Fashion, as of late, has had its fair share of politicization. With the global wave of fear, isolationism, and everything-on-the-line elections in the past year, it doesn't come as a shock that ideologies have pushed to the forefront as a hot-button issue in the fashion world. There was Balenciaga's riff on Bernie Sander's campaign logo and Prabal Gurung's parade of feminist T-shirts, while Public School and Marc Jacobs re-imagined Trump's campaign slogan hat. (Please, no more MAGA hat imitations, they're honestly just as scary from far away as the real ones.) And although, for the most part, political commentary has been lauded on the runways, it's easy to feel as though the fashion set misses the mark.
The commercialization of the resistance can feel understandably icky. Though we see political messages in fashion presentations, proceeds seldom, if ever, benefit related causes. There's also a lack of credit given where it's due. And by turning a profit on other people's ideas sans charitable giving, the insincerity of these garments and their respective creators becomes all too apparent.
Such was unfortunately the case in Ports 1961's Milan presentation this past weekend. The label's Spring 2018 show was meant to be about "peace and love, but not in a hippie way," according to creative director Milan Vukmirovic. A nice sentiment, indeed, but not when paired with imagery and phrasing that mimics, and in turn, appropriates, Black Lives Matter and the Black Power movement.
The above look, which includes a crewneck sweatshirt that reads "Only Love Matters," did not sit quite right with the Vogue staffer who reviewed the collection — with good reason.
"There has been a lot of news lately about appropriation, and the degrees to which it is acceptable or permissible. Maybe every little message counts toward the greater, as-yet-to-be-reached good. But a T-shirt that read 'Only Love Matters,' a broadening of the term 'Black Lives Matter,' felt, to this writer, troublesome (a movement that big and important and personal to so many should perhaps not help to serve a company’s bottom line). Ditto for a clenched fist on a jumper that opened the show; there are subtler and more sensitive ways to deliver a message of resistance and fairness and acceptance," Vogue's Nick Remsen wrote.
Fashion's glacial pace for incorporating POCs might have you confuse this inherently Black symbolism on the runway for progress. We'll give them a golf clap for putting these clothes on Black models, but that's really not enough. Of the show's 48 looks, 54 percent of them were shown on Black models, a statistic that would normally have us overjoyed in light of the staunchly white fashion industry. But when contextualized with the information that the collection was presented by a white designer, with ostensibly no proceeds going to BLM or any related organization, this becomes a clear case of the whitewashing and robbery of an idea and movement that is much more serious than clothes.
Ports 1691's and fashion in general's failure to recognize that is unfortunately not surprising, but continues to be utterly disappointing. To supporters of BLM, the push for true equality and shining a light on perpetual injustices is a matter between life and death. In light of the acquittal of Philando Castile's murderer a mere day prior to the presentation, this collection seems all the more hollow, tone-deaf and harmful.
It's high time for fashion to put its money where its mouth is. The fight for justice is an uphill battle, and until designers present themselves as genuine allies, their watering down of critical messages will continue to fall flat and offend.
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