On Monday last week, at her eighteenth-floor atelier on West Thirty-seventh Street, in the garment district, the French fashion designer Sophie Theallet showed me her fall collection. For the past two seasons, she has eschewed the traditional runway show during New York Fashion Week, preferring not to compete with the mega-labelsâ theatrics. Theallet, who worked for years as the first assistant to the couturier and shoe designer Azzedine AlaÃ¯a, is known for the dresses she crafts in materials such as raffia and feathersâwhich, she said, in any case, are better seen up close. Her new collection features thick, exposed shoulder pads, some embroidered with thin metal shingles. âArmor DâAmour,â as she called it, is a collection for the embattled. Last November, Theallet became the first U.S. designer to break with fashionâs traditional apolitical stance when she publicly announced that she would not dress First Lady Melania Trump. She was followed by others, including Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford.
After the election, some designers boycotted fashion retailers that stocked Trump-family fashion brands. In retaliation, Trump supporters have called for boycotts of the retailers, such as Nordstrom and Macyâs, that have dropped those brands. Two small boutiques cancelled their orders of Thealletâs spring merchandise, leaving her holding the goods. Theallet said that she received more than five thousand messages, many featuring the letters âP.O.S.,â which Theallet, a French immigrant, initially hoped were intended to praise her for being positive. She recalled the moment that her husband, Steve Francoeur, who is also her labelâs chief executive, had corrected her. âHe told me it means âpiece of shit,âÂ â she said, with a peal of appalled-sounding laughter. The messages were the inspiration behind a capsule collection of T-shirts that feature the words âLIVE POS,â which I noticed hanging on a rack in her studio.
With a few exceptions, fashion designersâ taste for courting controversy is limited to the aesthetic realm: an exposed breast, say, or perhaps a stand against using fur. During Hillary Clintonâs Presidential campaign, they engaged in the way they knew bestâwith fund-raising parties. Meanwhile, designers continued business as usualâredefining silhouettes, for instance, which had been getting voluminous to the max. When Maria Grazia Chiuri, in her first runway show as the creative director of Christian Dior, in September, sent out models in white tees that read âWE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS,â the response was tepid.
Something changed after Donald Trumpâs Inauguration: during this yearâs Fashion Week, politics spilled onto the runways. Prabal Gurung created an entire collection of slogan tees (âThe Future Is Female,â âWe Will Not Be Silenced,â âNevertheless She Persistedâ), which he paraded in front of Huma Abedin, the former vice-chair of Clintonâs campaign, to cheering and applause. (Some of the proceeds from the collection will go to the A.C.L.U., Planned Parenthood, and Gurungâs own Shikshya Foundation Nepal.) Last Sunday, Public School, a trendy young label known for tailoring hoodies and other street wear, presented slogan hats that read âMake America New York.â (The message seemed unlikely to resonate across the nationâs midlands, but the runway music was all-American: a throaty cover of Woody Guthrieâs âThis Land Is Your Land.â) The Council of Fashion Designers of America distributed big pink buttonsÂ emblazoned with the words âFashion Stands with Planned Parenthoodââconveniently equipped with magnetic closures, the better to protect expensive clothing.
Beyond feminist slogans, the fashion industry has clearly been doing some soul-searching. On Tuesday, shortly before Brandon Maxwellâs show, on the sixty-eighth floor of the 4 World Trade Center tower, Ivan Bart, the president of IMG Models, told me that he recently had an epiphany aboutÂ the many high-profile clients he promotes as one of the worldâs biggest modelling agents. âI realized I was part of the problem,â Bart said. Several weeks ago, he issued an open letter that encouraged designers âto celebrate our diverse talent by considering all of our models, regardless of their sizes and backgrounds.â On Wednesday, Halima Aden, a Somali-American model represented by IMG who competed at the Miss Minnesota U.S.A. contest wearing a burkini, made her modelling dÃ©but, forÂ Yeezy, in a snug black hijab and an ankle-length faux-fur coat.
That same day, I went to see the Marchesa show, where the designers Keren Craig and Georgina Chapman both wore velvet and black lace, as well as the C.F.D.A.âs pink buttons, for their final bow. Backstage, I asked if the rainbow-hued, floor-length tassel fringe on the labelâs opening lookâa high-necked cap-sleeved gown of black Chantilly laceâhad been a statement of L.G.B.T.Q. support. âNo, but I like that!â Craig said. Chapman chimed in, âYou canât complain unless you participate.â They declined to comment on the question of whether or not they would dress Melania Trump. Fashion, an industry of small companies with famous names, is an awkward political entity: influential, but also highly vulnerable, and reliant on this seasonâs sales to fund next seasonâs collection.
Backstage at his labelâs show on Friday, Jeremy Scott wore a pair of loud pants from Moschino, an Italian brand that he also designs, and an orange sweatshirt from his eponymous fall collection. The sweater bore a cartoonish blue head with bulging eyes and a torrent of green ooze spewing from its skull, which Scott later told me was âall about our collective heads exploding.â His collection opened with a pair of velvety pants with an image of Jesus on the legs. When I asked about them, he shrugged. âI just felt it,â he said. âIâm not for religion and Iâm not against it.â The T-shirts that he handed out to his models as they headed toward hair and makeup were easier to interpret; Scott hoped the models might make use of the data printed on the backs, which included the names and phone numbers of every U.S. senator. The Dominican model known as Dilone wore hers with the short sleeves rolled up around her shoulders for the pre-show rehearsal. Gigi Hadid, wearingÂ a beige trenchcoat tied in the back, in the latest impractical fashion, carried hers in hand.
The designer Philipp Plein, who dÃ©buted his bling-y collection of puffer coats and track pants at the New York Public Library, on Fifth Avenue, hired performers dressed as the Statue of Liberty to greet guests on the buildingâs front steps. Inside, the beauty entrepreneur Julie Macklowe, who wore a Plein jumpsuit covered in small mirrors, paraded her bright-pink trucker hat, which read âGrab âEm by the Pussy.â Across the rotunda from the celebrity front row, which included Madonna, a vocal critic of Trump, Tiffany Trump, the Presidentâs twenty-three-year-old daughter, sat with two friends. As flashbulbs went off around us, two fashion editors told me that they were moving to find other seats, away from the Trump posse. I took a photo of their conspicuously empty seats, which seemed to represent an essential conflict. When I looked at my phone the following day, the picture had gone viral. Many responded with thumbs-ups and smiley faces, but to others, in a week of vocal support for women, fashionâs mean girls seemed to have gone low.