When Robert Geller, the German-American menswear designer and Marc Jacobs alum, began designing the Fall 2017 collection for his eponymous label back in July, radical instability already confronted global politics. That month, terror attacks rocked Germany’s Bavaria region, where Geller has family, and Donald Trump was crowned the Republican party’s presidential candidate. That fear and uncertainty began to infuse Geller’s collection, which debuted at New York Fashion Week: Men’s Tuesday afternoon, and the spirit of protest only became more overt as the months passed leading up to his January show.
“We have a need to say something if we can,” Geller explained after his show. “I felt strange having a fashion show during this time because everybody around me is so worried about what’s going on politically.”
What he meant was this: Fashion can, at times, seem like a superficial endeavor—but, as a remedy, Geller is just one of a number of designers embracing the political side of design this season. Opening Ceremony staged a protest-themed ballet with the New York City Ballet, themes of immigration carrying over from its Fall 2016 show and, at New York Men’s Day on Monday, up-and-coming designer Robert James’s models bore protest signs as their most notable accessory.
“As designers, I feel like we reflect the times,” Geller said. “The freedom of the media is being oppressed. Religions are being discriminated against. That’s not a place where we should be.”
Geller’s models emerged onto the runway at Skylight Clarkson North clad in camouflage-patterned trench coats, shearling trousers, lug-soled combat boots, and slouchy hoodies with “War” printed across the arms in graphic lettering (while U2’s 1983 album War played over the stereo). Their faces were shrouded with ski masks; deconstructed epaulettes were strapped across their shoulders. The theme: “Love and War.”
And at the end of it all, the designer himself emerged in a grey t-shirt, the word “Immigrant” printed boldly across the front. Days earlier, Trump had signed an executive order restricting immigration from Syria, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Iraq, and Yemen—predominantly muslim countries, all of them—and threatening even many green-card holders. Over the weekend, demonstrators gathered at airports in cities across the United States to protest the immigration and refugee ban. John Lewis, the civil rights icon and congressman who had been personally attacked by Trump on Twitter, took up a seat at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta to await further details about the status of incoming passengers who were stranded by the order; Elizabeth Warren did the same in Boston. Acting attorney general Sally Yates was removed from her post when she refused to uphold the order, to be replaced by a Trump-sympathetic United States attorney from Virginia. Though Geller is not personally threatened by the president’s xenophobic, isolationist policies, they affect many lesser-privileged individuals.
‘I’m a green card holder; I’m an immigrant,” he said. “Even though I’m not being kept out of the country, I’m not being discriminated against, it shouldn’t keep us from showing solidarity with the ones that are.” So, on the eve of his show, Geller gave his wife, designer Ana Beatriz Lerario, one of his t-shirts and asked her to make him a look that would serve as his personal political statement as he emerged to take his bow.
“I’ve never had so many requests for a t-shirt before in my life,” he said. Perhaps to be shown on next season’s runway? “Yeah, totally,” he said, laughing. “Or in between.”
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