When Politics Meets the Catwalk


13 Monday 13th September 2010

Every season a designer seems to tread on territory that in most cases is better left alone. With London Fashion Week coming up there will no doubt be a designer that causes shock and controversy. Fashion and political correctness have an uneasy relationship, clashing on many occasions. We look at some of the catwalk shows around the world that have brought politics to runway.

Karl Lagerfield
The Chanel designer caused huge controversy and was repented by Islamic groups around the world when he sent Claudia Schiffer down the runway in a corset with words from the Koran embroidered into it. It was seen as hugely offensive. They both received death threats and required bodyguards for sometime after. Chanel sent out letters to the media requesting that every single image of the outfit, including the negatives, be destroyed. Absolutely no imagery of the garment can be found anywhere in magazines or on the internet. He also caused a stir when he made two black bomber jackets with Chanel’s logo of the two linked C’s looking distinctly like the Nazi swastika – Coco Chanel was allegedly linked to Nazi officers during the war.
Alexander McQueen       
In his early collections he earned the nickname as the ‘hooligan of fashion’ due his somewhat shock tactics and controversial shows. In1995 he created a collection called Highland Rape. It caused a stir and was criticized as a ‘disastrous political statement’ as it featured dishevelled looking models in torn clothing. He claimed that the collection represented the ‘rape’ of the Scottish by the English in the Battle of Culloden. Again in 1999 he caused controversy after being accused of exploiting disabled paraolympian Aimee Mullins in his catwalk show Dazed and confused. McQueen denied the use of disabled models was to gain attention. Mullins, who had her legs amputated at the age of one, strutted down the runway on carved wooden legs designed by McQueen. They were carefully crafted to look like detailed boots. Many people found this distasteful whereas others argued it was widening perceptions of beauty.
Vivienne Westwood
In the SS09 menswear show, the grand old Dame of Punk used Roma Gypsies as models for her catwalk show at Milan Fashion Week. She was accused of having a ‘romantic notion’ about gypsies and an Italian council member criticized the designer for using them in her show as there were fears that they were contributing to rising crime in the area. There are many prejudices against gypsies in Italy. The councillor claimed they “do not work, they live by thieving and have no respect for the law”. A primary school in Naples caused shock when the children were apparently given homework about the burning of gypsy camps. Given the current issues in the area, Westwood’s show was seen by some as offensive. The show was rife with tattoos, piercings, gold tooth caps and medallions.
Givenchy / Marithé François Girbaud
French designers reacted to President Sarkosy’s ban of the Burka at Paris fashion week by bringing the Burka to the catwalk. Givenchy had a show called Modern Arabian Nights which featured bejewelled burkas. It was no coincidence at the time of the political debate about Burkas that designers Marithé and François Girbaud also used clear references to the ban by having floor length and face covering veils in their shows. In both cases it was seen as controversial for appearing to glorify the oppression of women in Islam.

Don't Panic attempt to credit photographers and content owners wherever possible, however due to the sheer size and nature of the internet this is sometimes impractical or impossible. If you see any images on our site which you believe belong to yourself or another and we have incorrectly used it please let us know at panic@dontpaniconline.com and we will respond asap.