Text by: Jessie Mathewson
New York fashion week: it seemed as if the Women’s Marches had never ended. The menswear collections had set the tone for the season. At Robert James, models brandished bold black-and-white placards with tongue-in-cheek slogans tagged as #alternativefacts. Riccardo Seco’s collection, ‘Juntos/Together’, blended the Mexican and American flags into its designs, in reference to Secco’s two home nations.
Then came the women: Public School’s New York show saw models sporting red baseball caps and cropped hoodies, reworking Donald Trump’s campaign slogan as ‘Make America New York’ – diverse, dynamic, liberal. The side of the hats were embroidered with 441/2, apparently a reference to Trump as 45th president of the United States. Jackets bearing the slogan ‘We Need Leaders’ made the message very clear.
As with the rallies, so on the catwalks: where America led, the world followed. At London Fashion Week Ashish showcased sequinned t-shirts and an over-the-rainbow colour palette fit for the land of Oz: models sported slogans from ‘More Glitter Less Twitter’, ‘Don’t Give Up the Daydream’, and ‘Love Sees No Colour’ to the more explicit ‘Pussy Grabs Back’. In Paris, Balenciaga’s menswear collection saw the brand’s label reworked to echo the graphics of Bernie Sanders’ Democratic nomination campaign: models stormed down the runway in luxe bombers and quilted scarf drapes, with their jewel bright red-white-and-blue providing a very particular take on American patriotism.
There have been slogan t-shirts aplenty this season, from Creature of Comforts ‘We Are All Human Beings’ to Prabal Gurung’s dramatic closing looks, which swapped the designer’s usual colour palette for austere monochrome, and showcased bold, simple slogans. His models strutted defiantly down the runway, their shirts screaming ‘Now More Than Ever’, ‘You Can’t Stop Me’, and ‘We Will Not Be Silenced’, with a dramatically oversized safety pin logo on one t-shirt referencing the campaign to wear a pin in solidarity with immigrants.
Slogans have long been a staple of the protest wardrobe – Mr.Freedom brought pop-art t-shirts to 430 King’s Road in the 1960s, placing London at the heart of the graphic revolution. That shop was later bought by Malcolm McLaren, and became SEX, the boutique selling Vivienne Westwood’s anarchic punk designs. By the 1980s, slogan t-shirts had found a way to channel their message: Katharine Hamnett’s simple fonts and black-and-white colour schemes showcased striking slogans, and were worn by celebrities from members of Wham! and Queen to Naomi Campbell.
It is the vitality and accessibility of Hamnett’s designs – designs she wanted to see ripped off – that have been her lasting legacy. At Missoni’s ready-to-wear collection this season, models donned pink pussy-cat knit hats for the finale, a reference to the hats on show at the Women’s Marches. But it wasn’t the hats on the catwalk that made the statement so powerful – rather the identical copies on every seat in the audience. This season, designers took their lead and their inspiration from ordinary women and ordinary people taking a stand in turbulent time – and with fashion reaching beyond exclusive shows and back onto the street, the message comes full circle.