Please, keep asking Vice President Kamala Harris who she’s wearing
28th Jan 2021
Read time: 5 mins
Vice President Kamala Harris' fashion choices are not only intentional and important, they're vital to a diversifying industry, writes New York-based fashion editor Freya Drohan.
Several years ago, a campaign called #AskHerMore went viral. The premise was that actresses walking the red carpet should be pressed for their opinions on meatier subjects—rather than just who they’re wearing.
On Inauguration Day, as members of the media excitedly took to Twitter to share updates about what designers incoming Vice President Kamala Harris and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden had selected for such a momentous day, there were some audible groans and eye rolls in the mix as commentators fired back that this isn’t the red carpet of fashion week.
This discourse — that it’s frivolous, or old fashioned, or sexist to dissect what a female politician wears — reminds me of how I feel when someone says fashion week is “dead” or irrelevant. Typically, it’s a statement uttered by people whose livelihood doesn’t rely on this trillion-dollar industry. And to draw a parallel in this instance: while it has its flaws, the show schedule is crucial for designers as the platform it affords their brand is worth millions of dollars in media impact value and public awareness. As for the visibility guaranteed when the world’s eyes are on a political figure wearing your work? That’s a whole other level of priceless.
The Camel Coat
So when Vice President Harris arrived at the COVID-19 Memorial Service to pay tribute to the 417,000 Americans who have lost their lives to the virus, her choice of outfit was a camel coat: something strong and solid and reliable. But more importantly, its designer, Kerby Jean-Raymond of streetwear label Pyer Moss, is someone who acted valiantly in the face of the pandemic. Early on, as the crisis ravaged New York, he was one of the first designers to organize the distribution of PPE and he also raised over $50,000 to help small businesses across the city.
Harris, who is the first Black person to become Vice President, also ensured this moment went to someone who is vocal about the treatment of Black Americans, and one who doesn’t shy away from speaking of his own experiences with racism in the fashion industry. The Haitian-American designer was one of the first to pen an open letter about the treatment of Black people working in fashion, and his show themes are usually rooted in pervasive, prevalent social issues like police brutality and men’s mental health. Indeed, they’re more like cultural events than traditional runway shows.
I was fortunate enough to intern at one of his seminal shows back in 2016, during which a model carried a sign which read, “My demons won today. I’m sorry.” It was in reference to the last words spoken by a Black Lives Matter activist who shot himself after struggling with depression. It was my first, formative experience of working at New York Fashion Week, and after that chilling runway finale, I knew that I would never believe that fashion is merely surface level.
At its very core, fashion can be a vehicle for opening conversations—which is exactly what Vice President Harris did when she chose to wear Pyer Moss for that sombre occasion. Without her even saying a word, her coat conveyed so much.
The Purple Coat
On Inauguration Day, it was Christopher John Rogers who got the chatter going in the group text with my co-workers at the magazine I work at. “This is the fashion week I didn’t know I needed,” my boss said. Between the designers creating the clothes and the editors whose job it is to find meaning in them, our industry has taken such a battering this year.
But when Harris stepped out in the purple coat by the queer-identifying young upstart — Rogers is only 27, and up until the recent cash influx from his CFDA win, his small team was operating out of his Brooklyn living room— it was a much-needed reminder of how multi-faceted a garment can be in its messaging and impact. (And speaking of impact, figures from Launch Metrics released on Thursday totalled the ‘media impact value’ of Harris wearing Rogers and Jean-Raymond at $5.1 million and $3.5 million, respectively.)
It’s rumoured that Harris is working with Hollywood super stylist Karla Welch (in which case, brava Karla for identifying how fitting these fledgeling designers are for the time!) but regardless, from her Converse to the omnipresent pearls she wears in homage to her sorority, Harris innately knows what her clothing choices say to those who are listening and those who are desperate to be heard by this new administration.
Ask her more, for sure. But don’t forget that there’s so much to be deciphered in who and what she’s wearing too.