it's not easy being a princess, but if the clothes fit...
Historically, the fashion industry seems to have defined itself as gloriously inaccessible by sustaining an atmosphere of hyper-glamour combined with desperately chic icons dressed in impossibly crisp clothing. Autumn/winter 14 has offered us something...
Over the past few years, there has been a resurgence of DIY culture through online platforms; a nineties sense of collective creativity, once relegated to sparsely-distributed fanzines, is being made available to everyone through blogging and pinning. Girls often marginalised by contemporary media and mainstream publications have created their own platforms, their own communities and are writing and creating content for themselves and their peers. These girls - Susie Bubble, Tavi Gevinson, Arabelle Sicardi, Petra Collins - aren't afraid of expressing a distinctly girlish visual aesthetic integrated with a narrative of feminist empowerment. Alongside an abundance of references to Courtney Love, Gwen Stefani and Cher Horowitz is a heavy dose of new-wave feminism addressing rape culture, issues of consent and intersectionality. This new digital feminism seems to work on the principle that, whatever it looks like, freedom of self-expression = liberation.
Autumn/winter 14 collections showed reclamation of all things girlish - often in its pinkest and most juvenile form - and continued the digital revolution's offering of a new aesthetic of empowerment for a generation of women raised on Barbie and Baby Spice.
2014's celebration of girlhood has been clearly channelled onto the runway and brands like Meadham Kirchhoff are leading the way, creating collections that combine Tumblr favourites Clueless and gothic grunge, dressing their models in frothy pastel chiffons but still retaining a distinct sense of assertiveness and modernity. Autumn/winter 14 collections showed reclamation of all things girlish - often in its pinkest and most juvenile form - and continued the digital revolution's offering of a new aesthetic of empowerment for a generation of women raised on Barbie and Baby Spice.
This influx of youthful exuberance seems like a cheerfully flamboyant alternative to normcore; dressing up - in a new, hyper-kitsch manifestation - has once again become haute and the sorts of fancy-dress that you can imagine worn by the littlest of girls were walking up and down the catwalk. Brands like Ashish, Ryan Lo and Henry Holland presented collections that tweenage dreams are made of: LED trainers once seen in every school playground were revived for the runway and girls were dressed up as cowgirls, wearing tiaras and in party dresses in a series of collections that ran like a childhood fantasy. Rather than distancing itself from what a girlish aesthetic has typically connoted culturally (nothing particularly empowering), these collections wholeheartedly embrace every visual stereotype and transform them into something deliberate. Dressing up was fun when you were little, and it can be fun now - whether you want to accessorise with a tiara (like at Ashish) or a pistol (like at Ryan Lo), being a girl, wearing pink and getting dressed up does not have to be seen as something reductive. These collections challenge notions of what empowerment looks like and broaden perspectives of what an empowered woman looks like in an age that often still expects her to be wearing a trouser-suit.
However, the trend of girlishness permeating autumn/winter 14 collections extends beyond the resurgence of pinks, chiffons and sequins. While the styling at shows is probably as deeply considered as a neurophysics peer-review, there was a don't-give-a-fuck attitude that was carefully incorporated into a lot of the autumn/winter 14 looks that speaks to a broader audience.
With the proliferation of digital media and live-streaming of shows, collections have become as much a place for the admiration of girls who aren't likely to be able to afford a full look as they are for the couture-wearing grown-ups seated at the sides of the runway.
Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent showed a collection that looked as if the girls had chosen and assembled their own looks, and ended up looking like your best friend's cool older sister getting ready for a night out. The entire collection was unashamedly youthful - teeny-tiny kilts, leopard print dresses with opaque black tights, sparkly silver boots - a celebration of coming-of-age adapted for those whose budgets exceed weekly pocket money and distinctly imitable for those who can't afford the pieces. Miu Miu managed the same effect - pastel, quilted nylons, plastic minis and puffy windbreakers were combined with hand-knitted jumpers and metallic applique; the collection showed a girl who assembled her own wardrobe from vintage stores and combined it with her P.E. kit. Even Ghesquière's debut for Louis Vuitton was intentionally familiar: "[it] appeals to the collective unconscious," read the show notes, "stirring our affective memory." Leather belts knotted rather than buckled around models' waists looked slung on rather than precisely placed and it was this "new casualness" that made the perfectly-finished looks appear almost self-styled: the haute version of rolling up your skirt waistband at the school gates.
This mix-and-match style presents a more relaxed collection aesthetic that engages those watching with a brand's overall identity rather than specific looks. With the proliferation of digital media and live-streaming of shows, collections have become as much a place for the admiration of girls who aren't likely to be able to afford a full look as they are for the couture-wearing grown-ups seated at the sides of the runway; not many people can drop a grand on a new-season Miu Miu knitted sweater, or two on a Saint Laurent studded leather miniskirt - but the presentation of their respective autumn/winter 14 aesthetics is familiar and relatable in a way that runway fashion often isn't. Miuccia Prada said following the show, "When things are overdone from nothing, I can't stand it; it had to be more real, more wearable, less pretentious" and she seems to have, as ever, summarised one of the overarching themes of the season - making clothing fun, relatable and something that reflects what women might actually be interested in wearing, or might even have in their wardrobes already. Nothing before has ever made me want to whip out my static-y, nylon school jumpers but she's somehow managed to make being an awkward teenage girl desirable. And for the awkward teenage girls watching, that's a lot more engaging than a headily conceptual piece of structured knitwear.
Ultimately, the importance of mass marketability and engagement seems to have filtered up to the highest echelons within the fashion industry, and some of the least accessible of houses are making themselves available to girls around the world - if not through a heavy employment of pastel palettes, then through a more subtle stylistic accessibility. Whether that's a good or bad thing is debatable, but it's certainly pretty.
Text Olivia Singer