LONDON — As if the stress of putting together a fashion show wasn’t enough, this season designers also had to cast their votes in a snap — and divisive — general election the day before London Fashion Week Men’s began.
Despite the surprise result — a weakened Conservative Party, a hung parliament and a humiliated prime minister who was left scrambling to make a deal with Northern Ireland’s right-wing Democratic Unionist Party — many designers chose to focus on the positive.
“The youth turnout was awesome. We have hope, we are engaging in politics, and voting for a 68-year-old man, a great guy,” said Phoebe English, referring to Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, which gained 32 seats in the election.
Speaking on the sidelines of her presentation on Friday, where models dressed in workwear-inspired clothing played with lumps of clay, English said her generation doesn’t want “robots, spin doctors, or politicians. We want human beings. I must have cried four times this morning, because people are using their voices to say they want change.”
Although the official numbers won’t be published until later this week, an ITV poll reported that 72 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted, compared with 43 percent in the 2015 general election.
Matthew Miller also noted the youth surge. “I’m feeling positive that the younger generation has gone out and voted. It’s a politicized generation now that can express themselves and get involved in politics. It’s about time that they changed politicians’ attitudes. Politicians are essentially employed by us, the people, so it’s about time they started working for us.”
Over the weekend, Miller sent out punkish-looking male and female models with blue or purple lipstick smeared across their mouths, wearing clothes that at first glance looked subversive. Calling his collection “degenerate,” Miller said it was his response to “this young generation which is now politicized, and their carefree, unadulterated freedom.”
Daniel W. Fletcher had vowed to dye his colorful collection black if Prime Minister Theresa May won, but he changed his mind since the result wasn’t exactly a victory for the Conservatives.
The designer created a baseball cap with the word “OUT” embroidered on it, the sole sign of his political protest. “I designed the cap pre-election, but now it has taken on a whole different meaning. The Tories have formed a government with the Democratic Unionist Party, described by the LGBT community as ‘an abomination.’ As a gay man, I’m disgusted by it. So now, for me, the cap means out and proud,” he said.
Patrick Grant of E. Tautz describes himself as “centrist and progressive,” and said he finds the idea of a hung parliament intriguing.
“There is a lot of polarization in politics at the moment and a lot of posturing. The fact that we’ve got a hung parliament is going to be interesting. I don’t mind it. It means that politicians actually have to debate, and it’s not about one big party sweeping through all sorts of whatever they want. It’s going to have to be about discussion and agreement and finding a consensus — and I think that’s good.”
Jonathan Anderson, who was born and raised in Northern Ireland, and who now lives between London and Paris, said: “I think it’s a very interesting period, it’s very difficult and fundamentally we have a shift in terms of age demographic. We are in the midst of Brexit, which is what the country wanted. But you need strong leadership for something like that.
“I think the problem arises when you have got such a split, and when you are dealing with two weak leaders [Theresa May and head of the DUP Arlene Foster]. There needs to be a change of guard, a new way of changing politics at the moment.”
Other designers were also thinking about Brexit, and the impact that will have on their businesses.
“At the moment I’m more worried about Brexit, and I hope they get a deal that’s good for everyone, for Europe, for us, because we’re so international. I hope it’s not going to be a hard crazy battle, because it could easily happen, and that would be my worst nightmare. But let’s see,” said Raimund Berthold.
Meanwhile, at Graduate Fashion Week, a student showcase that wrapped up the day before the election on June 7, young designers voiced their views about the state of British society with slogans.
Lauren McArthur, a design student from the University of Creative Arts Rochester, printed phrases such as “I’m Lost” on girly, pastel-hued dresses, while Sarah Rafferty from Nottingham Trent University splashed words such as “Woe to the Rich” or “Money Is Power” on oversized pinstripe suits for men.
“It’s not something that we used to see in the past, but students now realize that you can’t ignore what’s going on around you. At the same time they are all young and creative so the atmosphere is still very positive,” said Martyn Roberts, the event’s creative and managing director.
For more on the men’s spring/summer 2018 season, watch this: