Putting on a fashion show is no easy feat, but UC Berkeley’s student-run Fashion and Student Trends, or FAST, has pulled it off semester after semester since 2005. From the selection of the theme to the evolution of the designs, FAST’s leaders make choices every semester about how to best represent their organization to the greater community.
For most of FAST’s history, its leaders have leaned toward a more traditional approach when it came to choosing themes — past shows have featured innocuous, purely aesthetically-oriented titles like “Altered” and “Suprasensory,” and the organization was never considered politically motivated.
But this semester, something was different. The group’s current co-presidents, Zackary Harris and Dakota Goodman, deconstructed the seemingly nonpartisan fashion community, feeling that their political beliefs couldn’t be separated from their work in fashion. They brought their perspectives on environmental awareness, civil rights and gender issues to the table with them. The result was a risky, game-changing theme for last Sunday’s show: “Liberation.”
“ ‘Liberation’ as a very politically-based theme was a huge risk,” said Goodman. “We took the risk to bring politics, social justice and other issues within the Berkeley community into a world that usually has been — at least for the last decade or so — separated from those things. A lot of the time people don’t understand that these political and social issues are intertwined with fashion.”
The theme was an important opportunity to address all the unrest in the Berkeley community that has followed recent political changes.
“We are both very much affected by the overall election and the current political climate,” Harris said. “We came up with ‘Liberation’ as kind of a way to combat that a little bit — combat all the hate that’s happening in the world.”
Harris’ own designs demonstrate his commitment to fighting negativity and discrimination. Using a combination of sheer and opaque fabrics, Harris deliberately obscures much of the model — including the face, which is masked behind a silvery veneer — leaving only some of the body exposed. Observers are left to interpret the identity of the model based only on glimpses and assumptions.
“I am choosing to critique body policing and censorship, and am really thinking about how we understand the ways we stereotype certain bodies as having specific identities,” Harris explained.
Harris’s clothes hide the truth from his audience, reflecting a political reality defined by the censoring ability held by those in power — those that control the media we consume, and by extension, the opinions we form.
Design may have been Harris’ chosen medium for tackling oppressive and exclusive societal constructions, but Goodman took a different route to achieve a safe space for racial and gender minorities. Prior to becoming co-president, Goodman worked as modeling director, with inclusivity as her main goal. It was the ultimate rejection of fashion norms: in FAST, models could be anyone. People of any color, size or gender identity can apply to walk the FAST runway.
“My goal was to bring in everyone and anyone who wanted to model. There’s a side of the fashion industry that’s saying you need to be picture-perfect in order to walk down a runway. But you can be so many different things and still be beautiful no matter what you identify with,” Goodman explained.
The modeling department more than doubled under Goodman’s former leadership as modeling director, and her work focused heavily on empowering her models and building up their confidence. This background translates well to the “Liberation” show; the decision to represent so much diversity on the runway is arguably just as much as a political statement as the show’s theme itself.
Ultimately, the two graduating co-presidents will leave behind a legacy of creativity, justice and awareness in the FAST organization. More than anything, their work contends that art and politics cannot be separated.
“Fashion is meant for everyone,” Harris emphasized. “It is not this isolated thing — it always has been for everyone.”