What has fashion got to do with politics? At New York Fashion Week yesterday (Sept. 11), Carol Lim and Humberto Leon of Opening Ceremony made the case that they meet in our identities. That is, our clothes are one way we express who we are, and that freedom of expression is possible because we demand it through the political process.
“When we asked our friends about the issues that matter to them…immigration, economic inequality, police brutality, and gender discrimination, among others,” they wrote in a pamphlet for the show, “we were struck by how many of them hinged on the ability to express one’s identity freely.”
It’s clear why the brand chose now to get political. The US presidential election is just two months away, making this New York Fashion Week, which runs through Sep. 15, the last chance for US fashion labels to use their biggest stage to weigh in on the issues that matter to them. Lim and Leon called their show “a tribute to the American democratic process, and the diversity of those who participate in it.”
Mixed amid the normal run of models in the brand’s latest collection was a roster of celebrities, including actors Whoopi Goldberg, Aubrey Plaza, Rashida Jones, and Rowan Blanchard. Dressed in pieces from Opening’s Ceremony’s new line, they walked out in front of a packed audience at New York’s Javits Center to address topics such as feminism, political participation, and immigration reform. Comedian Ali Wong talked about the unequal demands on men and women balancing family and work. Diane Guerrero of Orange Is the New Black spoke about misconceptions around the US immigration system and the need to fix it. Commentary by hosts Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein kept the event light, and the crowd laughing.
Nobody mentioned US presidential nominees Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump by name, but Lim and Leon’s left-leaning politics were clearly on display. Both happen to be the Los Angeles-born children of immigrants to the US, and have long espoused a diverse, inclusive vision for their cool, cosmopolitan brand. “We’re pro-gay rights, pro-immigrant, pro-Black Lives Matter,” Leon told the New York Times (paywall) before the show. “And we’re in a place where we question a lot of what’s happening and are not afraid to talk about it.”
The presentation, titled “Pageant of the People” took place against a beauty-pageant backdrop of numerous flags, and celebrated ”the story of the American immigrant,” a figure which has been demonized by the Trump campaign over the last year. Guests also talked about the importance of voting, and people could register to do so at the event courtesy of Rock the Vote.
Oh, and there were clothes, too, even if they were overshadowed by politics. They had Opening Ceremony’s typical fun and youthful bent, and the most memorable looks mixed bright, bold colors, a proudly diverse array knitted together—sometimes literally—in union.