FEMININITY AT LFW

Following this September’s shows, Jessica Montgomery explores what new collections say about being a modern woman.

The traditional fashion calendar is a binary. February and September. Dates in the diary that benchmark moods, trends and the future buying patterns of stores and consumers alike. But now in an age where fashion feels as disrupted as ever, where collections come in Supremestyle drops, designers show offseason and it only take a week for shoppers to get the look they desire on Fashion Nova, this binary has become less clear-cut. Seasons are instead becoming punctuated by cultural, social and political changes, the likes of which are coming thicker and faster every year. This Spring/Summer 2019 we are looking at the industry’s consciousness post Time’s Up; a world where defining feminine identity is more contentious than ever.

Sombre black dresses were the activist tool of choice for a myriad of powerhouse women at the Oscars and it’s no surprise; fashion, after all, is one of the biggest statements of identity. Fortunately, it’s not just down to the wearer to engineer meaning from fabric, Fashion – with a capital F – is an industry not afraid to explore the depths of societal unrest and put on a show for all to see and wear. Increasingly, when it comes to the portrayal of gender, designers are happy to blur the lines. Men are now walking alongside women at a higher rate than ever, and diversity is becoming more than just a question of race and size. The barriers of labels are coming down and questions are starting to be raised about how fashion defines femininity during this genderquake. What does it mean to be a modern woman?

The London shows were certainly the best place this season to look for answers. An already highly anticipated event with many new debuts and a few industry
anniversaries, our expectations were met and then some. Victoria Beckham was out to ceremonially explore the core identity of her decade-old brand, whilst newcomers Alexa Chung and Riccardo Tisci for Burberry wanted to make a statement – but only the kind of statement that the establishment could handle.

The first story to tell when digging deeper into the shows is that of Fanny and Stella, the inspiration behind Erdem’s SS19 Victoriana extravaganza. During his design process, Erdem Moralıoğlu came across an image of Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, men who in the Victorian era dressed as women in order to be together, thus becoming Fanny and Stella. A gloriously original and bold touchstone for a
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collection, there was no need to make tenuous assumptions: exploration of gender fluidity was authentically front and centre at this show. Huge feminine bows were draped across both men and women, flashes of skin visible below swathes of baroque prints. Bold pops of pigment on the eyes of all models connoted hints of the drag scene and evoked images of literally being made up, drawing attention to how femininity is often something added rather than innate. In case we hadn’t quite got the message, the show was hosted at The National Portrait Gallery, with the models literally walking amongst gendered history. Thanks to the Guerilla Girls it’s a wellknown fact that 85% of females portrayed in traditional galleries are nude. Nice touch, Moralıoğlu.

Victoria Beckham celebrated the 10th anniversary of her eponymous label, which for the past decade has focused on creating clothes that women actually want to wear. From perfectly structured dresses to entire silhouettes, the VB vibe has been infectious, and this crucial milestone explored some core tropes of the working woman. The vermillion dress, the LDB, the trench coat, the sleek blazer, all tied together with hip bagging trousers, duffel bags, and knitted sport luxe textures. A woman to be looked at for sure, and yet also a woman who lives her life. As Victoria said herself: “I have to be comfortable. It’s not about me dressing up and looking good. I’ve got to get stuff done.” Get stuff done she has, with the show celebrating 10 years of helping to carve out a fearless and empowering image of womanhood.
From anniversaries to debuts— designer Alexa Chung, although no stranger to fashion week herself, only walking the Miu Miu show last season, definitely felt like a newbie sending her first collection down the runway, though she needn’t have been. Aptly named Arrivals and Departures the collection was a homage to Chung’s love of the 1960s, but the main takeaway was that the clothes felt like a call to action and an exploration of the very modern definition of freedom: travel. Dressing for the airport is dressing for adventure. Chung’s woman is one of multiplicity and autonomy, and her collection made a fashionable snipe at recent political Brexit shaped affairs, in a far subtler manner than a passport necklace from Tisci at Burberry. A call for open borders Alexa?

Talk of the town Matty Bovan, a prodigal reincarnation cut from the same cloth as Vivienne Westwood, declared punk is back with his shocking pink, green and logo printed buzzcuts, paralleled with the shapely nipped waists of colourfully layered ball gowns. The show begged the question: how many statements does it take for something to no longer be a statement? The hearty fun poked at the typical voyeurism of the male gaze was a statement all of itself. If we know we are being judged and fetishized, why not play on it? Bovan’s catwalk was a conveyor belt of daring women.

Can we raise the issue of female identity without having a word about diversity? Steven Tai’s
casting of Brenda Finn and Chloe Root was the best example in an otherwise slender and predominantly white season. Nothing can quite compare to the feminine diversity on display at Fenty for NYFW but Tai’s presentation of women, plural, presented against a backdrop of downturned dying flowers was healthy challenger. I digress. The feminine ideal is still in the majority, not intersectional across race, size or ability, but designers like Steven Tai, and even Henry Holland dressing the now iconic Winnie Harlow, are pushing the right boundaries.

The London shows don’t exist in an echo chamber, of course, and neither does the debate around the evolution of female identity. What is feminine? Are biker boots feminine? Can I be feminine in a Gareth Pugh leather ensemble? The binary says no, but the spectrum says yes. Through the mire and chaos, we can see a common thread of who the modern woman should be, what defines her femininity, and that is choice. The choice to wear demure silks, florals, have a buzzcut, wear the vermillion dress, the choice to dress up or down to dress for herself. As Simone De Beauvoir said, “One is not born, but rather, becomes a woman.”

You can read more of Jessica’s work on Twitter by following @thejessmonty and heading to her website http://www.jessicamontgomery.com

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