Just days before New York Fashion Week is set to begin, fashion elite left their chaotic studios to congregate at Runway to Win, a fashion themed fundraiser for the Obama campaign. The troops had been wrangled by Vogue
editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and screen siren Scarlett Johansson to gather at Theory in the meatpacking district and lend their support to reelect the president. Top designers such as Diane Von Furstenberg, Alexander Wang and Tory Burch made appearances and the Theory soiree to hear the presentation and peruse the Obama swag for sale that night. The loft store was invaded by approximately 500 fashion hounds who picked up Obama themed designs by top design houses and fashion conscious celebrities. Shirts, scarves and tote bags were designed for the reelection campaign by Marc Jacobs, Tory Burch, Vera Wang, Derek Lam, Jack Mccollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler, Rachel Roy, Thakoon, Diane Von Furstenberg, Marcus Wainwright and David Neville of Rag & Bone, Jason Wu, Altuzarra, Beyonc? and Tina Knowles, Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig of Marchesa, Prabal Gurung, jeweller Monique P?an and Alexander Wang. Proceeds went to benefit Obama's reelection campaign.
It was a star studded night that blended fashion and politics in the best possible way, and many Obama supporters had high hopes that the support of the fashion elite would garner more votes for the incumbent. The event's co-host, Scarlett Johansson, claimed that Runway to Win aimed to "reintroduce that kind of cool factor to the re-election." However, not everyone has responded positively to this push to make Obama fashionable.
Runway to Win may have been an innovative success in the fashion world, but many are less than pleased with the glorified shopping venture. Attendees had to fork over $250 apiece to attend the event, and although the "moderately priced" items for sale at the event were a fraction of what the designer labels typically cost, nothing was inexpensive at the rally. Most purchases ranged between $75 and $95. The fashion world has never claimed to be created equal, but attaching Barack Obama's name to the fundraiser left some Americans feeling alienated. Obama has been accused before of being out of touch with "real Americans," and an expensive fashion fete certainly has not helped matters.
The Republican National Committee has had plenty to say in regards to Runway to Win. The Obama campaign was accused of violating campaign rules with the sale. The items for sale were sold at a much lower price margin than the designer goods would usually go for (example: a $75 Derek Lam tote as opposed to an $1,800 Derek Lam handbag), and according to the Wall Street Journal
"Republicans say that suggests they relied on corporate resources to keep costs low, which could amount to illegal campaign contributions." The RNC has also released a video
criticizing a "celebrity-filled fashion show" as "ritzy," especially when "12 million Americans remain out of work."
Fashionable or Faux Pas?
There are always two sides to every political fundraising event, and Runway to Win is no different. In reality, the so-called "elitist" event was no different from any political fundraiser. It was reported earlier in the race toward the White House that Rick Santorum was giving sweater vests to supporters who donated $100 to his campaign. Some people, myself included, would rather have Monique P?an scarf. To each their own, right? Of course, I would be more willing to brush aside complaints of what I think was a fantastic idea for an event if the evening had been treated a bit more seriously. I have no retort for criticizers who deride the event as being frivolous. With cocktail sipping attendees shouting taglines like "shop till you drop!" and "Occupy Theory!" every so often and only a ten minute long presentation, most of the focus seemed to be on shopping rather than politics. Even Scarlett Johansson seemed to forget to take things seriously. "They are so unfashionable!" she claimed of the GOP while touting her preferred candidate and first lady as "having a casual cool about them. They're a very stylish couple." While I will never be one to dispute the fashion sense of Michelle Obama
, I think there are more important elements to a presidential candidate than their appearance. I can only hope that Johansson was joking, but I do wish the actress used her influence to support something other than Obama's fashion sense.
In defense of Runway to Win, I feel that the only words necessary are from supporter and Frenchman, Olivier Theyskens: "Designers are like dreamers, so it's good for us sometimes to get into politics, into reality, into the real future. I can't vote here, but I can say what I think." Frivolous or not - elitist or not - the fashion industry has major influence and a large demographic that they cater to. They have a right to be heard and to express their opinions one tote bag at a time.