As coronavirus anxiety loomed in the air during much of AW20 Fashion Week, the uncertainty left the audience somewhat discombobulated. Despite the strange atmosphere, many embraced the annual fashion frenzy gracing the front row to witness the latest trends from the top fashion houses.
The French fashion house, Dior, presented a bold statement in the post-#metoo era. Held, the day after disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault conviction, Dior championed the controversial f-word, *feminism*. With fashion the perfect place to explore ideologies and questions about social hierarchies and power, Dior took centre stage.
Dior’s AW20 catwalk was adorned with cutouts from the French newspaper, Le Monde, whilst illuminated neon signs bearing the words ‘consent’ and other feminist slogans were suspended above. The collaboration with artist Claire Fontaine, seemed timely following the guilty verdict for the notorious sex pest, Weinstein. As the first female creative director at Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri, has used her position to elevate the social and political movement, recognising gender inequality and oppression. Following her debut collection at Dior in 2016, Chiuri has embraced feminism through many collections. Most notable, the beloved white tees with the slogan, ‘We Should All be Feminists’, borrowed from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book of the same name.
This season, Chiuri has characterised the collection in her show notes as a ‘self portrait’. Not only was the backdrop striking and provoking, the catwalk felt more like an arena than a runway - models were gladiators ready for battle. The wearable designs of the AW20 collection were reminiscent of sixties and seventies fashion, along with elements of Dior’s iconic ‘New Look’. From skirts and trouser suits to blanket checks and Milano knit; the powerful designs were paired with chunky boots and silk scarves worn as bandanas for an ultra fierce and rebellious style. As Chiuri amplifies the feminist voice, several other fashion houses paid tribute to the empowering movement.
Silvia Venturini’s debut collection at the Italian fashion house, Fendi, exuded a feminist and feminine style. Making a statement with her first collection since Karl Lagerfeld’s passing, Venturini focused on a statement of female intent through a subtle blend of history and hyper modernity. Paying homage to the brand's initial founders, five stylish sisters, Fendi celebrated a scope of feminine strength. Echoing subversive glamour, the new look offered dramatic plays of volume with engorged Juliet sleeves, slinky bodices and boudoir-pink dresses. The silhouettes were demure and feminine, erupting from the waist, reinforcing the pure power of fashion. The mixture of textures and historical references, emphasised Verturini’s new vision for the brand. A newness and freshness encapsulated by her own personal take on feminism and femininity.
A male creative director shining a light on fashion’s fight for feminism was Anthony Vaccarello for his AW20 Yves Saint Laurent collection presented at Paris Fashion Week. The sexually charged, kinky collection emphasised the tension between polite society and the underground; curating a fetish fashion fantasy with a high level of sophistication. Vaccarello dignified fetish wear through high fashion styling, featuring an abundance of latex, lace and cashmere in a colour palette of violet, raspberry and pale blue.
Honouring a well-received aesthetic of the 90s, and what YSL describes as “well behaved and overly bourgeoise elegance”, the AW20 collection gave credence to the male gaze but allowed women to take ownership. Skin-tight latex leggings, latex bustiers and form-fitting dresses were accompanied by sheer nipple-flashing pussybow blouses, lace bras underneath oversized blazers and sharp shouldered she-means-business suit jackets. Teetering between concepts of discipline and pleasure, Vaccarello debuted an empowering feminine collection, celebrating the curvaceous female form. Feisty and powerful, YSL AW20 focused on how women would dress given control and total autonomy.
Following the female empowerment of AW20, we look back at other iconic collections honouring the feminist movement. Most notably, Chanel SS15 also known as ‘the riot’. Marching to the soundtrack of Chaka Khan’s ‘I’m Every Woman’, models took to the streets in protest toting feminist placards and chanting slogans. The beloved French fashion house, first established by the powerful businesswoman Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, transformed their summer catwalk into a memorable protest. Touching on the inspiration of the SS15 riot, the then creative director - Karl Lagerfeld -stated “I thought it was fun to make a demonstration about a subject I can very well adapt to,” "My mother was a feminist, and I was brought up with a history of that."
With Karl often praised for his creative and inventive stage shows, his SS15 catwalk resurrected the spirit of the May 1968 student protests - albeit with a modern, feminist touch. Presented were an array of gold chains, paint-splatter coats, pastel tie-dye combined with the traditional Chanel tweed; revamped for a rainbow effect. The feminine collection featured subtle masculine references through tailoring; cropped pinstripe trousers and sandals laced up like brogues, added a tough edge. Karl hinted at the protest theme through the accompanying accessories; a crystal-studded whistle worn as a pendant, nestling amongst strands of pearls and a bag printed with the slogan ‘Make Fashion Not War’.
Similarly to the riot of Chanel SS15, the luxury Italian label Missoni, also paid tribute to feminist protests. Angela Missoni ended her AW17 show with models clad in Pussyhats, the hot pink symbols of protest and female solidarity created in honour of the Women’s March. With models strutting to the tune of Gil Scott Heron’s ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, creating a political tone from the outset. The collection was dubbed ‘pink is the new black’, asserting that women’s rights are human rights, as she took her final bow. Missoni’s AW17 collection also saw a percentage of sales donated to the ACLU and U.N. Refugee Agency, a further nod to fashion’s feminist stance.
As we embrace a new chapter in feminism and acknowledge the change of the post-#metoo era, can fashion really be feminist?
Women exist at the heart of fashion - as some of its designers, majority of its models, many of its muses, and most of its customers. Despite this, many beloved fashion houses are still ruled and run by men. With a fresh new wave of powerful female creative directors, can this be a turning point in fashion.
Season upon season the industry reacts to the ever changing cultural climate. With the fashion industry being one of the largest in the world; it is extremely encouraging to see many fashion houses assisting in the fight for feminism. Embracing female empowerment, whether its powerful silhouettes or a stylish protest, women are encouraged to take ownership and be proud.