Tense Politics and NYFW: The International Perspective

Three industry veterans lent us their insight

02.06.17
MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 15: Tamu McPherson arrives at the Salvatore Ferragamo show during Milan Men's Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2017/18 on January 15, 2017 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Jacopo Raule/Getty Images)

New York Fashion Week kicks off this Thursday. It feels like an odd time for the gears of everyday to click to a halt in service of fashion, doesn’t it? But for media outlets and fashion fans, that’s what this time has always meant. I mean, the chaos is practically folklore: the wonky long hours, the overlapping shows, the decked-out events, the swarms of street-style photographers…

This season feels appropriately different though. We’re in the throes of a far more dire strain of chaos. Political protest, social outrage, palpable tension in our own streets and across the globe. The question on a lot of our minds is how will these two intersect and to what degree. It’s the same one we’re asking in our everyday lives: at what point does “the show must go on” demand interrupting? We’re all still grappling.

“America, the home of freedom and democracy, now seems like an unpredictable country. It terrifies and upsets me deeply,” Yaprak Aras told me. She’s the former Features Editor for Vogue Turkey and she’s been drawing some unsettling parallels between the turmoil in the U.S. and that of Turkey, which she’s witnessed unfold firsthand for the past 15 years.

With immigration in particular focus, I asked three seasoned fashion veterans in the international community to lend us their perspective. How were these ripples registering for them abroad? Were they still planning to come? How should brands and media navigate this? Scroll down to read what they told me.


Yaprak Aras
Yaprak worked in the fashion/media industry from 12 years and is the former features editor for Vogue Turkey. She currently lives in Istanbal where she oversees a monthly, curated bazaar and store of her own making called SOUQ.

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How has the political climate in America registered for you abroad? Has it changed your view of America?

“We are actually 15 years ahead of America, isn’t that fantastic!” wrote one of the Turkish parody accounts yesterday. Meaning: Turkey has been experiencing similar turmoil for more than a decade. The executive orders, the polarization, the unrest, the partisanship — it all feels very familiar to us in Turkey. We’ve had our very own rogue POTUS staff twitter account for years!

Personally, it both has and has not changed my view of the States. Up until this November, New York has always been an escape for me. A place where all I dealt with was the cold, a place where I didn’t have to talk or think about politics, even for a few days. But when I visited New York after the elections, I could feel the disappointment and tension in the air. My talks with American friends over cocktails mostly consisted of politics. Being politicized is good. But for someone like me — having been in it for years — I did not quite enjoy it. The New York Times is no longer an escape from the depressing Turkish media either.

America, the home of freedom and democracy, now seems like an unpredictable country. It terrifies and upsets me deeply. But to see people defending not only their own rights but everyone’s — protesting in the cold, marching on the streets — it brings tears and hope. That is the America we know and love. In the end, it is the people who make a country, not the leaders.

How are you feeling about this upcoming NY Fashion Week, all considered?

NYFW is an important dynamo for the fashion industry. I am excited about the shows, the collections, the designers and their possible take on the new political climate. America has become politicized in a very short period of time and this will be felt in all aspects of life, especially in the creative fields.

Has it altered your plans to come in any way?

I have not been going to the fashion weeks since I started my own business, but if I was still an editor, I would definitely come. I am planing to come to New York for a week in April. That is, if Turkey is not added to the list of the banned countries.

Do you expect the unrest to be felt over the course of the week and in the shows?

Unrest can, of course, effect every aspect of life, from traffic to people’s morale. If the ban goes on, the fashion industry might see tangible affects where attendance is concerned. Iranian filmmaker and Oscar-nominee Asghar Farhadi cannot attend the Academy Awards and is protesting it now. Similarly, I am sure there are many people in fashion that won’t be able to make it to the shows. Apart from that, the whole thing might not be as joyful, as colorful. Parties might get cancelled. But it is important that the fashion week goes on, even if it feels like a trade show, since fashion is a very big industry especially in the States.

During one Istanbul Fashion Week, a 14-year-old boy was hit with a gas canister during the Gezi protests and died on the first day. Thousands of people took to the streets. Many shows were canceled on those two days. The ones who did show did without music and carried slogans on the runway. During another fashion week, we had a mine explosion and hundreds of workers died. So it was protested again on the catwalk. Designers or brands can find creative ways to express their thoughts, react and protest if they feel like it. If America goes on to mirror our experience, all the industries and people will exist in a permanent state of “crisis management,” just as we did in the last couple of years. “Shall we cancel the show?” “Do we have to release a statement?” “What should we tweet?” “Will people protest if we don’t cancel the party?”

Do you think designers, brands or the media in attendance has a responsibility to bring politics into their approach?

The media has a huge responsibility. Even if you are neutral, you cannot refrain from something this huge. The Women’s March was a great moment in history. As have been the protests in response to the Muslim-targeted immigration ban. Even the entertainment outlets have to cover them up to some point. As long as there is free press, they have to. It is their responsibility. Same goes with fashion and media outlets. Everyone will have to find a way to engage, because if you are tweeting about red carpet style when everyone is talking about human rights, you are suddenly irrelevant and insensitive. We got to a point in Turkey where we couldn’t tweet about daily stuff before reading the news and understanding what’s going on.

