporters who value Nike’s. The reaction symbolised the divisive nature of politics in America.

Jeremy Scott, America’s renegade storyteller and part-time creative director at Italian brand Moschino, took his final bow wearing a vest reading “Tell Your Senator No on Kavanaugh,” referring to the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s ongoing confirmation hearings. Democrats staunchly oppose Kavanaugh’s conservative attitudes. 

Scott’s political stance was echoed in his show which had ‘Riot,’ ‘Power,’ ‘Revolt,’ ‘Peace,’ and ‘Future,’ emblazoned on many items. It was true to the juvenility of his aesthetic—devilish, playful, reactionary.  Perhaps he was looking to stir a conservative audience. It was a commercially-savvy proposition too, those dresses, sweatshirts, and shorts if you take them out of the political context which, knowing Scott’s work, was a conscious decision. There were cartoon character digital prints, plaid and Warholian patterns. 

Brooklyn-based Matthew Adams Dolan opened with Democrat blue. The political party is endeavouring to regain the House and Senate majority in the November midterm elections. 

It wasn’t a wonder that Dolan amped up the tailoring options this season. Pantsuits and skirt-suits galore. He produced them in modest blue and camel but also in eye-popping shades—yellow, fuchsia, sapphire, lilac. 

Dolan, who counts Rihanna chief amongst his champions, was nominated for the 2018 LVMH Prize. (The prize was eventually awarded to Japanese label, Doublet.) In previous seasons, he worked with incredibly large, pooling proportions which he’s since reduced to facilitate an increased commercial demand.

Like Scott’s work, you could depoliticise Dolan’s clothing, forget about the upcoming elections, and have yourself an incredibly saleable collection. In fact, Dolan didn’t outwardly flag any political connotations. The proof was in the pudding though—power dressing for women at a time when there are more women than ever running for Congress. The subtext is unmistakable.

There was menswear too but that served as an accessory more than anything, even though Dolan is passionate about unisex styles. 

The ensuing outfits comprised of references to different aspects of Americana—there was ample workwear, double-denim, and the high-society lady’s duchesse satin suiting. He juxtaposed vibrant colours with staid tonality, it was an exercise in riot and restraint.
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