Fashion month kicks off in September, when designers from around the world will showcase their spring collections in New York, London, Paris, and Milan.
The looks sent down the runway will predict next year’s trends; there will no doubt be bonkers sleeves, freed nipples, and blinding neon. But if protesters have their way, one more theme will be hot for spring 2020: dissent.
While designers put finishing touches on their pieces, global activist groups are also fine-tuning their fashion week plans. From Donald Trump to climate change, they feel they have a lot to demonstrate against right now, and this autumn editors and influencers will have to trudge through a die-in or sea of signs to find their front row seats.
As The Daily Beast reported last week, the final days of summer have turned into a mad scramble for those involved with planning New York Fashion Week’s location schedule.
After The Washington Post revealed that the billionaire Hudson Yards developer Stephen M. Ross planned to hold two fundraisers in the Hamptons that garnered a reported $12 million for Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, the designer Prabal Gurung pulled his runway show from The Vessel, an art installation on the property.
Dana Lorenz of the jewelry line Fallon also withdrew from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) after learning that Ross’ wife, Kara, sat on its board.
In a fiery Business of Fashion op-ed, Out magazine editor-in-chief Phillip Picardi wrote that “New York Fashion Week Has a Donald Trump Problem.” A cultural center called The Shed, located near Hudson Yards, counts Ross as one of its board members. The Shed was the proposed future hub of NYFW, but after Picardi’s piece went live, Rag & Bone decided against holding its show there.
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson told The Daily Beast that Ross should jettison his friendship with Trump; both men are members of the Board of Directors of The Shed at Hudson Yards. Several designers also confirmed to The Daily Beast they would not be staging shows at The Shed.
Rumors are swirling behind-the-scenes regarding what labels may plan to present at The Shed. Currently, no designers have spoken in favor of using the location, though a source at The Shed last week confirmed that “a lot of shows” were on the books. (They did not elaborate on how many shows were planned or which brands were scheduled.)
That means activists will have to wait to know just who, exactly, they will have to protest come NYFW’s September 6 kick-off.
When asked if he would attend any Hudson Yards shows, Picardi responded immediately with, “Absolutely the fuck not. You can quote me, directly, word for word on that. The fashion industry benefits from smoke and mirrors, the curtain of luxury and mystique. [With Stephen Ross], the curtain has been pulled back.”
“Ultimately, the fashion industry has a really tough decision to make of whether or no they want to declare their values for publicity’s sake, or they want to live their values,” Picardi went on. “I would hope New York, the epicenter of fashion, would be able to take a stand against the Trump administration.”
Until 2010, Fashion Week events centered around Bryant Park, making it easy for attendees to hop from show to show. But with runways all over the city, Picardi admitted that things can feel “disjointed,” and he understands “the ease” that Hudson Yards could offer as an official home.
“But ultimately, at the end of the day, there are plenty of spaces in New York that we can go to,” Picardi said. “So many of our editors who are queer, women, or people of color would rather pay for an extra Uber ride than feel complicit in the industry’s participation with a billionaire who supports Donald Trump. It may be inconvenient, but welcome to how so many people feel under this administration.”
Though Picardi will skip The Shed this fall and encourages others to as well, he draws the line at an outright boycott. “The thing about our industry is that people can lose their jobs for not attending shows,” he said. “I can’t expect my friends who are fashion directors to miss anything. This is people’s livelihoods we’re talking about.”
Once they survive New York, plenty of those section editors will head across the pond to London, where they will face more protests. Earlier this month, the climate crisis advocacy group Extinction Rebellion called on the British Fashion Council to cancel all shows.
In a responding statement, the BFC’s CEO Caroline Rush declined to go that far, but agreed to meet with Extinction Rebellion activists to “share our plans.”
“We are facing a climate change emergency and all need to act,” Rush wrote, adding the BFC can “use the platform of London Fashion Week to communicate not just to the industry, but to a wider public, that not all businesses are equal, that those that support a better future, are committed to change, are those that should be supported.”
As a result, Extinction Rebellion will heavily protest the event with “disruptive actions” such as a funeral procession to “commemorate the loss of life due to climate and ecological breakdown.” The event will begin right outside 180 The Strand, London Fashion Week’s mainstage.
“We appreciate going forward, a friendly, amicable working relationship with the BFC and we respect them and know that they respect us and respect the issues,” Alice Wilby, coordinator and spokesperson for the Boycott Fashion Team, told The Daily Beast. “We don’t want to cancel fashion, but we are asking for a very high profile, very glamorous event that promotes excess to be cancelled while we convene to conceive what we are going to do about the climate crisis.”
This isn’t the first time Extinction Rebellion has crashed fashion week—protests popped up last season, too. But there is a symbolic significance to designers’ spring 2020 collections. Next year is the U.N.’s deadline for world leaders to accept the Paris deal.
“We are looking at this fashion week, which will be showing trends and collections for 2020, when it will already be too late to effect real change on the climate crisis,” Wilby said. “Why are we talking about clothes to wear when we don’t have a planet to wear them on? It’s quite intense when you think about it like that, but also very simple.”
Members of Extinction Rebellion were partly inspired to call for the abolition of London Fashion Week after the Swedish Fashion Council cancelled their Stockholm showing. (Copenhagen hosts its own, more popular fashion week.)
Activists in Paris and Milan have yet to speak out about any planned events, but both cities have seen a share of fashion week controversy in past seasons.
Back in January, the anti-government demonstrations by France's Gilets Jaunes, who frequently clashed with police, inspired designers like Dior and Thom Browne to reschedule their shows in an effort to skirt disruption.
Though Hong Kong is not part of the official, “Big Four” calendar, Chanel plans to hold its Cruise presentation in November at the city’s Kai Tak Terminal. But given the months-long political and social disturbances, a representative for the brand told WWD they are “keeping a close watch on events,” and may pull out.
The French couture line is not the only label with a commitment in the city; according to Hong Kong’s Tatler, over a thousand are expected to attend the Centrestage trade fashion show. On Sept. 4, the opening gala will include collections from Anaïs Jourden and Altuzarra. (A PR for Anaïs Jourden would not comment on the matter to The Daily Beast; representatives from Altuzarra did not respond to multiple inquiries.)
Brendon Hong, a Daily Beast contributor based in Hong Kong, said in an email that a protest specifically targeting the fashion community would be unlikely. Still, the industry denizens who take part in Centrestage will visit a city in the midst of extreme unrest.
In Milan last February, PETA supporters dressed as “grim reapers,” toting fur coats to protest the industry's use of the material. The organization may be infamous for its protests, but senior vice president Dan Mathews said that most of them occur in the winter, because fall collections tend to include more fur.
“Protests are less of a priority in September, because they’re showing spring clothes,” Mathews said. “There’s a lot more action in February.”
PETA has become friendly with most fashion designers, as more of the industry ditches fur. (There are still some notorious holdouts, like Dolce & Gabbana.) These days, Mathews serves more as a consultant to brands than a complainer.
“We disrupted shows for Michael Kors, Donna Karan, Versace, and Armani, which resulted in them meeting with us and dropping fur,” Mathews explained. “Before doing that, I sent letters asking to meet and discuss, and they simply had no time for us. Through disrupting, we became an important part of their agenda, because they didn’t want their shows to be hijacked.”
Mathews looks back fondly on his time agitating. “I do miss it,” he laughed. “It was fun. As delighted as I am to meet with brands, I do miss the Milan jail. The cops are very sweet.”
“The jails in Paris are so lovely in the spring,” he added.