A Com­pre­hen­sive Guide to the Protest Tees of New York Fash­ion Week

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL - By Ken­zie Bryant (Van­ity Fair)

Alot has hap­pened be­tween Septem­ber 2016 and Fe­bru­ary 2017. A re­al­ity-TV bull­dozer be­came pres­i­dent of the United States, spark­ing one of the largest protests in the coun­try’s his­tory. He in­sti­tuted a travel ban against seven Mus­lim­ma­jor­ity na­tions that in­vited more wide-sweep­ing protests at the na­tion’s air­ports. He an­tag­o­nized al­lies. Eigh­teen mil­lion stand to lose health-care cov­er­age if he moves for­ward with his cam­paign prom­ise to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act. Peo­ple are scared, and yet the show must go on. Or shows.

We’re talk­ing about New York Fash­ion Week, where, like cre­atives in other in­dus­tries, de­sign­ers were faced with the chal­lenge of how to con­tinue with busi­ness as usual un­der these cir­cum­stances. For many, the an­swer was a fa­mil­iar one: T-shirts bear­ing po­lit­i­cal mes­sages.

Take Pra­bal Gu­rung, who sent mod­els down the run­way in soft-knit tees that de­clared “The fu­ture is fe­male,” “I am an im­mi­grant,” “Our minds, our bod­ies, our power,” “Revo­lu­tion has no borders,” “Stronger than fear,” “Noth­ing more, noth­ing less,” “Awake,” and more.

“In the good old days, fash­ion was an es­cape and a fan­tasy, and all of that is gone. The world we live in is so un­cer­tain, peo­ple are re­ally tak­ing to ac­tion,” de­signer Gu­rung, who was raised in Nepal, told Van­ity Fair this week. “I think what fash­ion has is a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­vide not an es­cape, but a re­al­ity. An op­ti­mistic re­al­ity.”

Gu­rung’s T-shirts were di­rectly in­spired by the Women’s March in New York, which he at­tended with hun­dreds of thou­sands of other peo­ple on Jan­uary 21, less than a month be­fore his run­way show. “I feel like this coun­try has given me an op­por­tu­nity that no other coun­try could do, and I owe it to this coun­try,” he said, ex­plain­ing the im­pe­tus for the shirts. “After cre­at­ing this plat­form, that I speak up when I see there’s jus­tice not be­ing done, or when I feel like I can use my voice.”

“We’re a multi-bil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness,“he added. “Not only is my po­si­tion as a brand to make 90 per­cent of my clothes in New York, I’m an im­mi­grant. I have a foun­da­tion back in Nepal that ed­u­cates more than 200 chil­dren, from in­mates’ chil­dren to street­work­ers’ chil­dren. Yes, I make beau­ti­ful clothes and that brings me joy, but all these other things also bring me joy.”

His shirts pair well with ac­tion or, as he says, “I don’t just do T-shirts. I don’t just tweet. I do make an ef­fort. I hope the next step is that peo­ple are ac­tu­ally get­ting their hands dirty and go­ing to or­ga­ni­za­tions that might need their help or the au­di­ence that they can share.”

Gu­rung says that the buy­ers of his T-shirts will even­tu­ally be able to choose be­tween a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions as re­cip­i­ents of the pro­ceeds, though noth­ing has been made fi­nal yet.

The mes­sage tee’s pres­ence on fall 2017 run­ways is a tes­ta­ment to how quickly things can change, and how the fash­ion in­dus­try’s pace puts it in a unique po­si­tion to re­act and re­flect the sen­ti­ment of its con­sumers. While de­sign­ers by-and-large have leaned on sub­tle tools like tex­ture, cut, and color to sig­nal their col­lec­tion’s point (all-white as a hat tip to suf­fragettes, for ex­am­ple, or pur­ple as a sym­bol of cross-party con­cil­i­a­tion), out­right mes­sag­ing seems to be the or­der of the day in the plac­ard and protest era. Against fash­ion’s more sub­tle back­drop, a mes­sage T-shirt might seem like it’s scream­ing. But the mod­els were al­ready walk­ing any­how—might as well talk too.

Fash­ion ac­tivism spoke loud on this year’s NYFW run­ways.

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