London Fashion Week: The most iconic and controversial political statements made on the catwalk
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Fashion designers have often been known to use the runway to express their political thoughts or represent a social movement. For the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Katherine Hamnett, fashion is more than just how good you look, it’s about shining a spotlight on issues that matter. To them, a design should be saying something or making a statement. Here are some of those moments where designers used the catwalk to make their social and political voices heard at London Fashion Week, both the women’s and men’s collections.
The Scottish Referendum, 2014Westwood made it clear which side she was on during the Scottish referendum campaign in 2014, when the country was looking to seek independence from the UK. After parading her models on the LFW catwalk with ‘Yes’ badges and pins bearing the Scottish flag, Westwood told journalists: “I hate England… I like Scotland because somehow I think they are better than we are. They are more democratic.”
Highland Rape, 1996In a move that cemented McQueen’s place in the glamorous world of fashion as a creative rebel, his AW96 Highland Rape collection showed models looking dishevelled in revealing outfits as they walked over dead flowers to a soundtrack of mournful church bells and whistling winds. When accused of promoting misogyny, McQueen was quick to rebut those allegations, saying that his AW96 clothes made a political and historical statement, symbolising the “rape” of Scotland by the British and the turbulent relationship between the two countries.
Stop Iraq War, 2003In 2003, Hamnett, who is known for her political T-shirt slogans, paraded her models on the LFW runway wearing shirts emblazoned with phrases like “Stop War, Blair Out”, which was a reference to the looming invasion of Iraq. The invasion by British and American forces, which began in March 2003, signalled the start of the Iraq War. The move was later questioned by human rights groups and many politicians across the UK, leading to the Chilcot report which was published in 2016.
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Brexit, 2016Weeks before the EU referendum, which saw the UK vote to leave the European Union, designers Christopher Raeburn, Sibling and Daniel W Fletcher used the runway during London Collections: Men as platforms to show their support for the Remain camp. Sibling designers Sid Bryan and Cozette McCreery wore ‘IN’ T-shirts on the catwalk, Fletcher staged a “protest” takeover of the stage and Raeburn’s models strutted their stuff in casual-style “IN” jumpers.
Guantanamo Bay prison, 2008Climate change issues may be on Westwood’s agenda now, but a decade earlier, she used the runway as a platform for make a point about detainees who were held in Guantanamo prison without charge or trial. Sending her lead model down the catwalk with a placard that said “Fair Trial My Arse”, the move was conceived in conjunction with the legal charity Reprieve, which represented many of the detainees.
Religious headscarf, 1997While showcasing his SS98 collection on the London runway, Hussein Chalayan challenged the religious dress code of Muslim women by presenting the hijab in different ways on models who were partially and completely nude. Following criticisms about the provocative nature of his Between collection, Chalayan later said in an interview: “It wasn’t really supposed to be offensive. It was supposed to illustrate a particular kind of position. This was about the cultural loss of self.”
The rise of right-wing politics, 2017The political landscape of 2016 saw surprising victories in the forms of Brexit and Donald Trump’s rise to US presidency – with many in the fashion industry seeing the shift in political ideology as a sign of a bleak future. For London Collections: Men last month, Liam Hodges rolled out his Dystopia Lives range, channelling a post-apocalyptic scenario in an attempt to capture the spirit of the times. Donned on jackets were quotes such as “ideology is a myth” and “I’m OK”, with Hodges crediting his inspiration to poet Hector Aponysus’s famous line: “Looking for a vocation in the decline of civilisation”.
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