A well-intentioned but oftentimes questionably-executed trend has emerged from runways this season: the use of slogan T-shirts as a way for designers to address politics during Fashion Week. While some have used it as a conduit to show where they stand on certain issues without having to actually "say" it, these graphics can come off as gimmicky (and even comically predictable) with little follow-up or thought behind them. But one U.K.-based label proved that this particular strain of statement is still powerful — and certainly has a place on the catwalk.
On the penultimate day of London Fashion Week, Delhi-born, London-based designer Ashish Gupta whisked showgoers away into his glittering universe — and though superficially covered in sequins, his collections are often some the most thought-provoking, profound, and captivating of the entire month. For instance, he used spring '17 to reflect on (and celebrate) his Indian heritage in the wake of Brexit, making a larger statement about the importance of fostering a rich, diverse culture. His autumnal follow-up was no less emotionally-charged and poignant: A yellow brick road-type runway, lined with sparkling red poppies and topped with an oversized broken heart, opened to the moving piano chords of George Michael’s "Faith," which hung in the silence before "Somewhere over the Rainbow" began.
The show began with a series of rainbow garments — a twinkling mini-dress, styled with matching multicolored mules, and a funnel-necked tunic. The pattern then segued into sport silhouettes, like jerseys and shirts that directly draw from iconic baseball iconography. Gupta borrowed some of the graphics from the L.A. Dodgers, the Boston Red Sox, and other well-known MLB teams. "I love baseball as an inspiration for equality and unity," he told Refinery29 backstage. "The fact that it was the first sport to allow a person of color to play professionally is incredible."
Throughout the collection, Gupta reminded Americans of the spirit of inclusivity that underlines many of its most recognizable, beloved imagery — starting with the baseball jerseys, which are rehashed as sequined tracksuits, jackets, and tops. "This collection brings together the male aesthetic translated in the most feminine way," he explained. "I think I see it this season as more like the pieces being a labour of love, with really positive messaging."
Which brings us to the slogans: Above all, this collection was a celebration of togetherness and positivity — and this was made quite explicit through the text printed (or, rather, rendered in sequins) on a variety of blouses and jackets. Models strode out bearing uplifting and unifying statements such as "Love Sees No Color," "University In Adversity," "As Often As Possible Be Polite and Kind," "Why Be Blue When You Can Be Gay," as well as nods to popular rallying cries from left-leaning Americans, such as "Nasty Woman."
"This was me being like: We need love, we need unity, we need beauty, we need fabulousness, we need to be more gay, we need more diversity because we have to fight the hate," Gupta told Refinery29 of the slogans. By the time he was presenting his fall '17 collection, we had admittedly already become a little jaded by the use of political T-shirts on the runway, following the shows in New York (and earlier examples of statement-making graphics, such as Dior's now-infamous "We Should All Be Feminists" top). Still, Ashish's use of slogans felt refreshingly authentic, at a time when fashion has approached activism as more of a trend than as an agent for change.
Of course, this isn't without precedent for Gupta: Throughout his throughout his 14-year career, he has championed inclusivity through some of the most diverse casting on the London catwalks, on top of presenting collections themselves inspired by the capital’s multiculturalism. So, is the designer put off by fashion’s sudden, seemingly insincere interest in overt political and social outcry? "I think it’s good for everyone to make a statement," he rationalized. "It’s an important time to be doing that."
In the wake of Brexit, Trump's election, and the American ban on immigration, it's become more crucial for those with a platform to speak up — and Ashish happens to do that with his clothes. This time around, though, he also relied on some outside inspiration to really anchor his message. "The Wizard of Oz was really a symbolic film," Gupta noted, referencing the overt role the classic movie played in his fall '17 set design. "Oz was actually Washington when the book was written and the hurricane Dorothy goes through represents the political turmoil at the time. The wizard was an imposter. The lesson is that you need to find the heart and courage within yourself. It’s there, you don’t need to go looking for it.” It's also right there, on the runway.