11 New York Designers Discuss Making Fashion in an Era of #MeToo and Time’s Up
Giuliana Rancic has been standing on the red carpet with a microphone in her hand for years. She’s a pro at chitchatting about designer labels and million-dollar diamonds. At the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, though, not so much. The E! reporter was thrown off her game when everyone turned up in black gowns to stand in solidarity with the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements. Rancic’s nervousness was palpable even through a TV screen on the opposite coast (it should be noted that she wore black also). Politics and mani-cams don’t mix, a point made clear when Debra Messing brought up the fact that the women who work at E! all make significantly less than the men.
Fashion can be a conversation starter, and often, as it was during the Globes, it’s the simplest clothes that pave the way for constructive dialogue. But now that the award show blackout has passed, where does that dialogue within the fashion industry go from here? This season, the runways are bound to be filled with clothes representing political messaging and feminist battle cries, and plenty will undoubtedly be powerful to take in. However, actions speak louder than words. How do designers sell women clothes—a feeling, a lifestyle—that empower and uplift them to speak up every single day? Are they obligated to? Their creations can often say a lot about their politics, whether it’s a power suit made to embolden the female wearer, corsets worn by women of all shapes and sizes to promote body positivity, or, a bit simplistically, T-shirts printed with words like resist.
Many major designers in the United States have been politically outspoken over the last two years. Now, as their big “red carpet” moment comes in the form of fashion month, it’s a chance for them to lend their voices to the conversation—and to the women who wear their clothes. Those women don’t always have a microphone or a TV camera in their faces, but they are the ones who will say something to a boss, a coworker, a family member, a stranger…
Below, 11 New York designers discuss how the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have affected them personally and creatively, and what they think needs to shift in the industry as a whole.
“As designers, I believe that we should look at these movements as opportunities to both inspire and challenge us to be our very best. The red carpet is such a beautiful and highly visible platform for women to speak about issues that deserve to be on the agenda, that deserve time. As designers, we should give them something to talk about, whether it be our values and principles as a brand or the way we create and produce following ethical and sustainable methods. Fashion has the potential to be a conversation starter for trailblazing movements, and as designers, we should rise to the occasion and embrace this positive change.”
“The Time’s Up and #MeToo movements have shone a light on how powerful we can be when we all work together to bring about change, and that’s incredibly inspiring. My career has always focused on empowering and celebrating women, so the momentum that these movements have brought only makes me even more determined and passionate in my beliefs, and through my designs I continue to be inspired to reflect the many nuances and powers of femininity.”
“What was particularly interesting for me regarding the black dress code at the Golden Globes were the unique and personal choices that each woman made. The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have just reinforced why I started my brand to begin with. My first few collections were made up of mostly all black dresses—it was never about outshining the woman, it was about giving her an option that she felt great in, that she felt strong in, that she felt confident in, but the idea was never to dress her in something that allowed the conversation to be solely about the clothes.
I think we have a responsibility as a community to take care of the women that bring our clothes to life, first and foremost. And that starts with our treatment of the young women who walk our runways and represent us in advertisements and editorials. Every choice we make affects their lives and subsequently the lives of the young girls that look up to them. Clothes should empower, never torture. We wouldn’t have jobs if it weren’t for the support of our female customers, employees, and muses, and I think that fact has to be highly respected.”
“We are always aware of who is shown wearing the collection—highlighting the work of models of color, of different abilities, ages, sizes, in order to promote equality and inclusivity in fashion.
This season in particular is about trying to find joy and escape within the spiral. I’m working with the amazing nonbinary poet Jahmal Golden (who also models for us) and they wrote this beautiful poem for the AW18 collection. One piece of the poem that really speaks to me is about asking for what you want. That’s one outcome of this new awakening, which sees more marginalized people having voices and seats at the table. They have a voice to ask for what they want. Whether that’s a salary that matches a white male coworker, or safety in the workplace, or to have their boundaries respected in their private life, telling people what you want is powerful.
In terms of what role the fashion industry can play in the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, we need to hire more women, nonbinary, and people of color photographers. As we start to weed out the abusive, power-tripping photographers and other abusers from the fashion industry, these opportunities need to be given to a more diverse group of creatives.”
“To be honest, I was privy to the Time’s Up Movement and its blackout plan for the Golden Globes prior to the public debut, as I am very close friends with some of the leading ladies who have created this movement. But my last show for Moschino Pre-Fall was very much in the protest mood already. I had been thinking about the cultural shift we are experiencing and the crumbling of the patriarchy—the fight of the old guard versus the beliefs of the youth who will take their place. Being an openly gay man myself, I identify well with the plight of the women’s movement. I created some clothes that are made out of safety-pinned pieces of fabric which resemble newsprint with several words that [are] used to label and define us in a pejorative and negative way. I wanted to take some of these words and render them meaningless and unable to inflict pain or shame. I thought about the menswear and womenswear collections as a duality, sharing fabrics back and forth between the two and collaging them together in some garments to blur the gender lines.
