The Return of Katharine Hamnett
Katharine Hamnett is of course not new, but my is she making a comeback!
The storied designer rose to prominence in the early 1980s with her politically motivated t-shirts. With slogans ranging from 'Choose Life' to 'Worldwide Nuclear Ban Now' to 'Use a Condom,' Hamnett exploited fashion's relatively untapped potential to make a statement. And to great success. By 1985, the brand was in 700 stores in over 40 countries. The front rows of her shows' was an easy way to determine the who's who of the fashion world.
Yet, in 1989 - at the peak of her career - Hamnett commissioned a study into the sustainability of her business. Horrified by the toxic and wasteful nature of clothing production, she sought desperately to shift the industry as a whole into a more ethical place, with limited success. She refused to compromise her own principles, and for that reason largely fell out of the spotlight. This is a designer unwilling to bend her beliefs.
30 years later, Hamnett has certainly rediscovered that spotlight. Recognizant of the technological transformation the industry has undergone, she has managed to source materials for her clothes she feels meet her high standards. Her wears are made from organic and recycled fabrics, the dyes are non-toxic, and the packaging is biodegradable.
With these ethical fabrics, she designed a new set of 'campaign t-shirts' back in 2015. The slogans included 'World Peace Now' and 'Make Trouble - Question Everything,' as well as the signature 'Choose Life' - a line inspired by the Buddhist tenet commenting on death and destruction. Hamnett also produced two topical lines - one featuring phrases such as 'NHS not Trident' and 'Education not Trident,' and the other grounded in 'Cancel Brexit.' On top of all this, her 'Choose Love' pieces - a collaboration with Help Refugees (the not-for-profit that receives any and all proceeds from the line) - were featured at the Fashion Awards in December by the London Gay Men's Chorus.
Hamnett has also released an AW17 men's and women's line. The looks are simple, androgynous, timeless and beautiful - exactly the kind of aesthetic that made her so unique at the brand's inception. She's decided to frame the company's reinvention largely in the online world, and their website is the best source for her pieces, as well as for more information about the brand itself.
In a world where it can often feel that political causes are used as a means to sell, rather than to express genuine belief, it's refreshing to find a designer who knows exactly what she's about, and isn't scared to say it how it is.
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