It was year 2014 when Karl Lagerfeld’s supermodel army walked down the “Chanel Boulevard’ in Paris holding slogan placards. The slogans seemed like they were written by a 7 year old who just learnt the term ‘pun-intended’ and overheard some kitchen sink conversations on gender equality so he made a run for it. Here are a few examples
“Make Fashion Not War”
“Tweed Is Better Than Tweet”
“Boys Should Get Pregnant Too”
“Divorce For Everyone”
The show was a let down but it became a good example of what fashion houses shouldn’t do in the name of social activism. Having said that, there have been shows that have proved to be a fantastic platform for various causes. Just a year before the Chanel show, Rick Owens had curvy women of colour stomp the runway. It was magical, many in the audience had tears in their eyes. It made a statement - a runway show in Paris showed the world that fashion is not just for skinny women. You didn’t have to be sample size, Caucasian and tall to be fashionable or to be on a ramp. Holler!
Recently, at Lakmé Fashion Week, accomplished accessories designer Suhani Pittie started her show with a short film on Syrian refugees. The show had models dressed in military inspired clothes designed by Mrinalini Gupta. Accessories themselves took inspiration from handcuffs, military belts, insignia etc. We saw distraught necklaces, bandage cuffs, brooches, hair clips and harnesses made with synthetic pearls, chipped wood, copper, Perspex, and fabric. Artistically, the show was perfect. I had goose bumps all over. But unfortunately that’s where it ended. In fact, I felt a bit guilty. I came out of the show and everyone discussed how great the show was and how mesmerising the jewellery was. Both true. But we instantly forgot about Syrian refugees as we rushed for a quick drink in the lush lounge before the next show. Their pain and sorrow simply ended up being used for a commercial showcase. Nothing changed for them. Would the people who will buy these pieces going to remember the cause while wearing a gorgeous necklace designed by Pittie?
No doubt that the intentions behind these shows are almost always good. But the problem is that certain causes don’t need superficial chatter. My two cents: it all depends on the severity of the cause and the how apt the platform is for the message.
Designer Karishma Shahani of Ka-Sha and two other women walked the runway with their toddlers strapped on to them. Her message was clear – her collection was dedicated to working mothers. It makes sense, weather I liked the clothes or not. There’s a connection that’s established immediately.
Delhi-based designer Rimzim Dadu put together an exhibit called ‘The Maze’ in collaboration with architect Rajat Sodhi. At the entrance, the audience was given headphones and a chit of paper that said “it’s okay to be lost.” The headphones blared music mixed with news bytes from around the world. The dark maze was interspersed with models in her garments and messages on screens. At the end of the show there were messages on the wall that said “You Are Not Lost” and “You Are Here.”
The clothes themselves were not her more wearable pieces. If you are aware of Dadu’s work, you know that her appeal lies in construction and textures that defy the norm. This was not as much a fashion show as it was an art exhibit. There was no emphasis on a particular issue, it was more of a commentary on people’s current state of mind, making it more appropriate.
I’m not saying a platform such as fashion week that has powerful reach shouldn’t be exploited to help a cause, I’m not saying the designers shouldn’t use it to voice their opinion. Please do it but do it with kindness and sincerity. Don’t do it for press, don’t do it to simply stand out.
We are aware of the problem, we watch the news. Even a Buzzfeed offers enough to know there’s a possibility that Trump may become the President of United States Of America and that the Syrian refugees are having the most inhumane experience while we go around living our lives like nothing is happening. Are your clothes or jewellery helping them in anyway? Do you understand that, without even realising you are appropriating people and causes for a gain?
Images courtesy: Google, Lakmefashionweek.in