Fashion has the power to carry a message. We need serious discussions in our society about things that have for too long gone ignored or have become normalized, but we also need levity in our lives to cope with the seriousness of the problems we face. For me, I have always seen my work as an escape for people to loose themselves in for a fleeting moment. It’s a reprise from the reality we must deal with. We need a break every now and again in order to be able to fight the battle for the long haul.”
“The Time’s Up and #MeToo movements have made me more curious and hopeful about how movements grow and are developed. Our Fall 18 collection is based on how women wore masculine clothing as they entered the work force during WWI and WWII. We started conceptualizing the collection six months ago. The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements are addressing something that is so ingrained in our society and is especially vital in the workforce. I don’t know any industry, nation, or society that hasn’t been affected by its gender inequality or abuse.
These movements have made me think about situations I experienced while growing up in Uruguay, which, as a young woman, I assumed were normal. If there was a group of men on the corner, you knew you had to cross the street if you where alone, because they would say something inappropriate. Throughout history women have been, and still are, an oppressed minority; I’ve recently learned that it’s illegal in the U.S. for a woman to get paid less than a man but it is rarely enforced. The silver lining is that this movement just keeps going—there are currently an unprecedented number of women who are running for office in 2018. This makes me hopeful as I know what women can do together.”
“I think the all-black dress code for the Golden Globes was powerful in its unity, in getting the message across that it’s the dawn of a new day. As a designer who has always believed that the right clothes bring out the best in a person’s attitude, I’m now convinced more than ever that my job is to make women feel more confident and stronger for all occasions, whether it’s the red carpet or everyday life. I think women need to be able to express themselves in whatever manner they feel appropriate for their lives and their personal style. There should be no one way to dress in today’s world. The thing that for me always remains consistent is to deliver an extra dose of confidence to women when they wear my designs.”
“These movements haven’t changed my design process. I always think about all of the many facets of a woman’s life and personality, and then design into those challenges. That’s the best part of my job. I do think that the fashion industry needs to push itself to the forefront of this conversation—we are sorely failing there. Firstly, we need to start an open discussion about the imagery that this industry has created for decades. These “idealized” versions of both women and men that have affected generations of people, and how tired, mundane, and irrelevant these stereotypical depictions are.
Secondly, we need to address the power structure in our business. The balance needs to change for women and people of color when it comes to opportunity, jobs, and compensation. It seems especially true for the freelance photographers, directors, photo assistants, sound designers, etc. Why has our industry continued to enable and promote figures who are known abusers?
Thirdly, we need to create a safe structure for working with the above people, especially young people and models. A code of conduct is not enough if it’s not followed. Lastly, it needs to be said that both men and women in our industry need to join the conversation and make the changes.”
“I am incredibly inspired by the solidarity and power of the collective voice that has been brought to light with #MeToo. The amount of visibility for women’s rights advocates that the #blackout collective enabled was so powerful. I think as far as my creative process, I have always sought to design clothes that empower women, that speak with a voice that is both feminine and feminist, confident and self-possessed. I have always sought to create an idea of beauty defined outside of the male gaze, and, as such, these movements resonate very deeply with me.”
“I think that there has been a sense of a lot of these issues for some time now, and I’m glad that the individual voices of dissent have joined together to become a powerful movement. Clothing is armor, I’ve long felt, and I feel more strongly now that the garments I create should be able to offer protection and strength. Fashion has already played a strong role in the movement, if you think about how the power of a statement such as choosing to wear only black is magnified when your community and peers make the same choice in solidarity.”
Maryam Nassir Zadeh
“The effect that the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have on me is a feeling of deep compassion. I wasn’t previously aware of the immensity of the situation, and it was heartbreaking to hear story after story. The movements have affected my process as a designer; I feel more aware and even more compassionate for all women, because, regardless, women have so much to juggle today: family, career, self-care. As women we have so much to express and so much to manage. I have not experienced sexual assault in the workplace in a traditional sense, but I have experienced resentment for my success by men, which is a form of abuse or discrimination in an indirect way. This awareness and compassion affects my work because the more sensitive I am, the more connected I am to my work, and, in turn, my work is very integral with how I feel emotionally.
I feel fortunate not to have felt direct sexual discrimination within the fashion industry, which is where I have been been working since early 2001. I feel that the area of the fashion industry that I am a part of is a powerful place where women can stand strong together. I own a women-run company and it is empowering to be able to hire amazing women, many of whom have grown into leaders in their departments and have had the freedom to explore completely new skills. I also feel now more than ever that it is important for me to value the fact that I strive to make products that women can feel comfortable and beautiful in. I want my pieces to help the wearer feel confident in her own skin. If a woman can feel strong and clear, she can more easily focus on what really matters in her life.
At this moment we need to stand up for ourselves and other women, to hold companies and individuals accountable in order to achieve gender equality. I hope we all continue to feel the strength of this newly publicized support network, and that it helps us to take a stand when necessary.”