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2018 ushered progression, activism and unity into the fashion industry, with some of its most attention-garnering and pioneering moments yet. It also brought into question the concept of ‘political dressing’ as something distinguishable from our more superficial notion of ‘fashion’: political dressing is fashion, fuelled by intent.

2018 undeniably set a precedent for the fashion world

Last year was a fundamental year for advancing movements that empower women. As the tolerance of sexism and abuse in Hollywood and later the world was exposed and condemned, the fashion industry facilitated displays of unity amongst and solidarity with women by supporting the ‘Time’s Up’ campaign. The red carpet was dominated by influential actresses and actors wearing black to demonstrate their support for the campaign. In fact, the wearing of black garments became the poster for the campaign itself, providing a recognisable and powerful image that catapulted the campaign to new heights. The image of the world’s most coveted and renowned actresses and actors standing together in black garments is extremely powerful, and the choice of black in particular was captivating and unyielding, much like the campaign’s approach.

This provoked an important discussion about the use of fashion as an accessible way to promote political messages. The campaign was unprecedentedly effective because, undeniably, of its deep-rooted feminist intent, which in itself is increasingly garnering more attention as archaic societal ways are challenged, in particular regarding unattainable beauty and fashion standards. With a host of media outlets reporting on the stars’ black attire, the political movement behind their choice was brought into a more tangible, perhaps even more accessible dimension. This managed to make ‘Time’s Up’ that much more immediate, with the choice to endorse the all-black ‘uniform’ fuelling the campaign in an unparalleled way. Furthermore, the ‘#MeToo’ movement inspired French designer Myriam Chalek to have survivors of sexual abuse walk in a special New York Fashion Week show, making use of fashion’s ability to issue a powerful statement with far-reaching influence. Using something as tangible as an outfit, people could make the conscious choice to come together, regardless of background, race or gender. Because, fashion is just that: when used in this way, it has the ability to transcend divisions and become a unifying force.

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The ‘Time’s Up’ movement is a prime example of an advertent choice to deploy fashion to achieve a result; in this case promoting the the fight against abuse in the workplace in a confident and daring way by paying homage to the centuries-old idea of ‘political dressing’. As actors and actresses donned their black, we saw the fashion industry work to aid their display of solidarity. However, some of the key moments of the year that weren’t generated via political dressing, rather through the shocking and outrageous events occurring within the fashion industry. Just last month, we saw the Italian house Dolce & Gabbana involved in the infamous ‘China Scandal’. Attention was drawn to an advert they created for their then up-coming China runway show, featuring a Chinese model using chopsticks to eat western food like pizza with some difficulty. The emerging significance of cultural appropriation in recent years has generated wide-spread discussion around what it means to be inspired by a culture and what is taking advantage of it. In this case, it was widely felt that the insensitive use of an aspect of Chinese cuisine mocked centuries of Chinese tradition.

As if the hole dug by Dolce & Gabbana could not be deeper, private Instagram messages between Gabbana and model Michaela Tranova were exposed. To everyone’s horror, they were filled with racist comments about Chinese culture, which Gabbana later defended as the result of a hacking incident. The combination of the two incidents set off a boycott against the brand starting in China. This was crucial as whilst the campaign didn’t set out with the intention of generating such controversy, it cast a spotlight on how cultural appropriation, or the general mistreatment of non-Western traditions, is becoming increasingly unacceptable. It made clear the progression of the fashion world, with the major backlash clearly demonstrating an intolerance to such behaviour. What Dolce & Gabbana intended to promote was subverted into something greater: the misuse of cultures, in any capacity, is unacceptable in the industry, and this message will transcend into 2019.

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As historical abuse surfaced gradually throughout the year, the modelling industry exposed long-standing exploitation of models at the hands of photographers, calling into question just how far the industry has really evolved. Prolific photographers such as Mario Testino and Bruce Weber, known internationally for their coveted photography seen in Vogue and other magazines, were suspended from Condé Nast following accusations of abusing male models and assistants. The extensive suppression of their actions prompted debate over the fashion world’s priorities: is it more important to have a photograph taken by Testino than to hold him accountable for his actions? Five years ago, when Weber had been initially suspected, countless excuses were made on his behalf, confirming what – or who – took precedence in the culture of reverent respect these photographers had cultivated in their careers. In the current socio-political climate, these excuses simply don’t stand, and their suspension is the first step in the rightful acknowledgment of this abuse.

Instagram: @dior

The dialogue on progression prompted talk of feminism traceable in collections and runway shows throughout the year, linking heavily to the ‘Time’s Up’ campaign, but also to the building fight for gender equality in all sectors. Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri, the house’s first female creative director, has long been a pioneer of the intertwining of fashion and feminism. A fundamental motive for Grazia is the empowerment of women through dressing, attesting the idea of ‘political dressing’: fashion, but with a specific political motive. She commented during a show in Paris Fashion Week, “We have to listen to women, to hear what is the point of view of women now, of the new generation.” This sentiment echoes throughout the entirety of her Autumn/Winter 2018 runway show, in which garments were emblazoned with testaments to female rights, for example ‘C’est non, non, non et non!’ and ‘Women’s rights are human rights’. This collection was pivotal in any capacity, but in light of the progression seen for women during the year, it was abundantly amplified. Whilst many may question the accessibility of this collection, given the designer price tag attached, the fact that female empowerment took centre stage in one of the season’s most coveted shows displays what just how fundamental fashion is as a platform for disseminating political messages.


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2018 undeniably set a precedent for the fashion world, catapulting feminist values to reach new heights, and reducing tolerance for discriminatory or appropriating behaviour. Clearly, fashion has a profound power to reach an array of demographics, bringing to the forefront topics of discussion in a creative and enthralling way. Hopefully, this sentiment will be advanced in 2019, surfacing more of what was once suppressed. Holding to account people of the calibre of Testino, Weber and Gabbana is a clear indication that despite the respect one may garner over a decades-long career in fashion, the priorities have shifted. It bodes well for the future of the industry.

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