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London Fashion Week: the catwalks were a call to arms against Trump

The fashion industry is so readily criticised for being insular, concerned solely with its own importance – the latest IT handbag and who’s pitched to be the next bright young thing.

But, this is something one can easily reject by reflecting upon the last four days of London Fashion Week. 

Here, the runways have been brooding with political commentary and reacting to a world in crisis.

Interestingly, Brexit has taken a back seat with collections functioning as a call to arms against the new White House administration, and rightly so. 

Fashion, you see, is an industry populated by the very people Trump’s provocative ideologies target. We’re outcasts, minorities, women and gays. 

Arming themselves the only way they know how, designers used their platforms to take a stand. Global politics might well be in a state of unrest but this season, London Fashion Week has come out fighting. 

Kicking off proceedings, Dame Natalie Massenet’s speech at Friday’s launch event drummed this message home as she challenged designers to be audacious in times of upheaval, “inclusivity is at the heart of British fashion, and London Fashion Week is a brilliant example of the diversity of this city”, she said. 

While many designers wielded the political baton – think Teatum Jones’ inclusion of an extract from Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globes, or Bora Aksu’s relentless affirmation of the Women’s rights movement – there were two in particular that sent out a powerful anti-Trump message. 

Worlds apart, both Gareth Pugh and Ashish broached the premise of global disarray at polar ends of the scale. The former with a dystopian showcase that looked and felt like all the apocalyptic films you’ve ever watched: dark, unsettling, maddening and bleak. While Ashish stuck to their customary glitter-loaded moniker with a collection that empowered and unified those in the firing line.


Gareth Pugh: dark, unsettling, maddening and bleak (Press Association)

For his autumn-winter 2017 collection, British designer Gareth Pugh cast an army of lethal heroines in a cavernous building site ten floors beneath the ground in Islington. From the out, it was clear that Pugh wasn’t happy with the state of the world. 

The show notes read, “This evening’s Gareth Pugh show presents an austere vision of a world on the precipice of anarchy.” 

“Where the prevailing instinct is to build walls, reinstate borders and reclaim territory. Where the most powerful person in the world is a billionaire demagogue and self-confessed pussy grabber.”

As such, the collection riffed with anarchy and extremism as models sashayed through the concrete apertures to a riling soundtrack that included relentless looping samples of Donald Trump saying “Build that wall” and snippets of Hendrix, Queen and Nirvana.

The clothes themselves mirrored this same, worrying prospect of the future. They were strong and architectural with pieces that resembled police riot gear, dusty combat boots, billowing trash bags, prison key chains and officer hats with netted veils.

It tore at radicalism, disorder and bigotry and left the audience feeling disturbed, but in a good way. This was an exacting reminder of what could be. Here, Pugh struck a damning chord.

On the other hand, those looking for lighter relief should look to Ashish. But, be warned, while there was, naturally, copious amounts of razzle dazzle the world’s political and moral issues weren’t far off.


A model presents a creation by Ashish during the London Fashion Week (EPA)

While the world has surely plummeted into disarray, this was a show in which the overwhelming message was to fight back. Priming for revolution, rainbow-coloured glitterati garb was brandished with slogans that highlighted the common bonds of humankind.

“Nasty woman”, “More glitter less Twitter”, “Love sees no colour”, and “Pussy grabs back” spattered dazzling tees, dresses and varsity jackets. The models faces delivered on defiant significance too, decorated with brightly coloured skulls and Mexican wrestling masks that felt a little like something you might see in The Purge.

In the wake of such uncertainty, it’s times like this that we need leaders to look up to and that are willing to challenge institutionalised bigotry. If nothing, these collections served as a reminder to those both in and out of the fashion circle that the two need not be mutually exclusive.

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