Since the election of a blundering reality TV host as President of the United States (can we please speed up these next three and a half years?), movements around the world have united to protest an administration seeking to oppress minorities of all kind including immigrants, transgender individuals, and women. From Dior’s viral “We Should All Be Feminists” t-shirts (a pricey homage to Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) to Diane Von Furstenberg’s condemnation of anti-immigrant policies, the fashion industry has been quick to show solidarity with the activism of the past several months. This season, industry mainstay Christian Siriano featured transgender models in his runway show, Prabal Gurung sat Clinton aide Huma Abedin and feminist icon Gloria Steinem in his front row, and Alessandro Michele of Gucci explicitly cited resistance as inspiration for his latest collection. Well-established designers are not the only ones getting political—as Fashion Week spring 2018 draws to a close, young, up-and-coming designers in New York, London, Milan, and Paris sent subversive collections down the runway, prompting critical thinking and establishing themselves as forces to be reckoned with.
In New York, Paris was burning. Patric DiCaprio, Bryn Taubensee, David Moses, and Claire Sully of Vaquera put on a show exuding the energy and defiance of legendary 80s and 90s ballroom culture. The collection was a pastiche of subverted stereotypes, exemplified by juxtapositions such as a preppy repp tie safety-pinned askew over layers of shredded jersey tees, a corporate white collar button down blown to ridiculously baggy proportions, and a machismo loungewear ensemble of 1940s-style boxers paired with an undershirt offset by a single pink Hawaiian-print sleeve. Casting director Walter Pearce hired catwalkers off the street and from the designer foursome’s circle of friends, breaking with fashion’s traditional conceit of a model.
At Luar, Raul Lopez dressed an empowered woman, one “who is in touch with her hyper-masculine side, one on a power trip and one who is looking for revenge on any man that has ever tried to make her feel ashamed” as he stated to Vogue. Deconstructed pinstripe suiting that coquettishly fell off the shoulder, massive hip-hugging belts, and separates printed with the word “fish” all asserted the female form in an aggressive, masculine manner.
London was subtler in its politics of dress. Ryan Lo played with a girlish, Lolita aesthetic without hyper sexualizing it. Many garments were piled so high with frills and lace that their embellishments obscured the models’ forms. Lo’s millinery choices, executed by Stephen Jones, also functioned as commentary on gender. Several models wore stovepipe hats, recalling and poking fun at the accessory’s associations with status and masculinity. Others wore Tudor style headbands positioned over the eyes like blinders—in conjunction with the show’s church setting and closing bridal look, the headgear seemed to be a sly nod to the persecution (in 21st-century terms, slut-shaming) and execution of Anne Boleyn.
Marta Jakubowski’s runway debut took an ultra-feminine yet functional approach to tailoring. Many of the ensembles, sexy but not constricting, could be worn to the office by a contemporary (and employed) version of Little Edie, eschewing dress codes in favor of revolutionary costume. It’s easy to imagine Miss Bouvier Beale taking the looks from day to night, flaunting them around town for some post-work mischief. The pants-cum-thigh-highs of the collection’s ninth look were a cheeky take on the endless double standards women face: reveal skin but not too much; be independent but not too confident. The vestigial skirts attached to neon leotards teasingly hinted at propriety, ultimately flaunting the models’ bareness.
In Milan, Vivetta explored antiquated ideals of femininity. Vivetta Ponti, the mind behind the label established in 2010, reworked Medieval visuals such as brocade, hair-covering hoods, and the folk-y illustrations that accompanied religious manuscripts of the time in sheer lace, pastel ruffles, and sequined embroidery. These brightly-colored, contemporary interpretations all pointed to a celebratory dismantling of the domestic Medieval woman, as well as the 14th-century belief that women were responsible for original sin.
Power dressing was rampant in Paris. Japanese label Anrealage showed a collection that visualized the trappings of power, literally—think frocks made of utilitarian mesh that billowed at the bicep and shoulder, miming the physique of a body builder. Other garments were covered in strategically-placed multicolor straps that outlined the muscular structure of the body. Each ensemble was fit for a 21st-century superheroine, something our White House could desperately use right about now.
Carmen March’s third-ever collection was inspired by the power dressing of the eighties. The ultra-high waistlines, squared shoulders, and fearlessly crimson jumpsuits were, as March explained to WWD, for a businesswoman “stuck in an office all summer, quite alone and surrounded by the hostile city,” The sharp, architectural pleats of the garments’ bodices as well as the look book’s sterile high rise backdrop all evoke the harsh reality that power, when wielded by a woman, often isolates said woman from the majority of society who deems her clout a threat.
The spring 2018 collections of Vaquera, Luar, Lo, Jakubowski, Vivetta, Anrealage, and March are all reminders that the personal—including dress—is political, especially in the midst of today’s divisive social climate fraught with violence and discrimination. Fashion has always functioned as a form of resistance, and we can’t wait to see what the industry’s brightest newcomers have to say next.