Catwalks and controversy: how the fashion industry became a platform for far more than style statements

For years now we have seen fashion be used as a platform for making political statements in order to create a reaction. Topics like feminism, equality and environmental issues are a few popular themes that are often promoted across runways and red carpet events. It’s a chance to get your voice and opinions heard with the guarantee that it will be spoken about online and across social media. Ultimately these designers choose to promote these political statements through fashion because they know they will get a reaction and people will start talking about it! Here are just a few of the best political fashion statements that have been made in the past few years across the red carpet and the catwalks…

Red carpet looks:

Natalie Portman at the Oscars 2020.

Natalie Portman at the Oscars this year walked the red carpet wearing a custom Dior gown and cape which had the names of some female directors who weren’t nominated at this year’s Academy Awards. It took more than 900 hours to make and definitely received a lot of attention as it has been the ninth year that all best director nominees were only male. It isn’t the first time Natalie Portman has raised attention to this issue as she presented the 2018 Golden Globes award for best director and said “and here are the all-male nominees”. Harper’s Bazaar stated “not all heroes wear capes, but Natalie Portman is now one of them”. 

Amanda Seyfried at Twin Peaks red carpet 2017.

Amanda Seyfried walked the red carpet for the Showtime’s upcoming Twin Peaks revival in 2017 where she wore a beautiful little black dress. What really made this stand out was the word ‘Equality’ sewn into the bottom hem of the dress. It was very simple yet got lots of talk online as she has often spoken out about the issue around gender equality and the pay gap. She mentioned in a 2015 interview about her own experiences with the pay inequality. She said “a few years ago, on one of my big budget films, I found I was being paid 10% of what my male co-star was getting, and we were pretty even in status”.

Katharine Hamnett’s slogan tees:

Katharine Hamnett meeting Margaret Thatcher in 1984.

The English fashion designer Katharine Hamnett is best known for political t-shirts and a sustainable and ethical production. She first launched her brand in 1979 with a range of womens designs and then menswear followed in 1981. The same year was the release of her many slogan tees stating ‘Choose Life’, ‘Education Not Missiles’, ‘Save The World’ ‘Worldwide Nuclear Ban Now’ and ‘You Me, Save The Sea’. The famous band Wham wore her ‘choose life’ slogan t shirts in one of their videos, however the most famous statement was when the fashion designer met Margaret Thatcher in 1984 where she unzipped her jacket and it revealed her t shirt saying “58% don’t want Pershing”, an anti-nuclear statement. Katharine Hamnett London re-launched in 2017 and features a section on “activist t-shirts” surrounding topics all relevant today, as well as being sustainable and ethically produced in Italy. Campaign slogan tees are also available through this site, each for a specific cause with profits going to further the work of relevant charities and organisations. Some of the most recent have been “Brexit” and “Choose Love”. Slogan tees have continuously been featured in many fashion houses with so many high street shops jumping on the bandwagon too. 

Runway shows:

Chanel Spring 2015

Chanel’s Spring 2015 show.

Chanel’s Spring 2015 collection screamed feminism as it closed the show with models Cara Delevigne and Caroline de Maigret holding megaphones with a parade of models behind including Kendall Jenner, Georgia May Jagger and Edie Campbell holding signs that said “History is Her Story”, “Feminism Not Masochism”, “We Can Match the Machos” and “Ladies First”. Male models were also seen with banners some reading “He For She” which links to Emma Watson’s global UN campaign. These models were on the Boulevard Chanel streets in a French boulevard created inside the Grand Palais. One sign stated “Free Freedom” which people speculated linked to models Cara Delevigne and Kendall Jenner who had instagrammed a picture post-show captioned ‘free the nipple’. The song “I’m every woman” was playing through the speakers as people were dancing in their seats at the show. 

Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood’s ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 2014.
Vivienne Westwood’s ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 2013.

Vivienne Westwood has become known for making political statements on and off the runway. She has used many catwalk collections to present her views on themes like climate and Brexit using slogan tees and getting models to walk the runway holding signs and banners. A “Climate Revolution” banner was held up at the end of her spring/summer 2013 show; and then for the spring/summer 2014 show the models looked like zombies wearing outfits with “Climate” printed on them. In 2016 she turned her catwalk show into a protest for the Red Label collection as she had models carrying placards with “Austerity is a crime” and “Fracking is a crime” on them.

Viktor & Rolf

This Dutch fashion house in their 2019 haute couture show aimed to “expressive power of clothing”. It featured 18 dresses which had ruffles and puffed sleeves printed with slogans like “No photos please” and “Sorry I’m late, I didn’t want to come”. These statements were meant to “reference the kind of language used on social media or souvenir T-shirts”. They don’t have particular meanings but instead is left for those to come to their own conclusions on what it is expressing.


@dior on Instagram
@dior on Instagram

At Dior’s Fall 2020 show this year lit up neon phrases were placed above the runway stating things like; “Patriarchy kills love”, “Women’s love is unpaid labour”, “Women raise the upraising” and “Consent”. These were designed in collaboration with feminist artist Claire Fontaine. “Consent” definitely got the biggest reaction as less than 24 hours before this show Harvey Weinstein had been convicted of sexual assault and rape. Chiuri – Dior’s first female director has often used feminist slogans even in some designs as she previously designed the famous “We should all be feminists” white T-shirt.

That is a few ways fashion has used its platform to promote political statements and will continue to make more each year!

By Megan Summers