– Breanne Gratton
New York Fashion Week brought us the new Fall 2011 ready-to-wear collections from The Row, Rebecca Minkoff, Jenni Kayne, Jason Wu and more. London Fashion Week brought us the Burberry Prorsum collection, while Milan Fashion Week has brought us an incredible line from Fendi, thus far. But where does the Resistance Against Militarism Fashion Show, held last Friday at the University of Oregon’s Agate Hall, fit into this? Well, truth be told, it doesn’t really. There were no chinchilla coats, no Lagerfeld creations and Lara Stone and Heidi Mount were nowhere in site; however, this show wasn’t about the fashion as much as it was about the message.
The purpose of this show was to raise questions about the influence of the military in modern fashion, the amount of spending for war, and the war’s impacts on the environment, women, and much more.
The idea for the show came from Gwyn Kirk, among other activists in the San Francisco area, around five years ago, says Susan Cundiff, from Oregon Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND).
“When Gwyn was at UO last year  as a visiting professor for Women’s and Gender Studies, she spoke with members of Oregon WAND about it. The message has been relevant since Eisenhower left office, but is more so today as we face budget shortfalls but continue to spend ourselves into debt for war,” says Cundiff.
This particular show comes at a time when military fashion has been huge, not only on the runway but also in streetwear. The military trend was huge for Fall/Winter 2010 with bomber jackets, combat boots, navy peacoats, and cargo pants flying off the racks.
“Looking at the Spring 2010 issue of the New York Times magazine, I was struck by the amount of khaki and camouflage [that was used] in haute couture shows in Milan . . . one can’t help but notice the amount of everyday camo worn by ordinary people of all ages, including babies,” says Janice Zagorin, who also works with WAND.
It is the use of militarism on common society that the show aimed to expose. From fashion, to names of stores, to the way we spend–the show uncovers the influences.
Militarism, as defined by the organizers of the show, is “a broad system of institutions and investments that take their meaning and value from war.” To demonstrate the influence of militarism, designers and models strutted down the runway, while the MC read a script about what the fashion represented, its costs, its repercussion, and its affects on the human psyche.
Some topics covered were: the military budget, sexual assault of female personnel, Wikileaks, Blackwater, activism, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, reaching peace, the resources used in war, the Reagan policy of Star Wars, the derogatory term “Banana Republic” and how it has become a norm.
Almost thirty looks came down the runway with each model representing the ideas through how they walked, their props, their expressions and any acting that the model chose to do.
“The outfits are original designs by many people from Oakland, California, Portland, Eugene, and the University of Oregon.Some models have designed their own outfits and written scripts. The ‘Bomb Gown’ represents the atomic and hydrogen bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII. This was the beginning of U.S. focus on the military as the basis of our economy. ‘Dressed Fit to Overkill’ represents the world showing the location bases and deployed nuclear submarines in the oceans,” says Zagorin.
The “Bomb Gown” was a standout design in the show and was featured on the flyer that advertising the event. In addition, the design about hazardous waste and pollutants was excellent. Instead of having a Vera Wang wedding dress train, it was a train of trash and garbage, including a croc (Hey, who says you can’t have subliminal fashion commentary in a political show?) I was also particularly drawn to the Wikileaks look that featured a clear shower curtain with sensitive documents plastered on it. Moreover, the “Reaching Peace” dress brought color and energy to the show for a fun and refreshing twist.
The finale included the infamous CODEPINK pink slip look and also featured a few young kids, who were very, if not adorably, enthusiastic about being on stage. (For those that don’t know, the CODEPINK women are notorious amongst the anti-war community for wearing bright pink slips as outerwear and sending “pink slips” to Congress.)
Outside of the political messages of the show, organizers chose a very important and timely dedication for the production.
“The show [this year] is dedicated to the courageous people in Egypt and the Middle East who are risking their lives for liberty and democracy. Even though we live in a democracy, we are very used to the idea that the Pentagon gets 58% of the federal discretionary budget with little oversight. In these difficult economic times, isn’t it logical that we take a look at the percentage of our taxes given over to wars and preparing for war? Why is this the one area that we are not looking at cutting? ‘Fashion Resistance to Militarism’ asks more questions than it answers and is a way to create a conversation around these difficult issues,” says Zagorin.
In addition to the fashion, there was a poet who recited “Hustler Girl” (my favorite line from the poem was “…and those goddamned UGG boots,” an item I hold in great disdain) as well as a trio of musicians who sang, War Water.
The ASUO Women’s Center and Oregon WAND put on this year’s show with help from Beyond War, the Community Alliance of Lance County/CALC, Eugene CODEPINK, and The Last Stand Coffee Company.