Fashion and politics exist in parallels, and every now and then, it intersects. As far as one can think, fashion has played a determining part in history when it comes to making a political impact. Take the most recent incident into account. Supermodel Bella Hadid was seen protesting on the streets of New York for the freedom of her people in Palestine. She marched for the rights of Palestinians wearing their traditional garb – keffiyeh (scarf). Hadid draped their symbol of solidarity and resistance on her shoulders and as a bandana.
Right after her clear stance on a widely polarising matter, rumours about her contract with a luxury giant like Dior being dropped started doing the rounds. But mega-conglomerate LVMH stepped in and dismissed the news with a statement. In a different part of the world, Harvey Nichols Kuwait removed Los-Angeles based brand Cult Gaia after its founder Jasmine Larian made anti-Palestine comments. Church, state and fashion are no longer separate.
Bella Hadid during a protest and a Dior makeup campaign
Even back home, the grey area between fashion and politics continues to blur as Indian designers disassociate themselves from celebrities who approach sensitive topics with extremism. The debate between which monarch to dress or which first-daughter to not still exists. But today, the consumers are watching everything; and will not just judge you for your designs but also your brand’s ideology, integrity and DNA.
Kate Middleton in Anita Dongre and Ivanka Trump in Rohit Bal
Fashion labels in India are now taking an active part in ongoing conversations about the current affair, climate and everything that is concerning, so there is no longer a defined line of segregation. For a more nuanced opinion, we reached out to industry heavy-weights like renowned fashion journalist Sujata Assomul, celebrity stylist Mohit Rai and designers Rimzim Dadu and Anand Bhushan on the integration of politics in fashion and how mindful should brands be about their messaging.
Sujata is known for her sharp take on the flip side of fashion that is more business, cutthroat and beyond your recurring trends. “There are many reasons we call fashion ‘fashion’; otherwise, we would just call it clothing. It is because fashion reflects social, political and economic trends, its relationship with these factors are interlinked. Let’s talk about the Gold Globes in 2019, for instance, where all the women wore black. It was their way of talking about what was going on with the #MeToo movement and make a social change.”
Actors in black during the 2018 Golden Globe Awards
“I currently live in Dubai, and we all know what recently happened with Cult Gaia. Since the media here isn’t talking enough about what’s happening in Palestine, fashion is, and the catalyst of this situation is social media, which helps in amplification. For labels who only care about the beautiful clothes and crafts from the beginning, they don’t necessarily want to give an opinion on controversial matters, but design houses that have been thoughtful from their inception need to apply this consciousness towards everything.”
Known for his body of work on A-list clients like Kareena Kapoor Khan and Sonakshi Sinha, Mohit doesn’t shy away from using his social media to advocate for the causes relevant in the country. “Creative artists have always been the frontrunners of dissent in any country across the globe. From the street graffiti art and the runways to dance performers and filmmakers—artists have always led the way when it has come to rocking regimes. Why should fashion in India be any different? The world cannot afford for the intellectuals to sit and silently observe from the sidelines. The people one supports and endorses reflect on your ethos as a brand, your individual personality and directly influences the consumer.”
Melania Trump in a Zara Jacket
“We’ve seen this internationally when quite a few stores refused to stock Ivanka, by Ivanka Trump, and many more turned down the opportunity to dress Melania Trump. This approach has recently been observed in India as well. In the long run, while celebrity placement is essential for the overall branding for designers, dressing the wrong kind of celebrity that contradicts your personal and brand ethos will set the wrong tone for your brand and alienate audiences that would otherwise have respect for a brand for their philosophies and societal responsibility.”
Ivanka by Ivanka Trump
Anand Bhushan and Rimzim Dadu
Recently, designers Anand Bhushan and Rimzim Dadu issued a public statement about distancing themselves from Kangana Ranaut after her Twitter account was taken down due to alleged hate speech. The designers spoke at length about their stand and what led to it.
“Fashion is a consistent tool to make a statement, political or otherwise. It is not about elitism but about how our society moves forward. So it’s extremely important for design and art people to take a stand on political matters and inspire change. India right now is going to a climate of hysteria, panic and oppression. We are on the verge of destroying our moral and constitutional landscape by giving into feudalism and religious fundamentalism. It’s time to stand up against violence for people who promote disharmony. My stand to disassociate with a certain individual was keeping my moral compass in check. In no capacity do I see these people invading my idea of a glorious nation”
“Well, I believe like any art form, fashion must also reflect the current political times. For me, fashion doesn’t necessarily always have to be political, but in the current times – as creators, one cannot work in a vacuum. Fashion can’t just be just ornamental, there is a need for it to be engaging and meaningful, and hopefully, it sometimes acts as a trigger for change. But having said that, I do not mean politics should be the center piece of our work all the time. Different designers and brands have a different threshold of what affects them, and everyone functions accordingly. I have also seen brands using current issues as props in their shows. But the need of the hour today is to go a step further – to take a stand when you believe in it.
“In the middle of a deathly pandemic, when there’s so much destruction and devastation around us, we should hold our celebrities and the influence that they have responded to help this country heal. In that light, I didn’t find it right that any celebrity even remotely tries to insinuate violence. It was just a little effort from me to keep my conscience clear, but I am glad that it started an industry-wide discussion. Some did not agree with me taking a stand, but that’s irrelevant. What is more important for me is that now there is a conversation. As a brand, we have always been conscious of what’s happening around us. For example, in 2016, we created The Maze at Lakme Fashion Week; it was about the anxious nature of breaking news and how the discourse was affecting everybody.”