The Genteel
February 28, 2021



Throughout his career, Marc Jacobs has openly expressed his point-of-view on several political and societal issues: his pro-gay marriage t-shirts ("I pay my taxes; I want my rights"); a store window expressing disappointment in President George W. Bush ("Worst President Ever!"); an Obama re-election shirt ("I vote Obama"); and his "Free Tibet" line (albeit short-lived due to the uproar it caused amongst Chinese internet users who threatened to boycott the label). Akin to the runway, Jacobs has made statements left, right and centre. And then, in an entirely unexpected comment, he took it all back.  

Marc Jacobs Anti Bush Campaign
Marc Jacobs created controversy with his anti
George W. Bush shop window. 

In an interview with Women's Wear Daily, Jacobs stated: "I guess with politics and fashion, you've always got to be a bit careful because somebody's going to get offended or somebody's going to feel it isn't right…If you want to avoid controversy, you just don't do [political] things like that." Jacobs was referring to his anti-Bush storefront display (that left his bosses (LVMH) displeased, he revealed to WWD) and, most recently, the social media outcry on Weibo (China's answer to Twitter) against Jacobs' "Free Tibet" line. Jacobs' retreat into the safe zone seems odd for a designer who has shown time and time again that he likes to play it risky on the runway and in the public sphere

So, what has changed Jacobs' attitude? WWD notes that "he learned his lesson" from his prior political statements. But, what if his attitude isn't new at all and these political escapades didn't belong to him in the first place? In 2006, Jacobs' business partner and right-hand man, Robert Duffy, told Fashion Wire Daily: "I have to keep Marc out of the equation because it's really me [doing the political-themed windows and merchandise]....I started doing it a long time ago after our fashion shows, because I always had a problem throwing a party for no reason, with nobody benefitting from it. I thought, as long as I have the international press here, we do have this opportunity to say something and people are sort of forced to listen." Duffy's statements make me wonder how much Jacobs was really behind these political escapades, and if it all wasn't merely Duffy's business strategy. 

In an industry where self-expression is not only encouraged, but also highlighted and applauded, it's a shame to not make some noise. 

Or, perhaps Jacobs' updated stance on politics and fashion comes from the fear of not being able to please everyone at the same time - especially in an industry that is all about beauty, pleasure and ideals. Is fashion an industry where opinions on political issues must be hushed so not to sour the romanticism of either the brand or the clothes? Not for the great Alexander McQueen - whose collections, such as Highland Rape (F/W 1995) and Widows of Culloden (F/W 2006) offered commentary on Scotland's political history. Nor for Vivienne Westwood, whose t-shirt "I Am Not A Terrorist," is far from being quiet and pretty.

Politics and fashion are built on similar foundations: both have a signature "platform" that strives to enrich the lives of a majority - to make the world a better, or prettier, and more progressive place. Politics, akin to fashion, has the ability to emote, unite people from various walks of life and inspire thousands. Perhaps the mix of fashion's encouragement of self-expression and the communality of politics' have made Anna Wintour and Sarah Jessica Parker comfortable to openly support the re-election of President Obama - via a multi-channel commercial, contest and fancy dinner.

A country's political climate often greatly influences the direction of design and fashion. Look no further than the hugely popular hippie movement, Katharine Hamnett's protest t-shirts in 1983, and Michelle Obama's closet, which features vintage and ASOS Africa pieces. If a society's political sphere plays a dominant role in its fashions, why must fashion designers stand on the sidelines, mute and blind? At what point do designers have to censor their opinions in a country that endorses freedom of speech? A well-informed opinion is wasted when it's not voiced - fashion designer or not. 

I don't think Jacobs' statement to WWD stems from an aversion of mixing political commentary and fashion, rather his surprising caution arises from the fear of displeasing the mass public, his clients or his bosses. Given Jacobs' (and Duffy's) history, I'd be surprised if Marc Jacobs - the brand - doesn't continue to make political statements. In an industry where self-expression is not only encouraged, but also highlighted and applauded, it's a shame to not make some noise. 



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