Politics has always been intertwined within art and design. Prabal Gurung proved this year that fashion designers can confront inequality with just as much fervour as other creative industries and prompt conversation for change.
The spring/summer collection by Gurung was awash with silks, fur and tailoring. At first glance, the smart trousers look innocent but look a little closer and you’ll see sequins glittering underneath soft strands of thread woven into letters spelling out gentle feminist statements. The words “Equality: Nothing More, Nothing Less” strut down the catwalk. The classic femininity of the collection coupled with the professionalism of the suits suggests ‘feminine working woman’. These words seem somewhat oddly juxtaposed in our current western working environment. Femininity is wrongly associated with passiveness and indecision – not qualities of a business leader. Statistics by the UN showed that in 2016, the numbers of women versus men in senior business positions is between 24% and 35% in European countries. The imbalance of around two-thirds men to women surely seems to display an inequality which Gurung rightly protests.
Recently, however, there has been a pushback against feminist messages such as this. In a climate of Donald Trump grabbing p***y and YouTubers sharing their views of third wave feminism as ‘man-hating’, ‘playing the victim’ or being ‘unnecessary as we’re already equal’, it is plain how necessary political conversation is. Through high-profile events, such as Gurung’s runway, the continuation of circulating experiences, information and statistics on inequality are encouraged.
This seems to be the answer to preserving progress of normalising the idea of a feminist. As long as a group is alienated and discredited, the less pressure there is to act. Breaking down these stereotypes is more critical now than ever before as discrimination is turning into laws which reduce women’s autonomy over their own bodies.
The timing and the tone of Prabal Gurung’s collection this year seem perfect in presenting the true heart of feminism within this tension. The finale of autumn/winter 2017 seemed to entirely encompass what egalitarians want. Slogans like ‘this is what a feminist looks like’, ‘this is what an immigrant looks like’ and ‘I am a Sasha’ flashed in and out blue spotlights as the models weaved the course of the runway. With tranquil determination, each model presented a strong, unthreatening woman rather than a sinister abstract group of people labelled as ‘immigrants’ or ‘feminists’. The great success of including political opinion was evident in the way that it was received online and by other people in the fashion industry. It even earned the designer air time on talk shows to discuss feminism on a bigger platform.
Fashion has always reflected the values and aspirations of a society. Prabal Gurung has become part of the group to challenge them and push for progress. Slogan tops have been reclaimed and really have the power to resonate with people.
Let us know what you think of Prabal Gurung’s collections this year!
Words: Felicity Hamilton
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