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Naomi Campbell's fashion meets politics
( 2003-09-25 11:15) (Agencies)

Another day at London Fashion Week, another display of beauty, sexy clothes and a celebrity on the catwalk. But the appearance of semiretired supermodel Naomi Campbell on the runway Wednesday wearing a skimpy, sparkling bikini came with a twist ! emblazoned across her chest was the slogan, "Use a Condom."

Supermodel Naomi Campbell models at the Spring/Summer 2004 show of British designer Katherine Hamnett at London Fashion Week, Sept. 24, 2003.  [Reuters]
The stunt was the latest of several attempts by British designer Katharine Hamnett to marry her 20-year career as one of the country's leading designers with her strong political views.

Hamnett said Campbell's appearance was designed to draw public attention to the AIDS epidemic in Africa and to promote safe sex.

"It was about breaking a major taboo, and Naomi is the perfect person to do that because she is a huge icon in South Africa," the designer said backstage after her show in a south London nightclub.

"AIDS awareness was big in the 1980s when there were several campaigns, but the new generation hasn't benefited from that awareness. They don't understand how serious the situation is in Africa, that a whole continent could be wiped out."

More than 30 million people in Africa, or 70 percent of the world total, carry the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

Campbell was the centerpiece of a show that also cut short the display of Hamnett's new collection ! cream and toffee simple shift dresses and layered chiffon skirts ! to parade models in oversize white T-shirts bearing the black slogans "Save Africa" and "Make Trade Fair."

Bob Geldof, the driving force behind the Live Aid concert for Africa in 1985, sat in the front row and later went backstage to congratulate the designer, calling the show "girly, girly with a brain."

Hamnett is something of a rarity in the fashion world. Unlike many designers of her stature, she will not source her material from developing world sweatshops and is working on a global directory of politically correct manufacturers and textiles providers.

British designer Katherine Hamnett, left, holds up the arm of model Naomi Campbell at the end of the show at London Fashion Week in London, Sept. 24, 2003. Campbell's vest reads 'Use a Condom' a reference to the speard of AIDS in Africa.  [AP]
The 54-year-old first hit the headlines in 1984 when she wore a T-shirt opposing the purchase of U.S. Pershing missiles while attending a reception at No. 10 Downing St. by then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

At her catwalk show in February, as Britain and the United States were on the cusp of war with Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Blair was the recipient of the message on the T-shirts of her models: "Stop War," "Blair Out."

And Hamnett plans to continue pushing for more ethical procedures within the fashion industry, arguing that with the exception of some younger designers, including animal-rights supporter Stella McCartney, it has become less politically aware over the last two decades.

"If I ask manufacturers for FairTrade cotton, they tell me nobody else is asking for it, and the processing in the developing world has led to more than 12 million people working in the most appalling conditions," she said.

Hamnett said she veered from her usual approach of the stark sloganed T-shirts Wednesday in favor of the diamante bikini and Campbell because she believed the pairing would garner more international attention.

Campbell's record as a social spokeswoman is not entirely unblemished ! activists at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals were infuriated when she wore a fur coat after signing up to their cause ! but Hamnett said she was confident the model was "genuinely interested" in her appeal.

Hamnett's catwalk parade was among the last at London Fashion Week ! the twice-yearly showcase for the best of British design. More than 4,000 buyers, journalists, and photographers followed the crammed five-day schedule of 50 official shows around the capital.

Veteran designer Jasper Conran also had an African theme at his show Wednesday, displaying almost transparent dresses and short tunics in animal prints, warm chocolates and contrasting cool blues.

Next stop on the global fashion calendar for the monthlong round of shows is Paris.

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