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The Fashion World Mobilized When AIDS Struck. Now Its Coronavirus.

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

The fashion world mobilized to support those with HIV and AIDS, and it helped New York rebound after 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. Now, it is joining the battle against coronavirus.

Alaina Demopoulos

The coronavirus pandemic has gutted the fashion world, slashing jobs, closing department stores, and ravaging industry capitals like Milan, Paris, and New York. Events are canceled and trends hardly matter to those social distancing at home. It seems frivolous to care about fashion right now. But fashion still cares.

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In less urgent times, designers activism can feel gestural or hollow. Putting a runway model in a feminist slogan T-shirt does little for the general public. But when a true crisis hits, power players open their studios, supply chains, and (perhaps most importantly) wallets.

Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue and artistic director for Cond Nast, announced that her glossy, along with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), would open up a relief fund for those in the industry impacted by the virus.

A representative for Vogue sent ishonest a statement from Wintour that read, There are so many in need of help, especially as small businesses and workers across this country suffer devastating economic consequences. Many of those already affected are members of our fashion community, from designers to their employees to retail workers, up and down the economic scale. And all of us at Voguetogether with Tom Ford and the Council of Fashion Designers of America are determined to help.

The Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation dedicated $10 million to fight the coronavirus and support colleagues hit by the pandemic. In Milan, the Armani Group donated 1.25 million euros to four different hospitals and the National Civil Protection Department. Gucci allocated more than 2 million euros.

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Those employed at Pradas Perugia, Italy, factory will produce medical overalls and masks. The same goes for the French luxury conglomerate LVMH, Kering, LOral, and Herms. Brands have retooled their perfume and makeup facilities to produce in-demand products like hand sanitizer.

On the west coast, smaller, popular brands like Reformation and American Apparel also offered up their resources to create masks. The New York designers Christian Siriano, Brandon Maxwell, Prabal Gurung, and Cynthia Rowley have also pledged their support to the city, and will make medical grade apparel.

The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), may be closed as coronavirus ravages New York, but around the boroughs students, faculty, and alumni have mobilized to sew and deliver masks to health-care workers strapped for such essential utilities.

The fashion industry does rise to the occasion, Joanne Arbuckle, deputy to the President for Industry Partnerships and Collaborative Programs and acting dean of the School of Graduate Studies, told ishonest. People dont often realize how socially conscious we are. When I started in this industry, everybody thought I was sitting by a window overlooking the Hudson River and sketching all day.

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Instead, these days Arbuckle leads grassroots efforts to produce masks for health-care workers. Our faculty member who is leading the Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn initiative has got a commitment from Supima Cotton to donate fabric, she said. So, one of the things I have to work on this weekend now is the logistics within the borough: How do we safely pick up the masks?

It reminds Arbuckle of how FIT responded to Hurricane Sandy, where thousands of New Yorkers lost their homes and restoration efforts required an estimated $32.8 billion. Along with a group of interior design students, she went to Long Island to volunteer with construction companies and rebuild families homes.

I was so impressed because the students were very sensitive to various socioeconomic levels and they made great design changes that were thoughtful in regard to budget, Arbuckle said. Wed source in IKEA for one client and Pottery Barn for another.

Fashions ability to assemble may have been first tested during the AIDS crisis, which devastated the creative class and took the lives of designers like Willi Smith and Halston. Perry Ellis, then the president of the CFDA, also died of AIDS-related viral encephalitis at the age of 46, though he never publicly revealed his diagnosis.

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When I saw all my friends dying from the AIDS epidemic, I went to Perry Ellis with an idea to bring awareness to the issue, the fashion designer Donna Karan told ishonest. He didnt think it was appropriate to talk about it and said it was a private matter.

Kenneth Cole, then a 31 year-old shoe designer, felt differently. I didnt feel at risk of the pervasive stigma [of HIV and AIDS], maybe because I wasnt at risk, he said. (Cole is straight and married to Maria Cuomo Cole, sister of the New York Governor.) I saw an opportunity to do something that was meaningful at a time that others were reluctant to.

In 1985, Cole set up a media campaign, shot by Annie Leibowitz, featuring famous models like Paulina Porizkova, Christie Brinkley, Kelly Emberg, and Beverly Johnson posing with children. Below the sober, black-and-white image read the copy, For the future of our children, support the American Foundation for AIDS Research. We do.

I wanted to make a collective statement at the time about something few would, Cole recalled. How best to speak about HIV stigma, focused on gay men, then to get beautiful women and children? Bringing them all together was a very powerful moment because it showed me early on how people so badly want to be offered opportunities and platforms early on, and how you can take a meaningful stand on something that is bigger than what we do.

After Ellis death in 1986, the CFDA enlisted Anna Wintour to plan Seventh on Sale, a gala and three-day shopping bonanza that ultimately raised $3 million for AIDS research. Kenneth Cole would become the chairman of amfAR in 2005, a position he would hold for 13 years, until he resigned in the wake of reports, thatas the Associated Press wrote at the time$600,000 raised at an amfAR auction went to American Repertory Theater, the theater company that had produced (Harvey) Weinsteins musical Finding Neverland.

Cole went on to say, Harvey was an awful person. He devastated not just the women in his life, but the organizations he dealt with in business. I didnt know that part of him. I read about it when everybody else did. But it was just an awful circumstance, and I think the system has played itself out. Hopefully weve learned something from it.

Read more on: thedailybeast, aids, alaina


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