Vetements sparks controversy with ‘high-fashion take’ on Hong Kong protests

27 January 2021

Fashion brand Vetements has sparked outrage for creating couture inspired by the crackdowns against pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Outfits at the label’s Fall/Winter 2021 show on 23 January appeared splashed by blue paint — a reference to the spray cannons used by Hong Kong police to tag demonstrators during the summer of 2019.

Critics accused the label of trivialising the suffering of protestors and political prisoners for profit.

“Vetements has done political messaging well before — their SS19 show, inspired by [designer Demna Gvasalia] growing up in the country of Georgia during a civil war, was one of their strongest outings,” fashion account Diet Prada wrote on Instagram. “However, that’s their territory to explore, unlike Hong Kong’s fight for democracy which they weren’t participants in. The inclusion as a fashion statement is confusing — the blue ink wasn’t something protesters voluntarily donned, and many are exiled, or still serving time for participating in the protests.”

Fashion bible Vogue also raised concerns in an otherwise generous review. “The distinctions between observing, commenting on, and merely mimicking real political events for profit all become dangerously blurred here,” one article said.

Away from the fashion world, shoppers and activists criticised the move more strongly. “It’s in poor taste to turn political upheaval and people’s pain into an overpriced fashion statement. Stop.” tweeted Hong Kong-based human rights activist Sophie Mak.

“Capitalising off the global south struggles and aestheticising it for rich whiteness in the name of ‘fashion’,” commented one follower on Instagram. “Stop capitalising on people’s fight for freedom if you never supported the real cause,” wrote another.

Divided between two themes, Hell and Heaven, the Fall/Winter 2021 collection combines classic trench coats, suits, and furs, with leather jackets and neon greens. Other pieces in the collection also bend to political themes, with slogan t-shirts declaring: “I like fairytales and financial stability” or “Think while it’s legal”.

Vetements’ previous political collections include the 2019 drop on the 1992 war that broke in Georgia, the country of designer Demna Gvasalia and his brother Guram, who is the co-founder and chief-executive of the brand. The Gvasalias were one of thousands of families fleeing their homes in Abkhazia to escape the fighting.

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