i'm every woman
As the autumn/winter 16 shows unfold at London Fashion Week, designers spotlighted the many facets of womanhood, present and future.
For an industry where women have always been the absolute focus, it's a little bit epic that fashion's surrounding world might have its first female president before the year is over. While it's not politically correct to talk about Hillary Clinton's sex in these times of gender-fluidity, there's something about her character and look that encapsulates all the female stereotypes created throughout the equality battles of the twentieth century: the businesswoman, the mother, the wife etc. As much as Clinton's impending presidency cements the breakdown of differences between woman and man, at the end of the day there's no denying we're different creatures—and as the autumn/winter 16 women's shows got the wheels rolling in London on Saturday, designers spotlighted the many facets of womanhood.
"We're looking at 2016 being the year of the first female president of the United States, so it's about understanding that women of success have won that place in life through very, very difficult circumstances," Gareth Pugh said after his show, which put women in power in the most unlikely of places: the Freemason's Hall, once the sole privilege of men, who would gather there to get their king-of-the-world on, wives NFI. As freemasonry turns 300 this year, women have long been accepted as members, but as Pugh said, not necessarily respected ones. Breaking with that, he put a woman on the throne in the imposing main hall, presiding as Grand Master as his "predatory female figures" marched through the building in mid-century power dressing, some emblazoned with the stars of the American flag, others in Hannibal Lector masks.
It's been 25 years since Jodie Foster's character of Clarice Starling changed Hollywood's approach to female protagonists, but Pugh's fascination centred around another female character in the film. "It's the moment where the senator meets Hannibal and he's strapped up with his mask on. She's asking him questions but he says, 'I like your suit.' They're both in costume. I like the idea that she's dressed as someone she wants to be and he's being forced to wear this thing. It's the idea of a maneater," he said, referencing the lyrics of the show soundtrack, which featured Grace Jones' Corporate Cannibal. Not many years ago we would have said Pugh portrayed a 'strong woman' or a 'masculine femininity', but in 2016 those things seem as innate to womanhood as any other aspect.
Cue the Sibling show where the Clintons of London fashion - Cozette McCreery and Sid Bryan - gave us 'the disco tomboy'. "He's more disco than I am. I'm more tomboy," McCreery opened backstage, echoing a thought Hillary has probably often had of her and Bill. For all the lurex dresses and transparent bodysuits, it wasn't a disco collection in the glitzy tradition. This was about the woman, who'd dominate the dance floor but be kind of blasé about it at the same time, just like she wouldn't think much of wearing star-shaped nipple covers on a night out. "We're all a bit for free the nipple," McCreery noted. After a tough 2015 for Sibling, who lost their co-founder Joe Bates to cancer, she said the men's boxing-themed collection in January was about coming out fighting. "This one is about coming out dancing." Women, after all, were always the more civilised sex when it came to temperamental self-expression.
The party spirit continued at J.W. Anderson where Michel Gaubert played Soft Cell's Torch and Jonathan Anderson performed "an exercise in fashion", more specifically via the art of cocktail dressing--a concept perhaps more and more foreign to women today where wardrobes are becoming universal. Anderson's idea of the modern cocktail dress jumbled women's dress through the ages in a megamix of Space Age elements (the hems on skirts resembled the rings of Saturn), various tribal decorations and men's Renaissance tops with rose motifs on them, giving off a whiff of Shakespeare. This was the post-post-modern multifaceted girl out in full force. In many ways, Simone Rocha fits that bill. Despite having a baby last year, it was business as usual for the young mother, even if pregnancy had changed her creative approach.
"It was the idea of swaddling and mothering and layering and over-layering," Rocha said after the show, which she'd first conceived lying in a hospital bed observing dressing gowns and surgical blue medical smocks, thinking of matrons of another time. There was a tactility and lightness to the collection that clearly revealed a changed outlook for Rocha: a kind of idyllic bubble of self-protection and comfort. "It was about building and growing. Everything got so big," she said, noting how giving birth had given her a new perspective. "When I went back I had a lot more to say and a lot more to develop, especially with silhouette this time. I got much more aware of things, and I really wanted to change the finer things." How in the world a new mother managed to produce a collection so strong (and totally ravishing) is a mystery only the woman of 2016 could explain.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Mitchell Sams