Fashion has always taken pride in its ability to make a statement and to express itself through clothes. This season, the statement was empowerment. In the age of #MeToo, there has been a cultural shift in the way we talk about women, significantly altering the dialogue around sexual abuse in fashion and other industries.
As the conversation around it keeps evolving, brands and designers have begun to take note and that was most palpable on the runways. While trends were present, there was a larger feeling of unity and empowerment, which led to designers creating new ways of commenting on social movements.
Each designer had an individual take on the issue. While some were focused on exploring the notion of “protection” and “security”, others looked to the future optimistically and brought bright colours to the fore. Elsewhere, feminism was best expressed through power dressing, leather dresses and head-to-toe animal print. Whatever the style, the message was clear: fashion should always be about making women feel good.
“Feminism isn’t a buzzword any more. It’s an important component of this industry, which was essentially built by powerful women. Movements such as #TimesUp and #MeToo have been a long time coming and this season, designers were passionate about getting this message across,” says London-based stylist Matilda Ohlsson Arnell.
Fashion can be a conversation starter, and often it is the simplest clothes that pave the way for constructive dialogue and real change.
Here we document the trends that marked this season’s biggest statement: women’s empowerment.
While some designers decamped for Paris and Milan, the quintessential charm of New York style still holds together.
Marc Jacobs was instrumental in furthering that charm with his uber-chic throwback to 1980s couture. Inspired by legends such as Montana, Mugler, Ungaro and Saint Laurent, Jacobs’ biggest sell this season was buoyancy.
Bold shoulders, big bow belts, baggy pleated trousers, neck flourishes – all hallmarks of the ’80s were prodigiously exaggerated in a symbolic response to the resistance on women’s rights in the post-#MeToo era.
“The oversized, thick and heavy fabrics, high-waisted pants and polka dot blouses were all Jacobs’ way of marking confidence as the ‘It’ look of the season,” Arnell says.
At Michael Kors, the message was more about overall positivity and inclusivity with models from all over the globe dismantling the standardised notion of beauty for women. There were several other nods to the overarching message of empowerment too.
Models in hourglass dresses painted with women’s portraits were a focal point of the show as well as playful floral dresses paired with leather boots and a tartan cape reasserting that fashion at Kors is about feeling good.
The call for a feminist reckoning was strong in London, but designers opted for diverse interpretations. Protection was a major theme at London Fashion Week – explored through HAZMAT suits and boots, myriad heavy tweeds and lots of layering.
Designer Roksanda Ilinic spearheaded this notion of security through vanilla beige blankets, tapering trousers, colour-blocked quilted parkas, oversized camel coats, all elegantly adorned with downy scarves. While the concern around women’s safety was apparent, Ilinic settled for an overall romantic and serene tone with an intense mix of bright colours.
This year also marked Christopher Bailey’s last season at Burberry as he bid adieu to the label after 17 glorious years. In a heartfelt tribute, the collection featured elements from his own life that symbolised his struggle as a young designer. In his trip down nostalgia town, Bailey also re-released a capsule collection of sweatshirts, checked bucket hats, and baseball caps that the brand originally designed in the ’80s.
But even for Bailey, empowerment remained a key aspect of the show. In keeping with the theme of protection, models ascended the runway in oversized raver parkas, and grunge fleece hoodies worn over long skirts. As the designer bid farewell, women’s liberation, LGBTQ rights and mental health awareness marked his legacy at the brand.
In Milan – the ground zero for the emerging power woman – designers were not shy about putting across the idea of empowerment. Sharp pencil skirts worn over narrow pants, head-to-toe animal prints, slick black leather, English tweed, checks and a game-changing camel coat defined the fearless woman at Max Mara.
“With the Max Mara presentation, the rules for power dressing have changed. No more is it about appealing to or fitting into a male-dominated workplace, but simply about giving women the freedom to choose and be comfortable,” Arnell says.
Over at Fendi, Karl Lagerfeld and Silvia Venturi took their hallmark fierceness and updated it with ’80s-style masculine tailoring, often softening the look with slouchy boots and trench coats. Venturi described her presentation of boxy-shouldered dresses, skirt suits and coats as “a romantic uniform for a strong and powerful woman of today”.
While the collection played with traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity, it remained true to its core message of feminine self-reliance.
As usual, Paris continues to enjoy its divinely superior reputation in high fashion. The ultra-glam fashion capital had some highly anticipated line- ups this season and they did not disappoint. Feminism was the thing of the moment and naturally all over the runway.
Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton, talks about metamorphosis and “all the expressions of femininity”. In the wake of #MeToo, the designer hails her collection as “a soft armour for women”. Meticulously tailored pantsuits, tailcoats, evening jackets and high-heeled riding boots explored the complexity of women’s personalities.
“The McQueen woman has always been powerful. Of course, you’re aware of [#MeToo], it’s in the conversation. It’s important for women to be who they are,” she says.
The casting choices, which included several models of different ages, also channelled the beginning of an era at the brand that identified all women as beautiful breaking away from a constricted mindset.
Stella McCartney, the purveyor of sustainability in high fashion, also aligned herself with the feminist cause this season. The designer, whose work has been defined as practical chic, presented a range of outfits that were part of the big shift towards contemporary casualwear for women.
Easy pyjamas, a herringbone coat with a zip closure instead, a grey Aran jumper blown up to exaggerated proportions ... all signalled towards keeping women comfortable above all. But it was perhaps the line-up of dresses and tops printed with repros of J.H. Lynch’s mid-century portraits of glam women that really solidified the show’s banger status towards
On the other end of the spectrum, however, was Saint Laurent, where Anthony Vaccarello had a completely different idea of empowerment. The all-black line-up that featured leather shorts, big-shouldered ’80s dresses lopped off to swimsuit length, and cropped skinny jeans. They all made a strong and definitive statement. Vaccarello’s version of the power woman is not layered or “protected”, but free and at her most glamorous.
“For me, short is the best way to describe modernity,” Vaccarello says. “It’s the best way to walk ... the legs are not something you have to hide.”