Dior, under current creative director Maria Grazia Churi, is no stranger to bold messaging on the runway. Last season, the runway backdrop included signs that said things like "Patriarchy = CO2" in neon lights — so no one seemed to bat an eye when the Spring 2021 show, which debuted in Paris on Tuesday, closed out with a woman holding a sign that said "We are all fashion victims."
But they probably should have. Because the woman wasn't a model, and her messaging wasn't officially sanctioned by Dior. Instead, she was a gatecrasher, a protestor bearing the telltale symbol of climate activist group Extinction Rebellion.
Dressed in a simple black outfit, carrying a brown bag and wearing a white face mask of the kind commonly used to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the woman carried a yellow fabric sign that appeared to be hand-lettered, which she held in front of her as she paraded down the runway and stopped for the cameras at the end of the catwalk. Perhaps because of Dior's history with strong slogans on the runway, no one rushed to remove her.
Even LVMH head of communications and image Antoine Arnault was uncertain, initially telling WWD, "I think it was part of the show. It's hard to tell these days." Arnault later rescinded the statement, and Dior cut livestream footage so that the protestor doesn't appear in it, but the appearance had already made its mark on live attendees and social media.
So far, Extinction Rebellion hasn't acknowledged the protestor on any of its official social media platforms, and a representative for the organization has not yet responded to Fashionista's requests for comment. But in some ways, that's unsurprising: Extinction Rebellion's strategy has long been to employ a decentralized form of organization that has no clear hierarchy. Which means that the protestor may have acted independently of Extinction Rebellion's official media liaisons or social media operators.
Either way, it's not hard to guess what the anonymous protestor was getting at. Extinction Rebellion has shown up at fashion weeks around the world for a number of seasons now, calling for the shutdown of London Fashion Week and demanding that fashion pay more attention to climate breakdown.
The point the group is trying to make is simple: Climate change is a destructive force that's already here, and fashion needs to act like it's an emergency. The group even has a whole website dedicated to fashion specifically. On it, a manifesto outlines a list of goals: That fashion "use its platform to help save all life on earth," that the "exploitative and oppressive fashion system" come to an end, that the industry "directly address overproduction and obsolescence," that the industry come to "embody a regenerative culture" and that the influence of fashion be used to gather support for Extinction Rebellion's broader demands.
When the protestor said that "we're all fashion victims," then, she wasn't using the phrase in the traditional sense that refers to people slavishly following trends. She was likely talking on a more meta level about the environmental damage the fashion industry continues to do to the earth as it destroys the Amazon rainforest to make space for more leather-producing farms, poisons rivers with dye runoff, and so much more. If we continue to use fashion to destroy our home and our health, she seemed to imply, we all become victims.
Why the Extinction Rebellion activist chose Dior isn't exactly clear — but considering the way that LVMH executives responded, the choice doesn't seem off-base.
"I don't think we're destroying the planet," Sidney Toledano, chairman and CEO of LVMH, told WWD. "We're committed to reducing our environmental impact by cutting our carbon dioxide emissions, tracing our raw materials, and so forth. They shouldn't be targeting us. I think there are industries that pollute much more."
Even if he's right on some level — it's hard to reliably quantify the size of the fashion industry's impact on the environment — he seems to be missing the point that Extinction Rebellion's trying to make. Until that point is taken, it's unlikely the group will stop staging demonstrations on the runway and beyond.
UPDATE, Wednesday, Sept. 30: Extinction Rebellion issued a statement taking responsibility for the protestor's actions, who, it confirmed, is a part of Extinction Rebellion's Fashion Action France group.
The protestor herself offered Fashionista the following explanation of her protest via Instagram DM: "I took this action to state that WE ARE ALL VICTIMS OF THE FASHION SYSTEM. While the world is suffering under a pandemic and a climate emergency, Dior persists in fueling this culture of excess and obsolescence, that is inflicting terrible environmental and social damage to the planet, people and animals. Fashion Week is a week of shame; catwalks have no place in the climate emergency. The only solution at this stage of the climate crisis is to produce less. Our governments must impose limits on this destructive industry."