Crashing a Catwalk – What Does It Mean For Environmental Activism?

10 October 2021

Blog post

By Maha Fier, Image by Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

On October 5th 2021, last Tuesday, Paris Fashion Week was coming to a close with a runway show of Louis Vuitton staged at none other than the Louvre. Celebrities, designers, and socialites gathered from all over the world to nod their heads in approval, shake their heads in disapproval and indulge in what is the epitome of the designer fashion world. However, an unexpected guest also managed to make her way into the show among all those celebrities and designers. Climate activist from Extinction Rebellion, Marie Cohuet.

While Marie managed to sneak into the Louis Vuitton show, 30 protestors from a variety of different environmental organisations came together outside the Louvre to denounce the negative impacts of fashion, and demand that leading fashion corporations do more to decrease their footprint.

In an interview with The New York Times, Marie states “We chose LVMH symbolically because it is one of the most influential houses,” she said, referring to Louis Vuitton’s parent organization, the world’s largest luxury goods company by revenue. “LVMH makes frantic declarations about being the most advanced in the sector in terms of limiting their impacts, but we see that in reality it is not true.”

What really made Marie viral on TikTok, with a video now at 23.3 million views, was her managing to walk the length of the catwalk with a sign stating ‘Overconsumption = Extinction,’ before being escorted out of the vicinity by security guards.

It’s clear this message has relevance in front of some of the biggest consumers and producers in the world, but this demonstration got me thinking – what does it mean in the name of environmental activism, to crash a fashion show?

Crashing a fashion show to spread a message against the industry and its harms has been done before. You’ve probably heard about fashion activists against fur, or leather, or like in this case, against its climate change impacts. But what I believe makes this specific demonstration different is the fact that it did manage to reach a wide audience through the newly favoured social media platform, TikTok. I know that there have been activists out there who have crashed a catwalk before, though I can’t pinpoint a specific event in my mind. Maybe I’m just young. Regardless, this has become a memorable event in my mind, and many others it seems.

What I found surprising about this demonstration is that many people, including those who also seemed to care about the planet, stated that a LV show was no place for activism, and to be “socially respectable,” it should be held elsewhere. These perspectives have somewhat confused me.

I’m assuming it stems from the viewpoint that these designers have worked so hard to create their show, why ruin it for them? Why not stay outside and protest instead of taking away a model’s moment to shine?

I can acknowledge this viewpoint, but personally I find it to be a weak argument as to why Marie that day shouldn’t have decided to spread what she believed in, take a hold her sign and make a statement about overconsumption along the catwalk.

The history of activism and making change comes from disrupting the social order. That is essentially, what activism is. Many activist movements did not gain their momentum by protesting when it was convenient for the rest of society, they protested when they knew people would have to look at them and hear them. Getting an industry to hear a message they perhaps don’t want to hear is difficult, and the moment that an activist chooses to spread that message is vital. Not only do you want the industry to hear it, but you want everyone else to hear it too.

Agree with me or not, but being an activist is about being an inconvenience to society. Many people are complacent in their ways, and if you’re only choosing to discuss your views and attempting to make major change when it’s convenient for them, you may find that they will never hear your or listen.

There is an aspect to it that perhaps being convenient will maintain respect between two groups and change can occur. However, I think this aspect isn’t plausible to create major systematic change, like changing how the fashion industry economically functions. If all it took was a meeting with Louis Vuitton to ask them to really change their ways of production, I’m sure we would’ve seen major change already.

At the same time, I support non-violent protesting. I find Marie’s demonstration to be a perfect example of a non-violent protest with much impact. Marie being convenient would’ve been her standing outside of the Louvre alongside her other protestors. Have you seen any videos or images of the protestors outside? No. It’s because Marie managed to strut that catwalk not as a model, but as an activist disrupting the social order who forced eyes to be on her.

This brings me to the second part of my question as to what does crashing a catwalk mean for environmental activism? That is the question of impact.

What many people believe is that if your demonstration for your cause doesn’t have some form of impact, what was the point of doing it in the first place? I see this viewpoint as an ‘anti-activist’ viewpoint. This is because, I think no matter what you do as an activist, whether it’s small or large, there will be some form of impact. This question of ‘what you’re doing isn’t going to solve anything’ is a method to prevent people from acting in the first place so that the social order is maintained.

In Marie’s case, I think what many focused on is the fact that Louis Vuitton isn’t going to change their ways just because one climate activist ruined their show. No probably not if I’m honest, but it doesn’t hinder the other impacts Marie has caused. Marie has managed to create discussion worldwide about overconsumption and how this, along with mass-production, is at the root of many environmental issues of the fashion industry.

I found that many people who weren’t aware that designer brands could also be a danger to the planet, now do. Even I wasn’t aware of the impacts a brand like Louis Vuitton had on the planet and did some more research into them (you can see here: https://goodonyou.eco/how-ethical-is-louis-vuitton/). Of course, to my own naivety, I just assumed a brand as expensive, and money loaded as Louis Vuitton would have implemented some major positive steps to help the environment as the discussion for sustainable fashion rises. I assumed wrong and so did many others.

Marie’s impact from what the world has currently seen, has created a consumer behaviour and education shift within the general public. Whether we see Louis Vuitton and other designer brands who were watching the show to increase more vigorous change in their production, or for a celebrity to begin buying less, we can only wait and see.

I for one, will remember Marie and the time she crashed the Louis Vuitton show, and continue to research into the impacts designer brands also have on the planet.