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Campaign Activism in Fashion: Political or Appropriation?

Campaign Activism in Fashion: Political or Appropriation?

Designers and consumers interpret fashion in different ways. In the eyes of many, fashion is a form of expression, be it art, individuality, or a message. Many concepts come from current affairs to bring awareness to a situation or show support for the cause. Tackling controversial topics and themes in a fashion campaign can introduce a high risk of misunderstanding from direct and indirect audiences. The following examples illustrate how brands utilised fashion in activism, identifying which brands have missed the mark.

Givenchy – Spring/Summer 2022 Campaign

This year, Givenchy received backlash for the accessories they used in their Spring-Summer campaign. Surprisingly, they failed to anticipate that the chokers used on their models would be deemed inappropriate during an era of pro-mental health discussions.

The metal choker used in their collection resembled a noose. This image was immediately associated with mental illness and the glamourisation of sensitive topics such as suicide – potentially triggering for those with mental health issues. Brands often exploit topical issues for financial gain or commercial awareness. It is the responsibility of fashion houses to ensure their decisions are inclusive and diverse in an age of social reformation. Typically, these fashion houses create attention-grabbing pieces to raise awareness for a topic. Understandably, this is a task that designers must undertake with caution. Givenchy’s noose necklace immediately drew a resemblance to Burberry’s noose hoodie. Burberry also apologised for this error in judgement when they realised the impact of their collection.

Vetements – Autumn/Winter 2021 Menswear

Vetements’s Autumn-Winter 2021 collection depicts the anti-protester tactics used by the police in Hong Kong. The collection sparked debate over political influences in fashion. Namely, whether Vetements were appropriating a movement and if campaign activism in fashion can transform into mere clickbait.

During this time, Hong Kong witnessed many protests against the government’s decision to allow extraditions to mainland China. Escalations in tension resulted in police brutality and violence against activists in Hong Kong. Activists were sprayed with blue paint so that if they escaped, culprits were quickly identifiable later. The collection is arguably insensitive and of poor timing on Vetements’s behalf. Many viewers failed to see how the brand had any relation to the situation. The collection, therefore, appeared as nothing more than an attempt by Vetements to maximise profits.

Louis Vuitton Monogram Keffiyeh Stole

Louis Vuitton came under fire this year for its Monogram Keffiyeh Stole during the #FreePalestine movement. The fashion house was deemed inappropriate for producing a scarf based on a traditional Palestinian Keffiyeh. Keffiyehs are a symbol of culture and nationalism to the natives. This Keffiyeh displayed a classic example of cultural appropriation in the timing of its release.

Marni’s ‘Jungle Mood’

Italian luxury brand Marni was criticised for its ‘Jungle Mood’ campaign. Their campaign paired black models with racist language without the knowledge of Afro-Brazilian photographer Edgar Azevedo. Images released after the shoot showed the models wearing stereotypical ethnic clothing such as chunky wooden necklaces. Models also wore grass hats to emphasize the jungle theme.

Alongside the labelled cultural appropriation, the models wore little clothing and stood in sexual poses, which can be considered fetishizing. Chains were shown on their feet, reinforcing racist caricatures during slavery and colonialism. People were enraged when the campaign opened during the #BlackLivesMatter protests. There was a clash of civilisations between mindless marketing and a new age of self-education. There would no longer be an excuse for not learning about black history and the racism that remains today.

Halima Aden

Halima Aden was the first hijabi model in the industry to gain widespread recognition. However, Halima’s photoshoot with American Eagle caused an uproar when she posted an image on her Instagram account. Photos of her wearing jeans over her head, the place usually covered by a hijab, were uploaded from the shoot.

According to Halima Aden, she initially did not view it as a problem. However, in hindsight, she realized that these photoshoots violated her beliefs. Halima posed with jeans on her head as an alternative to a traditional hijab as part of her collaboration with Levi jeans. She said, “Why did I allow them to put jeans on my head when at the time I had only ever worn skirts and long dresses?”

To represent Muslim women in fashion, Halima took any job she could get. Working in the industry, she realised that brands need Muslim women for representation more than Muslims need the brand for work.

Campaign Activism Today

We often fail to represent our multicultural economies in today’s society adequately. It comes across as theatrical when some brands and fashion houses attempt to show diversity and inclusion – almost as if using ethnic minorities only occurs when they fit into a stereotype or ‘mascot’ for their mission statement.

Our role as consumers is to be proactive. We should call out brands that make inappropriate decisions regarding their design or marketing strategies. Educating ourselves and spreading awareness are two of the best ways to advocate for such issues. However, brands also have a responsibility to represent these issues in a way that we can vote with our money to support them. As an industry, fashion has a large audience, making it a potentially excellent medium for spreading awareness of these issues.

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