What does it mean to be a woman in 2018? This season’s Paris Womenswear shows tried to answer that loaded question. Whether a reaction to the rallying cries for equality, a re-evaluation of femininity, an answer to the #MeToo movement - Paris Womenswear A/W 18 was a mirror to what’s happening to women the world over.
For Dior Womenswear A/W 18, Maria Grazia Chiuri had transformed her runway into a homage to the 1968 liberators and the freedom that oozed from the era. Walls were plastered with memorabilia, quotes and insignia. A quote from Diana Vreeland - ‘The sixties were about personalities. It was the first time when mannequins became personalities. It was a time of great goals, an inventive time.... and these girls invented themselves.’ - was the backbone of the collection. While the #MeToo movement wasn’t cited as a reference, it was awkwardly apparent Chiuri was offering her response (Vreeland’s quote was a major indicator.) Unfortunately, Chuiri’s attempt at showcasing liberation, empowerment and strong females, fell a little flat. It felt a little cliche, a little contrived, the Kendall-Jenner-does-Pepsi-advert version of revolution. The idea of a brand or fashion house trying to comment on something so profoundly important with a few revolution flags and sixties patchworks is ultimately a little odd. Today, in the midst of women - trans and non-binary included - all standing to say #TimesUp, one needs to feel genuine compassion, emotion and relatability.
In steps Rick Owens. For A/W 18, Owens had been exploring the aura of seduction that women carry with them wherever they go - sometimes explicit, sometimes unbeknownst to the wearer. Set to ‘Baubles, Bangles and Beads’ - a fabulous show tune sung by Liza Minnelli and Peggy Lee alike - Owens’ womenswear was both subdued and encouraging. The introduction of check on bulbous shapes was an uplifting addition and felt a little tongue-in-cheek amongst the sculptural forms that are so synonymous with Owens. For me, this is where fashion excels - designer absorbs the cultural impact of what’s occurring around them, presenting their interpretations in a manner that is both in keeping with their style, and challenging the norm.
Regrettably, that was not the case with Miu Miu. One had hoped, as she did with Prada, that Miuccia would transform Miu Miu into a compassionate rally cry for youthful girls, perhaps answering the call that Dior could not. On paper, Miu Miu had the potential to be a brilliant ode to women past, to genuine rebellion. Looking to Rebel Youth by Karlheinz Weinberger, Miu Miu A/W 18 was a heady eighties mix of coiffed hair, lacquered jackets, leg o'mutton sleeve and acid wash jeans. Under the great Miuccia, who can turn fugly into the fantastic, this show had the ingredients to be stellar, but felt clunky and off. With the likes of Adwoa and Kesewa Aboah, Dakota Fanning, Kaia Gerber, Slick Woods and Georgia May Jagger walking, there was such potential for this to be a celebratory feminist moment for the Teen Vogue demographic.
Aiming at a different women’s demographic entirely, and naysaying the need for rebellion, Valentino and Jacquemus were both stand-out collections. Both called upon the typical tropes of femininity and a sensuality that can often be associated with fifties Hollywood. Both, however, had subverted the negative connotations that often follow such imagery, sexism and prejudice, using romanticism as power. At Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli showed a quintessential woman, one who hasn’t abandoned femininity in the times of #MeToo but who is celebrating decadent silhouettes, scalloped edges, giant florals and soft pinks. Jacquemus was cinched, sheer, sexy and smooth, with voluptuous hats, sumptuous textures and tones. This collection appeared to be all about the woman’s shape, and ‘every body is a bikini body’ confidence. These women felt effortlessly strong in their own skin.
Alexander McQueen offered a strong woman too. These women were almost Amazonian in appearance; thick plaits, stomping boots, fringing and animal prints. There was an unabashed sexuality here too, but this was aggressive, almost a Fuck You to the patriarchy. Similarly, Louis Vuitton was a little hostile in it’s A/W 18 offering. There was a sharpness in attitude to Nicolas Ghesquière’s achingly chic Parisian stylings.
Vuitton, McQueen, Jacquemus and Valentino were rebuttals to the stereotypical female, a push-back at designing with the male gaze in mind. It has to be said that it’s near impossible for a designer to have neglected the cultural climes this season. A womenswear show without a nod to the goings on is a sheepish move indeed, these are times that simply can’t be ignored. Luckily, these designers have made collections that won’t be.