This may be the most political New York fashion week yet: statements no longer limited to a broad principle or call to arms, but extending to meet specific campaigns. Jeremy Scott’s show featured a T-shirt that read “Tell your Senator No on Kavanaugh”, referring to the president’s supreme court nomination, a man so enamoured of the second amendment that next season’s catwalk, should that “no” not work, would have to include holsters. Christian Siriano, meanwhile, went with “Vote for Cynthia”, in some ways a straightforward message (senators can’t always pull it out of the bag; whereas a vote for the governor of New York is still a vote), in other ways more complicated (is Cynthia Nixon the decent-person’s choice? Or the fashion choice? Or both?).
It is an extension and amplification of the mood of 2017, although of course politics and fashion did not first meet in 2017: there were slogan T-shirts before that, memorably, the execrable “this is what a feminist looks like”, which failed on all kinds of due diligence, such as checking it wasn’t manufactured in a sweatshop, and that those wearing it did actually look like feminists (Theresa May?). Long before that, in 1984, Katharine Hamnett wore a T-shirt emblazoned with “58% don’t want Pershing” to meet Margaret Thatcher, and that scandalised the world, except for the bits that didn’t know what Pershing meant.
But last year, slogans bit, being more memorable and profound, less anodyne and platitudinous. Siriano’s T-shirt that year read “People are People” (an assertion of universalism almost Hannah Arendt-esque) to Public School’s “Make America New York” caps (possibly the most unabashed defence of liberal values since the president’s election; previously, the one thing everyone agreed on was that New York was the pits, the crucible of elites).
The fashion world has always dressed leftwards but – in its inescapable rabid possessive individualism – tended rightwards, which made its most comfortable political position-taking that of “irony”. Hillary Clinton was embraced ironically in the post-modern adulation of the pant suit; then her supporters turned the irony back on the business, with a 2016 unofficial range of scrunchy merchandise, a reference to Oscar de la Renta’s famous injunction that she should cut her hair.
What sounds like the most moving show of this week was that of Kerby Jean-Raymond, staged at the Weeksville Heritage Center, on the site of one of the nation’s first free African-American communities, with a 40-strong gospel choir singing the models out. Jean-Raymond said it was time to deal with the “present-day moment of people calling the cops on black men having a barbecue”. “What black American leisure looks like” is political, because everything is. The new mood, jettisoning irony for passion, is perhaps the only thing that makes sense in the shit-got-real era. Two things are buoying, from a feminist perspective; one, to see fashion make a statement that isn’t about women’s looks; two, Cynthia Nixon on the front row.