The big brands might refrain from getting political, but designers probably won’t. I’m guessing we’ll see the impact of current events in this or next season’s collections.


Tamu McPherson

Tamu has been working the fashion/media industry for 11 years and is the former Editor-in-Chief of Grazia.it. She was born in Jamaica and moved to New York when she was six. She currently lives in Milan where she writes and photographs for the site she founded, All the Pretty Birds.

How has the political climate in America registered for you abroad? Has it changed your view of America?

I grew up in the U.S., so I am deeply disturbed by the election of Donald Trump. I am extremely disappointed with those who voted for him. I am sadly not surprised that they chose to maintain their privilege in society notwithstanding Trump’s blatant racism, misogyny, xenophobia, religious intolerance, climate denial and other hate-based principles. The U.S. has deep-rooted problems that need to be brought to the surface so healing and change can occur. Trump’s horror show of a rise to the presidency is our opportunity to address those issues, and I hope that we don’t waste it.

How are you feeling about this upcoming NY Fashion Week, all considered?

I always look forward to NYFW because New York is my hometown. I look forward to coming this season to hug my friends, try and relieve some of the anguish they are experiencing, participate in as many conversations as time permits and sign up for action.

Has it altered your plans to come in any way?

No, not at all. Maintaining your regular activity is a part of resistance. Not coming would be tantamount to throwing up my hands in surrender. I am traveling to New York to support the designers and my industry.

Do you expect the unrest to be felt over the course of the week and in the shows?

Yes I do, considering that Trump is rattling off Executive Orders like there is no tomorrow. I expect frustration and anger in response to Trump’s policies on a daily basis. And I expect protests and marches. I’m mentally prepared to participate in one while I’m in New York.

Do you think designers, brands or the media in attendance has a responsibility to bring politics into their approach?

I believe that all citizens do when civil and human rights are at risk. Fashion designers and fashion publications have participated in political conversations throughout history. They have used their collections and images to communicate their positions. It is a natural thing to do, a way to align themselves and their core beliefs with clients and readers. And if those beliefs don’t resonate with some people, then they can decide for themselves whether to continue to support the brand, magazine or site.


Hana Tajima
Hana is a Muslim British-Japanese visual artist and clothing designer for her eponymous brand. She most recently launched a collaboration with UNIQLO (the latest release of which will be available in February). She’s been living and working in New York since 2012.

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How has the political climate in America registered for you as an expat? Has it changed your view of America?

I don’t think my view of Americans has changed, but the change in America has forced us all to re-evaluate what our views are. The fractures that occur are no longer locally or nationally isolated, they create divisions globally.

My home country, England, had also asked a question of itself and found the answer completely unexpected. I think perhaps because the questions are put so simply: in or out. Him or her. They don’t require full knowledge or thought to give a response. It was strange to watch the election and see almost no talk of policy. It was all about pitting freedom against fear. And maybe it’s this distillation of complex ideas that has created such violent and opposing reactions.

How are you feeling about this upcoming NY Fashion Week, all considered?

I’ve been feeling really conflicted. On the one hand I think fashion can be an incredibly valuable platform for allowing people to connect. Maybe because clothing as objects are not inherently political, and because they are so much a part of our existence, they allow us to relate to each other on a basic human level. But there is still a worry that these expressions of resistance and unity might be co-opted and presented to a group of people who, myself included, are incredibly jaded. There is a tendency to feel as though fear and grief have become the highest currencies, a way to trade in power. So that even the truest reactions feel somehow manipulated.

Has it altered your plans to come in any way?

It hasn’t. In all honesty, I don’t know how I feel or how to react to what is happening, and my best guess is not to react one way or another until I can make sense of how to help effectively.

Do you expect the unrest to be felt over the course of the week and in the shows?

I think so, yes. And perhaps that’s not a bad thing. It feels like a natural response to what feels like an incredibly turbulent time.

Do you think designers, brands or the media in attendance has a responsibility to bring politics into their approach?

No more than at any other moment. I feel like so much of what has fed into the state of things is in the fanfare and narratives that draw our attention away from the complexities of what is actually happening. That said, I think there is a way to talk about the political climate in a way that doesn’t reduce it to sensation. Perhaps it’s just that the demand for our attention can be deafening and sometimes it’s those most precious voices that get drowned out.

Photos Courtesy of Subjects. Tamu Photo by Jacopo Raule via Getty Images.

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  • Thank you for this post, making the connection between the current political situation and fashion is an excellent way to reach people who may not be involved in the discussion otherwise. It’s nice to know how industry professionals view this problem but also nice that they are not willing to stay away from fashion week as a result.

  • Lanatria Brackett Ellis

    I really enjoyed this piece as well.The perspective from 3 different women with different backgrounds in the fashion industry about the political climate is refreshing.I love Tamu! As a black woman it is always is inspiring to see my complexion reflected in such a powerful role in the fashion industry.The fact that she is Jamaican like me makes me just want to dutty wine lol.
    http://www.caribbeancowgirl.weebly.com

  • erin

    Love this, esp. the viewpoints from the Turkish editor. I definitely see so many similarities between the politics of Turkey and the U.S. right now. Both are run by complete fascist freaks who are obsessed with their own power, ego, and haven’t grown out of their little boy shorts. So interesting to see this on your blog. Thanks for sharing.