As the fashion industry (and the world, at large) wrangles with even the earliest implications of a Donald Trump presidency, particularly the recently-enacted travel ban, Opening Ceremony put forth a bold statement by way of its Spring 2017 collection, which made its debut as part of a collaboration with the New York City Ballet. Dancers took to the stage wearing graphic tees that read, "Defy," "Protest," "Unite," and "Fight," as well as other Opening Ceremony pieces inspired by 19th century photographs of Ellis Island.
A press release from the New York-based brand/retailer, which is under the creative control of Carol Lim and Humberto Leon – the latter of which has been a very vocal opponent against Trump, including speaking out against dressing First Lady Melania Trump – states that the collection's point of reference "is a meditation on the American melting pot where individuals from diverse backgrounds crossed paths."
In addition to the garments included in the ballet, the brand also introduced its “Global Varsity Collection,” a limited run of 47 jackets, each representing a different country and adorned with various graphics, including national symbols. In short: Opening Ceremony’s S/S 2017 collection and its corresponding capsule are steeped in political meaning.
For those who are familiar with the Opening Ceremony brand, this is not a terribly out of the ordinary display; the brand is known for its embrace of inclusivity and diversity – and sometimes even politics. Its name is certainly demonstrative of the former. According to the brand’s site: “Taking its name and mission statement from the modern Olympic Games, Opening Ceremony adopts a multinational approach to retail. In addition to stocking both iconic and emerging homegrown designers, every year OC showcases the spirit and merchandise of a visiting country, transforming each store into a marketplace for exotic souvenirs and international talent.”
Last fall, the brand got political. It staged a pageant, entitled, “Pageant of the People,” as its Fall/Winter 2016 runway show. Mixed in with models and non-models (like Rashida Jones, Whoopi Goldberg, Natasha Lyonne, Rosario Dawson, Aidy Bryant, Sarah McBride, Ali Wong, Jessica Williams and Rowan Blanchard) on a stage lined with various national flags, were calls of action, namely to vote.
Many were amused – even moved – by the display. Celebrated critic Cathy Horyn, was not one of them. Writing for The Cut in connection with that show, she stated: “The motives — felt shallow. There was conspicuously no mention of either candidate. In between speakers, who addressed matters like immigration reform and the importance of voting (as if this audience needed to be reminded), the models traipsed out in anodyne clothes that had little or no relationship to the political message. Reading later in the show notes that the designs — knit dresses, patchwork denim, and so forth — ‘celebrate the American immigrant’ didn’t change a thing. But you could ‘shop the show’ right after, on openingceremony.com.”
This season – and the Justin Peck-choreographed ballet called, "The Times Are Racing” – felt similar, and maybe even worse. Speaking of the graphic tees, in particular, Humberto Leon told the Hollywood Reporter, “We call them action words. With all these amazing kids onstage, it was about empowering youth and giving youth a voice. Those pieces were meant to be this call to action, the idea of giving freedom to each and every individual.”
An undeniably important message, it was entirely lost – on me, at least – when the brand, just as Trump’s anti-Muslim ban went into effect, began actively marketing these “imported” $75 tees and $95 sweatshirts on its website and via email along with the slogan, “Take Action.”
The brand elaborates: “A series of hoodies, tees, and tanks feature empowering words – such as DEFY, FIGHT, CHANGE, and PROTEST – language that captures the essence of what it means to be an American.” This is followed by an important note (hence, the capitalization – note: it was their choice of caps, not mine): “EXCLUSIVE TO OPENING CEREMONY AND AVAILABLE ONLINE ONLY.” Also in caps: “CALL TO ACTION” and “SHOP NOW”
As editor Leah Finnegan aptly tweeted, “Opening Ceremony doesn't even say if they’re donating to orgs. [Their] email just links to a collection of $95 hoodies with protest words on them.”
This entire move – whether intentionally opportunistic or not – is questionable for a number of reasons, including but certainly not limited to the fact that true protest or “action” does not consist of buying a designer sweatshirt and calling it a day. Moreover, the timing of the collection and its release positions the collection in a highly unfavorable light, especially given that the collection is not indicated to be tied to a concrete charitable cause (aside from a separate 6 week-iniative in November and December in which the company vowed to support the ACLU, Trevor Project, Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, and KIND). To be clear: The initiative at hand makes it look as though Opening Ceremony is attempting to profit from the disastrous state of U.S. politics.
With that in mind, if you would like to incite real "change" and actually make a difference in connection with Trump’s recent travel order and any of the other changes he has made – or threatened to make – since he took office barely two weeks ago, the Huffington Post provides a list of some (and not nearly all) of the ways you can do so. You can find that list RIGHT HERE.
UPDATE (2/1/2016): Opening Ceremony has since announced that it will donate 100% of the profits from its "Action" collection to the American Civil Liberties Union. According to an Instagram post from the brand, "No matter how strong the opposition, we hope to inspire others to come together for inclusiveness, love, and basic human decency. To support this, OC will donate 100% of proceeds from the Action capsule to the #ACLU, a non-profit dedicated to defending the rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country."
The company's PR, Black Frame, has since taken to aggressively pitching the alternative story that Opening Ceremony was always planning to donate the profits to charity. But as we and The Outline and a ton of Instagram commenters all noted, this was not clearly indicated at all in the brand's initial marketing surrounding the collection, nor on the company's website. This remains true even if OC's PR team has been quick to cite a Paper magazine article published on Sunday evening that says all proceeds are - and we're always - going to ACLU.