Zoot Suit, Asian models and Fashion Discussion


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This week, we will talk about diversity and feminism in fashion.

Runway model with sash "Who Gets to Be American?"

Skim these required articles about the fashion industry. Click the links. (For a couple of the articles, if you get stopped by LA Times paywall, I copied and pasted just the LA Times articles below.)








Diversity in Fashion

“Real” or “authentic” politics are usually defined with some organization or institution that defines itself as political. Its political practices can consist of traditional acts such as picket lines, sit-ins, strikes, protests, letter writing, etc.

But what about people who don’t have the time to join these organizations or to participate in a strike/protest. Can they still be political? What if a person is battling the same concerns or issues as an organization, but he or she either cannot or do not believe in expressing their politics the same way the organization has instructed or defined to do so.

If we emphasize only specific practices such voting, picket lines, sit-ins and strikes as authentic political practice, we ignore cultural practices that people have used to resist oppression or injustice. “Authentic” politics include cultural practices such as music, blogging, fashion, dance, poetry, tagging as political activity. These offer people a way to express their political beliefs/social critiques and question the rules and norms that govern our society in a way that is familiar and accessible to them on a daily basis. We’d miss a lot if we only look at the overt, political action and ignore the covert (symbolic) political actions in culture especially if one lacks access to an organized form of political expression.

For example, during World War II, Latinos wore Zoot Suits to demonstrate their identity, rebelling against mainstream society and their parents. Here’s a short video about Pachuca fashion: Iconic Pachuca Looks

Discussion questions to answer (most questions should average of 150 words):

1. Which groups use fashion as a political activity today?

2. Do you use fashion as a political activity? Explain?

3. What does fashion designer Prabal Gurung, who was born in Singapore and raised in Nepal, want to say about America?

4. According to the NextShark and Elle articles, why did the fashion designers use all Asian models or all Black models? In your opinion, was this a good idea? Why or why not?

5. What do you think about the Los Angeles Times articles linking fashion with politics and feminism? Does it represent the dominant trend in fashion? If not, what are the current main fashion trends?

6. Do you think it matters whether fashion designers employ models of different racial/ethnic backgrounds? Why or why not?

Here are the LA Times article excerpts from the links above that you might need to skim:

New York Fashion Week: 5 spring and summer 2020 trends you should know about

SEP. 13, 2019

9:16 AM

A sunny sense of optimism ran through the spring and summer 2020 collections presented here during New York Fashion Week, with labels providing the seeds of hope — in some cases literally — that brighter days for the country and our planet are just around the corner.

Although part of that feeling flowed naturally from the sunny hues and floral themes that traditionally characterize spring collections, there were a number of other trends, in silhouette, theme and color, that underscored the upbeat vibe. Here are five worth watching, including an optimistic appreciation of American sportswear.


Meditations on America

Although the overt political statements of past New York Fashion Weeks were largely MIA (the notable exception being a “Vote or Die” T-shirt at the Pyer Moss show that included the words “for real this time”), several labels used the notion of America — and what it represents — as an inspirational starting point for their spring and summer collections. Two of the most notable to touch on the topic were Michael Kors Collection and Prabal Gurung, and although they started in the same place, they ended up in very different places.

Kors’ took the more traditional route here, with a color palette heavy on red, white and (especially navy) blues. Stripes adorned handbags and trimmed tennis sweaters, and skirts, sweater vests and shoes were festooned with silver star embroidery. Dresses were spangled with star sequin embroidery. Combined with the naval motifs (anchor detailing, officer’s coats and sailor caps galore), the finale felt a bit like a 1950s-era Fourth of July parade.

The collection from Prabal Gurung, which marked his eponymous label’s 10th anniversary, came at the optimism of America from the point of view of someone born in Singapore and raised in Nepal.

“What has happened to me truly wouldn’t happen anywhere else in the world,” Gurung said backstage before his spring and summer 2020 men’s and women’s runway show. “I came to America. I wanted to work in fashion. I started my brand 10 years ago and I only became my whole complete self in America. I wanted to celebrate that optimistic spirit — especially right now when everything is so politically and culturally divisive.”

