The Politics of Fashion: When Designers Speak Out

Un texto de Lauren David Peden para Fashion Wiredaily. 

"A lot of people who are well known do things for charity, but I think it's the more bold ones who are political," said designer Vivienne Westwood last May at the opening of the Metropolitan Museum's AngloMania exhibit, when asked about her own well-known political activism. "Meaning it takes more to be political than to support breast cancer, for example," she added. "Not that that isn't important, but I'm one of those people that always would like the world to be different, because it can be such a terrible place for so many people." 

To this end, Westwood has fashioned a line of t-shirts emblazoned with the words "I Am Not a Terrorist" and has lobbied long and hard for the release of Leonard Peltier, a Native American who has been imprisoned - many believe wrongfully - for the past 30 years on charges on killing two FBI agents in South Dakota. In fact, at the swank Met Costume Institute gala celebrating AngloMania, a ballgowned Westwood was seen handing out Free Peltier petitions to everyone from Giorgio Armani to Duran Duran, and on September 13th during New York Fashion Week, she'll host a screening of Michael Apted's 1992 documentary, "Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story," to a crowd of fashion heavyweights. 
"At every point we have to fight for injustice," said Westwood, who was named a Dame in her native England earlier this year. "That means justice before the law for everybody." 
Of course, the British rabble-rouser is not the only fashion designer currently using her high profile to draw attention to causes in which she believes. 
John Galliano sent out t-shirts reading "Dior Not War" several seasons back, and designer (and amfAR chairman) Kenneth Cole has long used his ad campaigns to speak out about everything from gun control to AIDS to homelessness, and recently created a $35 t-shirt reading "In War, Is It Who's Right or Who's Left?," the proceeds of which benefit the American Red Cross. 
"The war in Iraq seems to have done more damage to this country's security and well-being and caused the depletion of more of its resources (financial, political and, most importantly, human) than anything in our time," said Cole last month via e-mail. "The statistics are not front and center, not on the covers of newspapers. Therefore, they are not in our consciousness. The story is not being told. I feel that there is a very compelling opportunity in a nonjudgmental and nonpolitical way to shed some light on this matter. I believe our campaign is respectful of those who have served or are still doing so, while also focusing a spotlight on the critical message at hand." 
Marc Jacobs, meanwhile, uses the windows of his boutiques - and the after parties of his runway shows - to raise funds for politicians like Hillary Clinton and Al Gore, and for non profits such as Cancer Cares, the Greenwich Village Historical Society, the Hetrick-Martin Institute's Harvey Milk School and Riverkeeper, among other things. During the last presidential election, Marc by Marc Jacobs stores went so far as to carry voter registration forms, making it easy for their mostly college aged customers to sign up to vote. 
Earlier this year, several Marc by Marc stores carried "Where's the Outrage" antiwar t-shirts, depicting a stick figure holding the nozzle of a gas pump. In August, Marc Jacobs' Bleecker Street storefronts were devoted to raising awareness for the Provincetown Soup Kitchen in Massachusetts and to black and white posters trumpeting "Women We Love," which included empowered, civic minded cultural icons like Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Aretha Franklin, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and Melinda Gates. 
"I have to keep Marc out of the equation because it's really me [doing the political-themed windows and merchandise]," said Jacobs' business partner and right hand man, Robert Duffy, on the phone from his New York office last month. "I started doing it a long time ago after our fashion shows, because I always had a problem throwing a party for no reason, with nobody benefitting from it. I thought, as long as I have the international press here, we do have this opportunity to say something and people are sort of forced to listen." 
To that end, this month the Marc by Marc Jacobs Manhattan stores will kick off a melanoma awareness campaign - timed to coincide with New York Fashion Week - to benefit New York University's recently launched Skin Cancer Clinic, featuring t-shirts and posters with nude portraits of fair skinned lovelies - and Marc Jacobs fans - like Selma Blair and Julianne Moore. 
But not everyone responds positively to the store's blatantly left-leaning political window displays, according to Duffy, who has been accosted on the street by pedestrians who are furious with the messages being conveyed and routinely receives "horrible, horrible hate letters" by people who disagree with the cause or politician being showcased. 
"People always scrutinize other people's opinions," he said with a laugh. "I think a lot of designers give a lot of money [to charities and political causes], but they don't do it via their stores because it's probably not the smartest thing to do. But I love that [our windows] create controversy. I love that they make people talk. And think. I love that people ask questions." 
And if you don't like what you see in a Marc Jacobs window? 
"You have a voice, too," said Duffy. "Use it."