Girl Power Ruled the Runway at NYFW

Inspired by the energy around January's historic Women's March, this season's shows advocated for women's rights in the era of Trump.

by Erica Euse
Feb 20 2017, 2:01pm

When model Bella Hadid made her way down the runway for the finale of Prabal Gurung's fall/winter 2017 show, she wasn't wearing one of the designer's delicate sheer tops or draped in a luxe intarsia fur coat from the collection. Instead, Hadid sported a white T-shirt with the words "The Future Is Female" emblazoned across the front in black block letters. She was followed by a chorus of other models who wore similar politically-driven tees with slogans like "Nevertheless, She Persisted" (an ode to Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren) and "Our Minds, Our Bodies, Our Power," while John Lennon's "Imagine" played in the background.

"Today, I bring to you the women who inspire me―those made of strength, inner beauty, graceful femininity, and vigilance," Gurung wrote in his notes for the NYFW show, which took place on February 11. "We are awake, alive, and inspired to celebrate women from all walks of life. This is the time to speak our conviction and use our voices to invoke change. This is the upside of the downside."

Gurung was just one of many who used the runway to get political during Fashion Week. From designers like Becca McCharen of Chromat who closed her show with a performance that featured UNIIQU3 rapping "Fuck Donald Trump" to LRS Studio who printed phrases like "No Ban, No Wall" on their underwear, it was hard to find a fashion show that didn't offer some commentary on the current political climate. But this season many designers seemed especially eager to speak out for women's rights.

Designer Mara Hoffman, who was one of the more than two million people who took part in the worldwide Women's March last month, invited the protest's four co-chairs to open her fall/winter 2017 presentation. Dressed in head-to-toe black, Brooklyn-based fashion designer Bob Bland, social justice activist Tamika Mallory, social justice advocate Carmen Perez, and civil rights activist Linda Sarsour recited parts of the Women's March mission statement along with empowering quotes from activist and author Maya Angelou, before models and contemporary dancers showcased Hoffman's colorful printed dresses and geometric monochrome outerwear.

"In a time when so many people and so many creatives like myself felt a little lost and unsure of what to do, these women came together and turned to action, leading the largest human rights protest in history. I am deeply inspired by them, and the myriad of fearless activists in the world, and all the women that they stand for," Hoffman told me over email when I asked her about including activists in her show.

Ahead of New York Fashion Week, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) announced that it would be teaming up with Planned Parenthood, an organization that has been directly threatened under the Trump administration, despite the fact that it provides critical health care to millions of Americans each year. Trump's administration has already taken action to defund the organization because in addition to cancer screenings and HIV testing, it offers abortions.

The CFDA, the trade association behind the bi-annual NYFW, passed out large pink pins to attendees that said "Fashion Stands with Planned Parenthood," which were seen sprinkled throughout the crowds at each show. It also pledged to donate $5.00 (with an aggregate maximum of $5,000) to Planned Parenthood for each image of the "pin that is shared on Instagram with the hashtag "#IStandWithPP."

The group urged the more than 40 designers who were participating in NYFW to wear the pin on their final walk or place it on one or more models in their show, but many took their support for Planned Parenthood much further.

Jonathan Simkhai lined the front row benches at his show with white T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Feminist AF" and a note that explained that $5 for each seat in the house would be donated to Planned Parenthood.

"I am fortunate to be surrounded by many strong and powerful women in my work and personal life. I was very moved by the energy and emotion I felt when I went to the Women's March in DC and I wanted to show my support and solidarity," said Simkhai to me over email. He is also selling the $95 tees online with all profits going to the organization.

Designer Adam Lippes showed his support for women ahead of his presentation. He had models dressed in his silk floral skirts and pantsuits pose near Washington Square Park holding colorful protest signs that read "My Body, My Choice," "Girl Power," and "Adam Lippes Stands with Planned Parenthood."

The brand MILLY, known for its contemporary womenswear designs worn by stars like Beyoncé and Solange Knowles, also gave out T-shirts to attendees that said things like "Steinem AF," a nod to author and feminist icon Gloria Steinem.

"During the time I was designing this collection, the world changed dramatically. The elections left me feeling defeated, especially as a woman. I now feel like I have to fight hard for all sorts of rights I once took for granted…" wrote Michelle Smith, the creative director of MILLY on Instagram.

Hoffman shared similar feelings urgency to me when we talked on the phone, especially the desire to use her fashion as a platform to make a difference.

"We can see that making noise, that protesting, that coming together, can create real change, so it felt right to somehow speak to women's rights, and to lend my platform to these powerful leaders," Hoffman explained to me. "Under this administration, humans are not being treated humanely. Women's rights are at risk and at the hands of people who have treated women more like political currency than people. There are so many that have put themselves on the line for my rights, how can I not use my voice to do the same?"

Follow Erica on Twitter.

Lead Photo: A model walks the runway at the Prabal Gurung show during New York Fashion Week at Skylight Clarkson Sq. (Photo by Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)