As the fashion world ups its political engagement, some designers are looking beyond slogan T-shirts and incorporating political statements and protest culture directly into the design and manufacturing of their collections. One such label is New York-based Tome, which presented a fall collection inspired by feminist activist artist group Guerrilla Girls on Feb. 12 at New York Fashion Week.
"It's a time of protest, and their particular brand of sardonic political commentary felt particularly timely," says Ryan Lobo, who shares design duties at Tome with Ramon Martin, of the duo's artistic inspiration. Their fall 2017 collection paid aesthetic homage to the anonymous Guerrilla Girls with gorilla-like sleeves and crystal banana embellishments. "Our translation was quite literal," says Lobo. "We placed a banana on every seat with a Planed Parenthood pin. We had [faux] gorilla fur sweaters knitted from Peruvian Alpaca go down the runway, as well as outerwear embellished with bananas and 'GG' initials in crystals. There was also a 'gorilla eating a banana' look."
The Guerrilla Girls have been fighting discrimination, particularly in the art world, and supporting human rights causes for over 30 years, creating more than 100 street projects, posters and stickers across the globe. Its members wear gorilla masks to preserve their anonymity, shifting the focus from themselves to the issues at hand, and have staged protests at high-profile venues such as the Whitney Museum. Their activities call attention to the minimal presence of women in gallery spaces beyond their traditional role as nude subjects of the male gaze.
At the Tome show, the designers were vocal about the negative impacts of anti-female government policies, but chose to present their commentary with a feeling of levity and irreverence. "There's a lot of value in self-expression, and if you're able to vocalize the tenets that are important to you through what you wear, why not?" says Martin.
Tome also made statements about sustainability – the Peruvian alpaca faux fur elements were handmade by women's collectives in the Andes – and some pieces were created using recycled items from previous collections. The presentation also boasted a Canadian connection, with jewellery by Closer by WWAKE, a conflict-free line produced in Brooklyn by Vancouver-born Wing Yau.
Aside from politics, Martin points to an increased level of consumer awareness about the origin of clothing as another reason activism is becoming more prominent in the garment industry. "We hope that soon, producing clothes ethically will become the norm," Martin says. "You vote with your money, so to speak, so make your dollar count."
THIS WEEK'S STYLE HAPPENINGS
- Montreal is getting a double dose of Vancouver-style footwear with the arrival of the city’s second John Fluevog Shoes boutique (180 St. Paul St. W.). Opening on Feb. 18 in Old Montreal, this location will feature three specially commissioned portraits of the footwear designer by Canadian artist Andy Dixon and lighting by Matthew McCormick alongside Fluevog’s characteristically vibrant soles. For more information, visit www.fluevog.com.
- British fashion house Burberry is teaming up with the Henry Moore Foundation on a special exhibition of the sculptor’s work. Running Feb. 21-27 at Makers House in London, more than 40 pieces will be on display, including sculptures, monumental bronzes and working models. The exhibition will also include Burberry’s February 2017 collection available for purchase, following its direct-to-consumer runway unveiling at London Fashion Week on Feb. 20. For more information, visit https://show.burberry.com/uk/feb-2017/makers-house/.
- Toronto’s Sid Neigumis taking his collection to London Fashion Week for the second consecutive season. On Feb. 18, the award-winning designer will present his fall 2017 collection at the Alex Eagle concept boutique in Soho. Keeping it in the family, Neigum’s importing fellow Canadian Daniel Fiorio for backstage hairstyling duty. For more information, visit www.sidneigum.com.