Fashion Campaign Protests Cruise Ships Threatening Venice’s Canals

Vivienne Westwood’s latest collection shows the ugly side of tourism.
Jan 24, 2016·
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Bulldozers, cranes, and gravel-filled construction sites probably aren’t the images that come to mind when most people think of the Venice canals. Yet those are the gritty sites fashion designer Vivienne Westwood chose to photograph for her latest campaign.

Dubbed “Mirror the World,” Westwood’s Spring/Summer 2016 collection features models dressed in bright florals and bold patterns posing near cruise ships and construction equipment in an effort to highlight what the designer sees as the Italian city’s erosion through tourism and development.

“The lagoon is one of the most wonderful wetlands in the world: exquisite symbiosis between the animals and plants that stabilize the sediment from the freshwater rivers and Venice itself, which has grown with the lagoon,” Westwood said in a statement. “The biggest problem now seems to be the cruise ships which tear up the lagoon. It’s a total false economy to allow them.”

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A regional court of appeals in Venice last year overturned a ban that prevented large cruise ships from sailing through the Giudecca Canal to the city’s central terminal and limited the frequency of their trips. The reversal enraged local activists, who have long argued that the cruise ships are not only destroying the city’s cultural legacy but are also contributing to the pollution and contamination of its waters. The massive vessels also bring an influx of tourists: Between 1999 and 2012, the number of visitors who arrived via cruise ship skyrocketed from 100,000 passengers to 1.7 million.

“Venice is drowning from below and being suffocated from above with something like 30 million visitors per year. The associated demands on the city’s delicate infrastructure are completely out of scale and threaten the survival of the city,” Jane da Mosto, a cofounder of the environmental advocacy group We Are Here Venice, wrote in an essay posted on Westwood’s website. “The sight of cruise ship skyscrapers is as incongruous as the juggernaut delivery boats in tiny canals that support the tourist industry and bump against gondolas and crumbling palazzi.”

Westwood’s campaign, shot by famed German fashion photographer Juergen Teller, is hardly the British designer’s first foray into environmental activism. The 74-year-old fashion icon, who founded an activist movement called Climate Revolution in 2012, last year launched an Arctic campaign with Greenpeace, turned her London Fashion Week runway show into a warning against mass extinction, and drove a tank to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s house to protest fracking.