The red carpet has proved fertile ground for political messaging in recent years—be it subtle, like Kristen Stewart’s nonchalant protest of Cannes’ ’heels only’ rule, or monumental, like the wall of black dresses that marked the official launch of the ‘Time’s Up’ movement at the 2018 Golden Globes. Given that this years’ Emmys was virtual—with the red carpet facilitated largely through Instagram—and that it was taking place during an unprecedented political moment, it seemed inevitable that attendees would use the event as an opportunity to make a statement through clothes.
And they did. Uzo Adubo and Regina King, both award winners on the night, wore shirts bearing Breonna Taylor’s name and image, while Insecure‘s Yvonne Orji had a closed fist, the symbol of Black Lives Matter, shaved into the side of her head. Rachel Brosnahan wore silk pyjamas which were later auctioned to raise funds for the charity ‘When We All Vote’.
But it was Sandra Oh, nominated for her performance in Killing Eve, who stole the show in her bespoke silk tracksuit by Korean-American brand KORELIMITED. Oh stumbled across the California-based streetwear label shortly after the death of George Floyd, when they released a line of shirts to raise funds for the Black Lives Matter movement. She loved the work of creative director Matthew Kim so much that she asked her stylist, Elizabeth Saltzman, to commission Kim to create her look for the Emmys. “I wanted to express my support for the Black community in a way that felt personal to my community,” Oh told Vogue.
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Sandra Oh honored both Korean and Black culture during tonight's #Emmys: "It says ‘Black Lives Are Precious' in Korean writing, because the literal translation of Black Lives Matter is impossible in Korean. And then on the right there's a mugunghwa, the national flower of Korea." (📷: @iamsandraohinsta/ @korelimited)
The final outfit, a delicately embroidered silk bomber jacket, was both an homage to Oh’s Korean heritage and a statement of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The royal purple shade is, by Oh’s own admission, “a super Korean colour”, while the sleeves are lined with hibiscus flowers, the national flower of Korea. The front of the bomber is stitched with the words ‘Black Lives Are Precious’ in Korean writing—the closest interpretation in the language of the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’.
Fashion has long facilitated a kind of cultural shorthand for broader and more profound conversations. Are mini skirts empowering—or simply secret agents of the male gaze? Are $700 ‘We Should All Be Feminist’ T-shirts a win for modern feminism—or a sign of commercial gentrification to the point of meaninglessness? Are Telfar bags ushering in the true democratisation of the fashion industry—or is the industry inherently undemocratic? The answers to these questions are too complicated and nuanced to answer here, but they showcase that a shoe is rarely just a shoe, a dress rarely just a dress.
Oh—who has received 12 Emmy nominations in her career, including four in the last two years for her work as both an actress and executive producer on Killing Eve—told Vogue that the pandemic has caused her to re-assess how she uses fashion as a means of personal and political expression. “Everybody’s used to having relationships and fittings with designers of a certain prominence,” she said. “This shift has forced me to reflect on who I am and how I express myself through clothes.” We know that millions of people wait with bated breath to consume and then dissect the sartorial choices of Emmys attendees. Why not encourage our most beloved stars use that platform to deliver thoughtful and powerful messages? Anyone looking for inspiration, now knows where to start.