“I think it was part of the show — it’s hard to tell these days,” replied Antoine Arnault, head of communications and image at LVMH, when asked about the protester who turned up to yesterday's Dior show bearing a yellow banner that read "We Are All Fashion Victims."
Arnault's ambivalence could perhaps be excused given creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri's well-documented past in bringing activism to the runway. From the #MeToo movement and student protests of '60s Paris to environmental issues, Chiuri's never been one to shy from putting a bold message — sometimes literally — in lights. As the infiltrator emerged, those in the front row sat in a state of polite bemusement, not knowing how to react, as if observing an unfunny colleague make a scene of themselves for attention. Was this actual reality? Or was it all part of the act? Are we through the looking glass?
In the time since, it turns out that the gatecrasher was not a plant, but a representative of Extinction Rebellion. It's not the activism's group first fashion week rodeo, having caused quite the ruckus with a funeral march at London Fashion Week last year. "We Are All Fashion Victims" was possibly a play on Chiuri's "We Are All Feminists" T-shirts from a few years back, albeit referencing fashion's continued damage to the planet rather than the notion of idly following trends.
That several people failed to recognize the stunt for what it was is an interesting pause for thought in terms of how protest as an expression has been co-opted by big houses over time. Have Chiuri's on-the-nose runway messages — while no doubt well-intentioned — only served to dilute and desensitize us to the act of true rebellion? Isn't there something icky about the fact that we might, without even realizing, instinctively consider the insurgent to be making a statement on behalf of the billion-dollar business, rather than the cause? (Did I watch too many Adam Curtis documentaries during lockdown?) Maybe it comes back to the fact that we're all just tired of not only brand messages, but brands — period. Or a case that some statements feel more developed and are executed with more subtlety than others.
After the show, LVMH charges reacted to the protest with the kind of casual, oblivious insouciance that tends to be a familiar trait of powerful fashion people. “It was a surprise for everybody,” said Pietro Beccari, chairman and CEO of Christian Dior Couture. “It was so well done, you couldn’t tell what it was!" Sidney Toledano, chairman and CEO of LVMH Fashion Group, offered up a defense of the company, saying: “I don’t think we’re destroying the planet. We’re committed to reducing our environmental impact by cutting our carbon dioxide emissions, tracing our raw materials and so forth. They shouldn’t be targeting us. I think there are industries that pollute much more.” The collection, for what it's worth, comprised 87 looks.
Initial opinion on the clothing appears to be polarized online. Yet it all feels secondary. With the unintentional "help" of Extinction Rebellion, Chiuri's show had a flashpoint that reflected the mood among most people perfectly: Everything feels weird, a bit absurd, and it's difficult to make any sense as to what the hell is going on.