New York Fashion Week started Friday, Sept. 8 and came to a close last Wednesday. The spectacle featured more than 71 designers who paraded their work for the upcoming seasons.
Hot button topics like climate change and feminism, and controversial guests like Jeff Bezos pushed the event way beyond fashion – NYFW was a political affair.
Style connoisseur Bezos
Former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his fiancée Lauren Sánchez sat front row at the Staud show. Designer Sarah Staudinger presented a very casual display of looks, which was appropriately complemented by the billionaire's boring attire of a black t-shirt, black vest, black jeans and black loafers.
Of course Bezos would attend. What screams high-luxury more than Amazon Fashion?
Amazon was America’s largest apparel retailer in 2021. And the company’s carbon emissions have only gotten worse according to the 501(c)3 Remake 2023 Fashion Accountability Report. Perhaps Bezos was dressed for a fashion funeral — a result of his own making.
“Coach: Leather Kills”
Of course, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) made their presence known at NYFW. PETA protestors interrupted the Coach runway show with signs reading “Coach: Leather Kills.” PETA’s performance also featured a woman in full body paint with an uncomfortable depiction of muscles and tendons — what an animal would look like after their hide is removed for textile purposes.
“The Earth's on fire; why are we here?": Climate change and impending doom
Hillary Taymour, the creative director of Collina Strada, titled her line “The Earth’s on fire; why are we here?” in an effort to bring attention to climate change. Models walked down the runway with eerily forced smiles and clenched arms at their sides before turning around to reveal their “real” faces – fearful, doomed looks about what the future holds.
Yet, wasn’t Taymour’s participation in NYFW an ironic contribution to the issue at hand? Some may say so, but others could recognize climate change is the issue at the forefront of the fashion industry and will be for the next several decades.
The sustainable brand’s efforts don’t go unnoticed. Kudos, Taymour.
The dirty female experience
Tuesday night ended with a mud fight at Elena Velez’s show. No, not metaphorically. A literal mud fight ensued, with runway models in arranged sludge combat. The 29-year-old working class designer of the show, Velez, came out with a manifesto.
“We have lost touch with our gift and responsibility to paint a truthful and beautiful picture of our times,” Velez said. “It feels to me like the sanitization and unilateralization of womanhood in popular culture today leaves no room for the nuance and multiplicity we deserve as architects of labyrinthine interior lives.”
Essentially, Velez said popular culture and the fashion industry have reduced women to caracatures – never angry, dirty or ugly. Velez wanted to draw attention to invalidated female rage. Ugly feminism was the focal point of Velez’s show.
Was the message pretty and pink? No, but neither is the female experience, nor the culture that the fashion industry has made for women.
Another NYFW production featuring the behind the seams ugliness of a beautiful industry was editorial photographer Dina Litovsky’s “Fashion Lust.” The personal project of Litovsky featured images with an atypical perspective of fashion week: crowds of photographers, hair-sprayed wigs and cat-callers. One image, which has amassed online attention, shows a female model's heels (the achilles tendon kind, not pumps) wildly inflamed and blistered, yet still being wardrobed in sling-back shoes.
The photo made it to National Geographic’s Instagram page, collecting nearly half-a-million likes. Theories on what the photo says about women’s fashion and industry culture have circulated in comment sections and among fashion discourse online.
The industry, unretouched
For a spectator that’s not particularly fashion industry minded, the deeper undertones framing the spectacle that is New York Fashion Week might be surprising.
The fashion industry has a long history of oppression, environmental and labor issues, cultural appropriation, overconsumption and sexism. At the same time, it is a beautiful performance of art and expression which can be used to make a difference, and 21st -century designers recognize that.
Yet, it is still barely regarded in scholarly circles.