When Nicolas Ghesquière's Spring 2021 collection for Louis Vuitton hit the Paris Fashion Week runway yesterday, his first look got straight to the point: Vote. The four letters were spray-painted in yellow and red across a pink stripe on a white knitted sweater — the wording was loud and the instruction was clear (and the design was a little bit Walmart), but its meaning remained open to interpretation.
That's not really surprising. As Business of Fashion asserted this weekend, "promoting democracy and free and fair elections is the safe option." By putting a vote-embellished garment on the runway, brands are able to connect with an audience at a time when politics are permeating most aspects of everyday life and people are becoming increasingly aware — not just in America, but globally. And by not making a statement about who to vote for, they can do so without alienating anyone that shares a different political opinion.
“It's a real risk to do nothing now,” said Ashley Spillane, president of consulting firm Impactual. “Complacency is what is problematic for a lot of consumers and a lot of employees at companies.” But, one could argue, in light of the political climate and the increasing number of people speaking up and out, that simply spraying "vote" on a sweater while remaining silent on bigger issues is another form of complacency. If you're going to take the step of putting politics on the runway, why not do so with both feet?
Fashion moves at such a break-neck pace that a show is always the most talked-about moment of any collection. With that in mind, Ghesquière putting the sweater first was intentional. He aimed for virality and conversation and (clearly) it worked. Thus, the top served its purpose: It reminded people of the importance of voting. But when we're talking about LV — a house that hired Virgil Abloh, the first Black designer to helm a luxury label — one "vote" jumper feels a smidge thin in relation to the power and influence that brand holds. It feels like lip-service; like money moves; like it could be doing even more.
Like, for example, Thom Browne, who partnered directly with Joe Biden to make election merch, the profits of which will go directly to the Democratic presidential campaign. And to Patagonia, who sewed "Vote the Assholes Out" into their labels, a move that backs years of funding policies that support the fight against climate change, and publically slamming those that don't. And like Pyer Moss and its leader Kerby Jean-Raymond, who speaks loudly and often about implementing action steps to fight systemic racism — when he drops a "vote" shirt, it doesn't feel like another drop in an ocean of sheep.