Louis Vuitton catwalk-crashing instigates change

A climate activist interrupted the Louis Vuitton Fashion Show last month in protest of the industry's contributions to the climate crisis. via WWD on Instagram

An uninvited guest graced the Paris Fashion Week Louis Vuitton Show alongside the runway models on Oct. 5. Clad with a banner reading “Overconsumption = Extinction,” climate activist Marie Cohuet, 26, set the issue of the fashion industry’s directly contributing to the contemporary climate crisis — quite literally — under the spotlight. The choice to target this label in particular can be explained by the affiliation with its parent organization, LVMH, the world’s largest luxury goods conglomerate. The corporation controls brands such as Celine, Fendi and Tiffany & Co., making its influence within the fashion section virtually incomparable. On her Twitter page, Cohuet described LVMH’s authority in the manufacturing of global fashion trends, and she indicted the corporation for perpetuating an inter-class “désir de surconsommer,” or “desire to overconsume.”

The show was held in the Louvre, a legendary art museum and iconic stronghold of the Western artistic tradition, making it a perfect location for an event as indulgent and exclusive as a Louis Vuitton fashion show. The contrast between the glamorous venue with its luxuriously dignified invitees and Cohuet’s urgent, unrefined delivery of her message was striking. The activist walked among the models with confident nonchalance, as if her being there was an intentional creative decision rather than a radical call to action. Despite Cohuet’s efforts, Louis Vuitton declined to comment on the situation. Before being tackled by the show’s security, she got the chance to denounce the dangerous decadence of the fashion world.

Cohuet represented three Europe-based climate organizations: Youth for Climate, Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth) and Extinction Rebellion. The last one has a history of climate protests amid fashion events, the most recent one at the Dior show in Paris in Sept. 2020, targeting another one of LVMH’s brands.  Similarly, an activist calmly walked the runway, holding a banner with the words “We are all fashion victims.” Interestingly, LVMH CEO Sidney Toledano noted the non-aggressive nature of the activist’s actions, saying that “her message wasn’t clear. You couldn’t tell if it was part of the show or not.” Whether speaking genuinely or deliberately downplaying the potency of the protester’s message, Toledano highlighted the range of activist efforts held by Extinction Rebellion. From catwalks to “die-ins,” this organization has utilized a wide range of effective means to communicate its message.

Extinction Rebellion has infiltrated events in other fashion capitals of the world, including New York City and London, where protesters participated in a sustainable, self-organized, make-shift fashion show and, more gravely, a “funeral march for fashion,” respectively. Their provocative actions, such as covering themselves in blood or gridlocking roads, are designed to spread the message on the ruinous capacity of the fashion industry: “Fashion’s carbon impact industry has an impact carbon greater than Aviation and Maritime Shipping combined,” states Extinction Rebellion’s website. 

The disruption of fashion events as a mode of protest is not new. Other activist groups, such as PETA, an organization advocating for animal rights, have been repeatedly crashing runway shows for at least two decades. During the 2002 Victoria’s Secret show, a group of protesters broke out on the catwalk with banners proclaiming “Gisele: Fur Scum” in critique of the supermodel Gisele Bündchen’s natural furs campaign. While Bündchen has since ceased participating in fur advertising campaigns, the medium of fashion protest, evidently, prospers. Its inherent theatricality proves to ensure abundant media coverage by both fashion gospel, such as Vogue Magazine, and ‘green’ news sources alike, broadcasting the fashion industry’s contribution to the environmental crisis.

As COP26, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, moves forward in Glasgow (Oct. 31–Nov. 12), the world anxiously awaits the next word in industrial sustainability, including in the sphere of fashion, which is responsible for an estimated 5%–8% of global emissions every year. The fashion industry is bound to face unprecedented difficult changes that include a thorough reformulation of brands’ supply chains. Generally, fashion labels are reluctant to channel resources into making factories more sustainable due to the sheer number of facilities they work with, the huge cost required to improve each one and the undesirability of letting other competing brands working with the same factories benefit from their own investment. However, this attitude may be forced to change, as policymakers are working to implement novel production regulations in participating countries. Until these reforms start to show results on the path to net-zero emission commitments, we need to be prepared to see more fashion-crashers, like Cohuet, recasting the image of the fashion show as we know it.