Equality. That was the word branded across tonight’s A/W 17 Versace collection. That and 'unity', 'courage', 'loyalty' and 'love'. It's odd when fashion tries to get on its high horse about such a theme, given that it's an industry that profits from huge disparities of wealth, relying on the super rich for sales, and in turn promotes an illusive, unattainable style of beauty that is for the most part oppressively white. But fashion can be an industry of acceptance - one that offers a safe space for the freaks and geeks who make up the motley crew of designers, stylists and editors who keep the industry moving. Donatella Versace has always been someone who promotes happiness - she's all about the good times, all about the amore. So this message didn’t feel too directly like an attempt to profit from the spirit of the times or the political zeitgeist, even if every designer worth their salt this season has jumped on the 'women for women'/'the future is female' bandwagon. Donatella Versace is a strong woman, leading a powerhouse company while also serving as the mothership for glamorous powerhouse women. So her decision to promote 'the power of women, and women who know how to use their power,' and offer 'a call for unity, and the strength that comes from positivity and hope', didn’t feel too baseless. Why shouldn’t she use her platform to speak out? There's never any loftiness or cynicism on her runway - so I read this statement as sincere. Sincere, but maybe not sensitive or sufficiently considered. To put it simply, fashion may have nothing to do with equality, but that doesn't mean that designers can’t still believe in it as a principle, they just need to think twice about how they marry the two elements.
In the end it comes down to awareness and empathy. Some of the messages on this runway read well. The punkish hair felt fitting. The slogans, though largely meaningless given they’re on a thousand dollar dress or jacket rather than a placard or front page, looked current given the vogue for slogans and power wording. The interplay between hard and soft - micro mini flippy dresses with tough outerwear - felt relevant. Other messages should have been more considered. I found the quantity of hooded garments strange. As models emerged with their hoods up, stomping around the runway under this banner of equality I thought of how political the hood is. It maybe the last truly political garment. People have lost their lives in part because of their choice to wear one. I doubt the hoodies were included for that reason, or that it occurred to the Versace team that essays could be written about the hoodie in relation to an equality slogan. I thought of David Hammons’ 1993 artwork, In the Hood, where the cut off hood from a generic dark green hoodie is mounted on the wall like a hunting trophy. I thought of thousands of protesters wearing their hoods up as a symbol of anger at the murder of Trayvon Martin. And I thought that while fashion can open eyes, it too must open its eyes. It too should do better. Words are just words.