By Benjamin J.N. Harrison
Whether in spirit or through direct referencing, much of modern runway fashion has, relatively recently, began toying with the aesthetics of punk and DIY. Whether it’s brands such as Vivienne Westwood that try to encapsulate the zeal of 1970s British anti-establishment youth, or houses like Maison Margiela that place heavy emphasis on repurposing and bringing new life to the old, critiques of the consumeristic roots of fashion have seen a general increase within the industry since the 1980s. Even garments referencing prominent left-wing and anti-capitalist bands such as the Sex Pistols and Television have been on the runway for houses Raf Simons and Undercover respectively.
It might strike some as strange, when they see an embrace of anti-capitalism in an industry that thrives on the most animalistic of human consumption habits. With incessantly exploitative labor conditions and insane price-points, high fashion is practically the antithesis of the punk and DIY spirit. Sure, a genuine appreciation of the artistry involved in such fashion houses is easy to develop, but one cannot deny that it is hypocritical, rude even, to market garments of an anti-establishment aesthetic at prices only the very wealthy can afford.
Artists, which fashion designers are, have been critiquing upper society for centuries, and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, artists should be encouraged to use their talents to view the bourgeois with a critical eye. In the instance of anti-establishment aesthetics in fashion, it is the medium and industry that are in conflict with the artistic sentiment. If fashion weren’t such a necessarily classist and consumeristic medium, perhaps anti-capitalist sentiments would make more sense. As for now, however, massive conglomerates will continue to profit off of aesthetic choices that, in spirit, clash with their business practices.