The question he asked in his show notes — “Who gets to be American?” — stemmed from a business meeting he had. “I’ve been here 20 years,” he said. “I’m an American citizen, and I’m in a meeting talking about what it means to be American, and one of the suits turns to me and says, ‘Well, how can you define America? You don’t look American.’ … That made me want to have the conversation — and to celebrate the American spirit through my lens.”

Gurung’s runway riff on America meant the white cotton shirting fabric of classic American sportswear used for button-front dresses, skirts and tops; denim, America’s favorite fabric, used for work jackets, overalls and dresses; and scraps of white fabric from his archives stitched together with blue thread as a nod to the patchwork origins of the U.S. citizenry.

More subtle references came by way of a recurring rose motif — Gurung pointed out that the rose is the official flower of the United States — blooming on pieces throughout the collection as well as a range of tie-dyed dresses, T-shirts, tops and sweatpants inspired by a Nepalese childhood interacting with the American hippie contingent.

At the end of the show, when the models hit the runway for the finale, each was wearing a beauty-pageant-style sash emblazoned with “Who gets to be American?”

It’s a question well worth asking.

In this new era, politics is on trend on the runways at New York Fashion Week

Links to an external site.

FEB. 13, 2017

10:35 AM

There’s a long history of this, of course; one need look no further than Dame Vivienne Westwood, whose catwalk collections over the years have helped raise awareness about global warming, Greenpeace and Leonard Peltier, among other subjects.

But four full days into the run of shows here, there have been so many messages on the runway that the political parade could just as easily be mistaken for a fashion-forward protest march as it could a presentation of fall/winter ’17 collections.

The tone of several Fashion Week shows was set before the first models hit the catwalk because of the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s decision to publicly voice its support for Planned Parenthood by creating large pink buttons roughly the size of a drink coaster with messaging that read, “Fashion stands with Planned Parenthood.” The buttons were packaged with a primer on the organization and hints on how to support it (via raising awareness and making donations). The pins, which first made their appearance on the front-row seats at Thursday’s shows, could soon be seen on some of the fashion flocks’ most luxe lapels.

That same day, U.K.-based online fashion publication Business of Fashionused the Tommy Hilfiger show in Los Angeles as the launch pad for its #TiedTogether initiative designed to establish the white bandanna “as a sign to the world that you believe in the common bonds of humankind — regardless of race, sexuality, gender or religion.”

Here on the East Coast, invitees to Friday morning’s Calvin Klein show received crisply folded white cotton bandannas printed with a black quilt-like design and accompanied by a note that read, “Unity, inclusion hope and acceptance: Join us at Calvin Klein wearing the white bandan[n]a #TiedTogether.”

That show, which marked Belgian designer Raf Simon’s debut collection for the iconic American brand, was itself a meditation on the state of the United States, opening and closing to the strains of David Bowie’s 1985 song, “This Is Not America,” and including a model wrapped in an American flag.

The message of inclusiveness and acceptance was in evidence well beyond the bandannas, too, most memorably at Christian Siriano’s Saturday afternoon show at the Plaza Hotel, where a model drew cheers of approval when she hit the runway in a pink silk, floor-length skirt and a black T-shirt emblazoned with the message, “People are people.” The last few seasons have seen Siriano fill his runway with models of all shapes, sizes and ages. The finale walk to Depeche Mode’s 1984 electro-pop tune “People Are People” earned Siriano a standing ovation.

Less than an hour later, Jonathan Simkhai presented a collection that keyed into feminine strength by combining elements of romantic corsetry and traditional matador uniforms.

“With women across the globe asserting their right to equality,” read the show notes, “Simkhai felt the need to create a look that would mirror the fortitude of their voices.” In case the sentiment was lost on anyone, the designer took his runway bow wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan, “Feminist AF.”

On Sunday morning, it was Public School’s Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne who had the fashion megaphone of the moment, sprinkling their military- and utilitarian-flavored men’s and women’s collection liberally with political messages including red New Era caps embroidered with the slogan, “Make America New York,” an obvious riff on President Trump’s red “Make America Great Again” caps (even if the sentiment behind the tweaked slogan wasn’t quite so obvious) and hooded sweatshirts bearing Michael Jordan’s image on the front and the slogan “We need leaders” on the back.

