You might have noticed that the catwalks during Fashion Month AW17 have been awash with activism, from slogan T-shirts bearing political and feminist statements, to ribbons and handkerchiefs worn as a sign of solidarity. It seems fashion's latest trend is all about being politically vocal and socially aware. But is this current wave of fashion activism sincere or just a marketing tool to grab headlines and attract a wider audience at a politically turbulent time?
Dior was one of the first brands to fall under fire, following last season's SS17 show, where Maria Grazia Chiuri included T-shirts emblazoned with the phrases 'Dio(R)evolution' and 'We Should All Be Feminists' in her debut collection for the French fashion house. (Prabal Gurung followed suit this season with T-shirts reading 'The Future Is Female' and 'Nevertheless She Persisted' at his NYFW show, while Jonathan Simkhai wore a T-shirt stating 'Feminist AF'). Chiuri was criticised for failing to follow up with a bigger-picture project or campaign to make the sentiment on the T-shirt, and supposedly at the core of the collection, feel more authentic and heartfelt. Call us cynical but a T-shirt with a slogan referring to an essay and TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, that therefore claims to support feminism, retailing at nearly £500, with no proceeds going to support a women's charity or cause, stinks of irony.
However, Dior has put its money where its mouth is, silencing critics by announcing a charity partnership with brand ambassador Rihanna’s Clara Lionel Foundation. (Today Rihanna, who has been a face of Dior for years, received the Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award from Harvard University for her tireless commitment to helping others.) The nonprofit organisation, which RiRi founded in 2012, supports and funds education, health and emergency-response programmes in impoverished areas around the world. It will receive a percentage of proceeds from each 'We Should All Be Feminists' T-shirt sold in Dior boutiques and on the Dior website until 15th May.
Already worn by Dior campaign stars Rihanna, Jennifer Lawrence and Natalie Portman, as well as countless street style stars spotted outside couture fashion week and the current AW17 shows, naturally there is already a long waiting list for the T-shirt.
“We are so proud to support the Rihanna project,” Maria Grazia Chiuri explained to WWD. “If you want to change the culture around the world, there is no other way but to invest in education.”
As the first female designer to take the creative helm at the luxury fashion house, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, Chiuri understands the duty and responsibilities that come with her powerful role.“Mr. Dior was very close to women. He wanted to understand women’s lifestyles, and we’re speaking about 1955. He was really incredibly clever, so I think in some way as the designer of the Dior brand, I have to have the same attitude,” she said.
“What I really want is a closer relationship with our clients, with our audience... I think what is different, probably, about a woman designer is that I want to have a relationship with other women. I want to know how they feel, I want to understand how I can support them."