After a few seasons of slogan tees and pins, seeing political messages at a fashion show doesn’t feel abnormal: The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) has partnered with organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU to raise awareness for their services, designers have taken their bows wearing shirts with messages of inclusivity, politicians have even made unofficial cameos on the runway…. What remains a “surprise,” in a way, is the issue that fashion people deem important or noteworthy enough to make a talking point during Fashion Week. At the spring 2019 shows in New York, there wasn’t as much of an industry-wide mobilization surrounding a single message as we’ve seen in the past, but a handful of designers and showgoers did harness their platform to bring attention to the upcoming elections.
The timing of this season’s shows lent themselves to this issue: New York state’s primary elections were set for September 13, the day after the official end of New York Fashion Week. As such, some designers referenced some of these campaigns during their shows. Perhaps the most pointed reference came from Christian Siriano, who kept the focus on the local gubernatorial race, between Cynthia Nixon and incumbent Andrew Cuomo.
“I went to an event where I had the pleasure of hearing Cynthia speak and she was amazing. It felt very real and every issue she brought up I agreed with,” Siriano tells Glamour. “I decide a few weeks ago to invite her and add some promotion [about her campaign] to our show…. I think its important speak up for what you believe in. I believe in a better New York, and I think Cynthia will give us that.”
In the show notes, Siriano thanked Nixon “for all you’re doing for New York.” The designer left informational pamphlets about the Cynthia for NY campaign on each of the 650 seats in the venue. During the show, a model walked down the runway wearing a “Vote for Cynthia” T-shirt tucked into one of Siriano’s signature evening skirts; he took his bow wearing a different version of it, reading “I’m Voting for Cynthia.”
Oh, and throughout all of this, Nixon was sitting front row, right in between Judith Light and Whoopi Goldberg. “He’s been such a supporter of the campaign, which I’ve been so honored by and so grateful for,” she told E! News of Siriano at the show. “[The T-shirt] was an incredible tribute, but it’s a natural fit because he’s been a designer that has so much been a champion for so long of [the message] that fashion should be for everybody.”
“I think my show is a place to showcase…what issues are important to me and my brand,” Siriano explains. “[It’s] a very large stage where so many people are watching, so it’s a perfect place to help promote something that I think is important.” We have to talk about voting “because we can’t not support the people we believe in because, as we have seen, it can really affect our cities and country in the worst way possible.”
Prabal Gurung is another designer who’s become known for his socially conscious runway displays: He’s ended his past few shows by running down the runway while wearing a T-shirt printed with some sort of message, from “Resist With <3” (spring 2018) to “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like (fall 2017.) That would be no different for spring 2019—and attendees were clued in to what his slogan would be upon arrival.
As each guest took their seat at Gurung’s show, they were greeted by a small card on top of their program that read, “I am a voter.”
Then, after the last of the models wearing his technicolor spring collection made their way backstage, Gurung emerged, his T-shirt a colorful call-to-action: “Vote.”
The T-shirt is part of a collaboration between luxury retailer Moda Operandi and Rock the Vote, which features pieces from designers including Gurung, Brandon Maxwell, Carolina Herrera, and more. It retails for $100, with all proceeds going to the nonpartisan nonprofit. Gurung would later post an image of himself wearing the shirt to his personal Instagram, with the caption: “Making a #PSA. Do the right thing. #VOTE.”
Footwear designer Chloe Gosselin partnered with the group Rise Up and Vote for her spring 2019 presentation, which was meant to be an event centered around women, community, and change. (This included a soundtrack consisting of speeches by the likes of Malala Yousafzai, Hillary Clinton, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.) One of the models donned a T-shirt that read, “I am a voter.”
Jeremy Scott, a designer with over 2 million followers on Instagram known to draw a crowd for his namesake label’s New York show (he’s also the creative director of Moschino, which presents its collections in Milan), also made a statement during his customary bow. He encouraged a different civic responsibility, though: calling your senators.
When he stepped out on the runway at the end of his spring 2019 show, Scott was wearing a T-shirt that read “Tell Your Senator No on Kavanaugh,” referring to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who’s confirmation hearings are ongoing. It also listed a phone number to call: 202-902-7129.
The following evening Scott attended Harper’s Bazaar‘s annual Icons party, once again wearing (and purposefully showing off) a T-shirt encouraging civic responsibility. (The style happened to be the same one worn by a model at the Chloe Gosselin presentation.)
Fashion shows—and Fashion Weeks, more broadly—are highly publicized events, with the cumulative followers of designers, brands, celebrities, and other people associated with the shows tuning in to see what’s happening. As of September 10, about halfway through New York Fashion Week, there were over 300,000 posts related to it on social media, WWD reported. There are photographers everywhere, capturing not only what’s on the runway but the environment around it.