A few hours later, at the J. Crew presentation, we spotted a guest wearing one of the fresh-off-the-runway hats and a hand-scrawled sign pinned to the back of his hooded windbreaker that read, “Son of immigrants.”

New York-based Huffington Post contributor and digital branding strategist Michael Tommasiello told us a friend at Public School had handed him the hat after the show. “I know people like to take pictures and I have a lot of social media followers,” he said, explaining the sign on his back. “So I thought I’d take the opportunity to put something positive out there into the world.” (For the record, people were snapping photos of Tommasiello at a pretty fierce clip.)

But the runway presentation that sent the strongest message — and struck the most poignant chord — to date was Prabal Gurung’s. The show notes explained that the collection inspiration began with the question, “What does it mean to say a woman should ‘dress like a woman?’”

His collection paid homage to women of America and Nepal of the 1940s, “the women who maintained grace under pressure and held a quiet power, a secret weapon during war,” by using blurred camouflage prints and strategic ruching of fabric to highlight feminine curves.

Gurung’s love letter to the women who inspire him concluded with a tear-jerker of a runway finale walk that saw models hit the runway to the strains of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” each model wearing a piece from the collection paired with a T-shirt of a varied social message, many accessorized with the white bandanna of unity.

“The future is female,” read the first one; “3 million,” read the second. They were followed by messages “Femininity with a bite,” “Yes, we should all be feminists … (Thank you, Chimamanda and Maria),” “My boyfriend is a feminist, “My girlfriend is a feminist” and “Revolution has no borders.”

On they came, shirt after shirt, message after message, simple and straightforward. The trickle of slogan tees seemed to become a river, the river a torrent of wisdom, advice, support and calls to action. “Stay woke,” “Break down walls,” “Love is the resistance,” “Nevertheless, she persisted,” “I am a Gloria,” “I am a Malala” and “I am a Michelle.”

The last model hit Gurung’s runway wearing a black skirt with hand-embroidered silk fringe, a white bandanna knotted around her left wrist. Her white T-shirt bore five words in simple, black lettering, “We will not be silenced.”

Paris Fashion Week: Street fashion, feminist influences hit runways

OCT. 3, 2014

12:30 PM


On the runways, the collections shown for next spring were a youth quake of swinging ‘60s and ‘70s style: flower power prints, army and navy uniforms, flared pants and babydoll dresses, folklore and fringe, eyelet and embroideries galore, seen at Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, Dries Van Noten, Sacai, Chloe, Rykiel and more.

But there was a different kind of revolution happening too during the presentations, which ended Wednesday. Designers grappled with the meaning of fashion in the context of feminism, and whether it’s even realistic to think that designers can still dictate to women, especially now that street style blogs, Instagram and YouTube stars are challenging the whole top-down system.

At Chanel Karl Lagerfeld erected a grand boulevard indoors at the Grand Palais and took fashion to the streets. For a finale, he staged a protest — models marching out, fists in the air, with picket signs that said, “Be Your Own Stylist,” “Tweed is Better than Tweet” and “We can match the machos.”

It was a rallying cry for a lot of things, including individual style, and an acknowledgment that today fashion is not a consensus, but merely a suggestion, one that many women (and some designers) choose to ignore, resisting the idea that there could ever be a new or old look. Coco Chanel knew all of this. One of her most famous quotes remains true, “Fashion fades, only style remains the same.”

Of course, a big house with a storied heritage has design codes that are written into the lexicon of style — Chanel’s tweed jacket, for example, which is and always will be a classic.

So Lagerfeld began with that, showing tweed suits with full cut trousers and short-sleeve jackets with wide lapels that conveyed a ‘70s spirit.

Models came out in twos, chatting amicably as if they were on their way to work, portfolios in hand. They wore bold, watercolor-floral pleated skirts, top coats and flat boots covered in matching print; fatigue-green safari jackets and wide pants. Beatnik bags came covered in badges, patches and buttons and cross-body styles were tricked out like a tweedy Chanel jacket.


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