For all the sloganeering at New York Fashion Week, none of it has crystallized political anguish as clearly as an unexpected emotional encounter with Huma Abedin, after Prabal Gurung’s Fall 2017 show on Sunday night.
For the show’s finale, Gurung sent his models down the runway in custom statement tees (“The Future is Female,” “Break Down Walls,” and others), with a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” serving as the resistance anthem.
Up until that point, Abedin—Hillary Clinton’s senior aide and wife of Anthony Weiner—sat front row between Diane Kruger and Priyanka Chopra, looking relaxed and pretty in a purple, floral print dress while taking in the rest of the collection: chunky, hand-knit ivory sweaters, colorful furs, bell sleeves, and a crystal-embroidered gown worn all stood out.
When I caught up with her after the show—her first public appearance since Inauguration Day—she seemed slighter than she does in pictures, as if she’d diminished herself to blend in with the crowd.
Asked how she felt about the show’s finale, Abedin politely demurred.
She promised to connect me with her publicist and shook my hand—she’d remember my name, she assured me—pressing ahead. Moments later, she turned back and gently squeezed my arm. “It was powerful,” she said, her eyes brimming with tears. “I had goosebumps.” She squeezed my arm once more before disappearing into the crowd.
Our quiet interaction lasted all of a minute. If this was political theater on Abedin’s part, it was an award-winning performance. But it was a departure from the public performances she's given again and again over the years-- all emotional Teflon and political bravura; loyalty and ambition. It seemed like a genuine, unscripted display of emotion and of humanity from Hillary Clinton’s closest aide.
Several weeks earlier, Abedin and Gurung fueled rumors of a fashion week collaboration when they were photographed having dinner together in New York City. It all made sense in light of Gurung’s finale, which could have been hackneyed and cheesy.
Sloganeering gives designers an opportunity to make very literal political statements, but they can feel watered down when every other designer is delivering the same message: “Feminist AF” tees at Jonathan Simkhai; “I love everyone” tees at Cinq a Sept; President Trump’s campaign slogan reappropriated on “Make America New York” sweatshirts and trucker hats at Public School; and so on.
But the statements felt especially personal and sincere from Gurung, a first generation Nepalese immigrant who loudly supported Hillary Clinton during her campaign.
He contributed to fashion’s Made for History initiative (his tee sold out immediately) and designed Katy Perry’s blue “I’m with Madame President” cape for her performance at Clinton’s last rally, before she lost the election.
His collection also featured several models who were larger than the other size 0s and 2s, which shouldn’t feel radical on the runway today but does. You won’t see much of that in Paris.
Earlier in the day, designer Tracy Reese recruited four women poets to read their own work during her freewheeling fashion show inside a large West Village brownstone, which she’d transformed into a speakeasy of sorts.
Upstairs, three models lounged seductively on an exquisite Ming Dynasty-esque bed, where the poet Jenny Zhang was reading aloud lines about masturbating with stuffed animals and semen-filled champagne bottles. At home I make Minnie Mouse dive into my muff...It is important to get a good deal on cum vessels…
Near the bedroom door, the designer Tracy Reese—who created the CFDA’s Planned Parenthood pins and wore a white tee emblazoned with an Angela Davis quote (more sloganeering!)—whispered to someone about the sense of urgency that compelled her to elevate women’s voices while presenting her Fall 2017 collection.
In the foyer, the Brooklyn-based poet Aja Monet read lines from “My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter," the same poem she’d read at the Women’s March on Washington...bearing the burden of times of love, cold sweat, despair, Amens, denied a passport to mercy, a citadel of judgment, she was born in the bulwark of bordellos, brothels…
It was Monet’s first time at a fashion show— “my first time at a fashion week anything,” she said. “I’m always excited by people who are open to experimenting and feel a call to do something different, and I feel like Tracy’s part of an array of women designers who women love—especially women of color. She’s luckily at a place where her work is appreciated and valued.”
Monet also spoke about meeting the models before the show. “A lot of these girls are pretty radical! They feel torn about being used to sell things that might not necessarily go towards transforming people’s consciousness about issues. But they felt very empowered by Tracy’s show.”
Reese told me attending the Women’s March was “sort of the catalyst for this presentation, which is all about celebrating beautiful women’s voices and our strengths and nurturing instincts and our femininity.”
When I asked if she was concerned that some guests might not be receptive to such a politically radical show, she arched a skeptical eyebrow.
“No,” she said plainly. “New York’s a very special place. Even if people don’t agree with everything, they’re still open to hearing your message.”
After days of seeing most big-name designers avoid overt politicking, it was striking to see Gurung and Reese proudly make the resistance movement an integral part of their presentations. And the effect on those watching was strikingly clear—especially Huma Abedin.