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Fashion Activism: is fashion becoming politicised?

By Florence Julienne


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Fashion |OPINION

Courtesy of Jeanne Friot, FW 2023/2024

Clothes with a message, motivated muses, designers on the front lines... The fashion industry seems to be embracing a desire to shake up politics in a way that Dame Vivienne Westwood would have appreciated. From study programmes at IFM, to the young designer Jeanne Friot, via Dior, FashionUnited presents a brief account of an activist trend, fashion activism, that may just put a smile on people’s faces.

For if there is one sector that can be said to be operating within the dominant world order, it is fashion. Energy-guzzling, based on a consumption system with a planned obsolescence (at least) every six months, vertical (luxury for the well-off, fast fashion for the working classes and, in the middle, a middle class that grapples with what is left of multi-brand shops), a mirror of illusions selling to the highest bidder on the geopolitical stage... How can we expect the fashion sector to be able to boast of any political conscience?

And yet... Faced with accusations about its carbon footprint and the exploitation of its workers in factories (the Uighur community, Bangladesh...), the fashion industry is moving in another direction, as observed by Caroline Ardelet and Benjamin Simmenauer, professors at the IFM. Their study on Fashion Activism is ongoing (and therefore possibly not completely reliable) but they have outlined a first chapter, following IFM's Fashion Reboot seminar which took place at the beginning of December.

Fashion with a message, the first archetype of political clothing

The context, described by these IFM experts, is a new social pressure that weighs on brands, particularly driven by social networks. "Companies and their leaders have a responsibility to speak out on social and political issues" the study states, while underlining that, to be credible, the activism of fashion brands must be akin to a sincere commitment and not to cynical opportunism. The riskier the choice, the stronger the connection. As such, clothing with a ‘hot’ news message creates a bond.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: muse of Dior’s new luxury bag

In retrospect, Maria Grazia Chiuri's success at Dior can be attributed to the fact that she established a stronger bond with her customers through her advocacy for women's rights. A fight that is reinforced today with the brand choosing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of the phrase "We should all be feminists". This Nigerian pro-feminist activist is now the face of a new Dior luxury bag, the Lady 95.22. If the luxury brand has chosen its credo and sticks to it (at least from a communication point of view), a new generation of designers is not afraid to tackle a wider range of contemporary issues.

Jeanne Friot: fashion activism as the starting point of a collection

This is true of Jeanne Friot, fashion designer and IFM alumna. Although its resources are smaller than those of luxury groups, the Jeanne Friot brand has in its DNA a commitment to issues that are important to Gen Z (and beyond): LGBT inclusivity, sustainable fashion, local production, gender-neutral fashion casting, etc. Inspired by Sonia Rykiel and Vivienne Westwood, Friot says that she regrets that so many brands with female names are run by men. In fact, she is the only woman to take part in the Sphere showroom, for the fall/winter 2023/2024 season, which is organised by the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode.

The starting point for her subsequent presentation, which was held on Wednesday January 18, 2023 at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, at 6 and 7 pm, is what is happening in Iran, the anti-abortion laws passed in the United States and the rise of the extreme right in Italy. It's no longer possible not to talk about these issues," she says on the eve of the show. "My collection will address feminicide through the book "Les Guérillères" by Monique Wittig. A text will be read at the beginning of the show to express a new world where women take back the power. How can we deconstruct in order to reconstruct without going through the same patterns?" A fundamental question and a stance that represents the essence of fashion.

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This article was originally published on FashionUnited.FR , translated and edited into English.

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