How the hell did fashion become such a man’s world?
It wasn’t always like that. The early twentieth century was filled with creative female designers, such as Madame Vionnet, Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli and Claire McCardell. And even when the boys’ club began to codify in the 1970s, with designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Andre Courreges and Karl Lagerfeld ruling the world, at least you get the sense that they worshiped women, rather than just designing for their egos. Perhaps it was the arrival of Claude Montana in the 1980s that brought us here; Maybe it was bad artists, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, who made us think we should enjoy art at the expense of female contributions.
The point is that even though today we have Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior and Virginie Viard at Chanel and the indomitable Mrs. Prada at the helm of two brands (Prada and Miu Miu), there is still a dearth of female designers. And the prominence of women creative directors this season tells us exactly what you’re missing without them.
Many of the most prominent shows in New York were by women designers, such as Maryam Nassir Zadeh and Tory Burch. In London, the story seemed to be the same – perhaps even stronger.
The week started with Chopova Lowena, the crazy dress brand from Laura Lowena and Emma Chopova, which rotated from presentation to show. As they told me in an interview last week, their clothes already emphasize movement, even in a lookbook setting, but the runway debut gave them a chance to emphasize their shapes and finishes and make them perhaps even more magnificent. Their clothes are complicated and luxurious, but they have a power based on them. They feel less like uniforms than march—This season was partially inspired by lacrosse—which means clothing that makes you want to conquer.
The weekend brought a triple threat lineup: Dilara Findikoglu and Molly Goddard on Saturday and Simone Rocha on Sunday. Findikoglu is a special bird. Her magical outfits are sexy in a fabulously indulgent way. Not in the “sexy for a romantic partner” or “sexy for my fashion friends” way – more in the way a woman roots herself into a designer’s world and adopts it as an aesthetic or lifestyle. Findikoglu has the potential to be a Rick Owens or Paul Harnden in the depth and singularity of her world. Her runway show was filled with whimsical statements and dresses that I can only refer to as rare delicacies, like a mesh sheath artfully filled with the model’s Boticelli hair. If the bodies are exposed, it is obviously for the pleasure of the wearer, as if to say: the most important person in the world loves me: me.
The women of London share one thing: they have a great idea and are able to build an entire world around it. Other brands struggle with this (I’m thinking, for example, of the way Jacquemus has become particularly Instagrammed after Le Chiquito was a huge hit, or the way Telfar fans focus on bags much more than clothes). But look at everything Molly Goddard has done in just a tulle dress (and a Rihanna dream!). Her clothes have evolved; she was thinking this season of pre-internet red carpet wear along with Charles James’ quirky and shifting silhouettes. (“He strove for perfection, which isn’t something I’m interested in, but more of an exploration of creating shapes in the body,” as Goddard put it in the show notes. Very clever.) Her tulle temples pared back to simpler, simpler, and perhaps even humbler ideas, like a striped needlepoint top and a subtly ruffled skirt in a children’s book print of little animals frolicking in a forest . Her off-the-shoulder dresses have been toned down in recent seasons into something like a jumpsuit or smock, which you can throw on over a tee for insta-pizzazz or layer with a tiny bralette and a bomber jacket for something more casual. refined. This way of dressing, pulling yesterday’s blouse from a pile on a chair or straightening something straight, seems especially empathetic to the lives of women, who are so busy, but who get their energy and rhythm from the pleasures of daily small. Particularly good were a clutch with flowing skirts and a dress in electric natural tones, bright cave bug colors and one in a dull butter, and a cream waist dress with a romantic flared skirt that looked like cream wrapped up.
I think that’s just one of the strengths of women designers: empathy. They can make clothes that a woman not only wants, but that she feels relate to her life. Sometimes this means that clothes are like a secret or intimate conversation shared between two friends. Another standout show was a designer debuting at London’s new fashion incubator Fashion East, named Karoline Vitto. To call her a plus size designer is not fair at all and understates what she does, which is basically worshiping and pampering the body, especially the parts we tend to feel ashamed of like underarms and stomach rolls, in tank tops and underwires .
And it was sensitivity that made Simone Rocha’s show on Sunday a total wonder. Rocha already HAD It’s all understood: those big loud delights — wedding cake dresses that are beautiful and occasionally gorgeous, always in a slightly weird way — have a dedicated fan base. But this season, she seemed to urgently take the magical drawbridge less traveled, as her clothes took on a new sheen of sophistication, polish and emotional intensity. The show was pink and stripped and full of veils, but the slightly more structured silhouettes, plus the subtle simplicity of the fabrics and the carefully whimsical use of appliqués and patterns, turned this into a strange mix of feminine grandeur. (The collection was also her menswear debut, though to my eye it felt like Rocha was scaling back and more formally inviting already-curious men to the party.) It felt like an assertive statement that the frothy, ethereal, delicate, and the fragile ones are just as interesting (and perhaps more so) than the strong, timeless and monumental ones. And maybe we all need to listen to that side of ourselves more.
Findikoglu is a special taste (by design – and thank God for it, we need more designers who are only for very little). But Rocha and Goddard both offer a strikingly contemporary take on the complex and sometimes wildly contradictory princess dress. Why these brands don’t dominate the red carpet, I don’t know. They make women look comfortable, confident, a little wild, vulnerable yet in control – really all the things you want to feel as a woman today. Consider this my plea to designers to do so.
Two other shows that warrant a mention from London: the new Standing Ground brand, which debuted at Fashion East, from menswear designer Michael Stewart. His collarbone-hugging, hip-skimming rope dresses are powerfully erotic stuff. And finally: Jonathan Anderson. His bag goldfish dress and Hari Nef in a shark fin top were the kind of quirky little tricks a senior fashion student pulls off with a bigger budget and more design finesse . It made me think he might be losing his mind in the best way possible, and whet my appetite for whatever cool stuff he’ll be getting at the Loewe show in Paris next week. He looks like a cartoon character hunched over with his box of ACME dynamite, ready to press the little red button and crackle into the status quo explosion.
Rachel Tashjian is the Fashion News Director at Harper’s Bazaar, working across print and digital platforms. Before, she was GQthe first fashion critic and worked as deputy editor of GARAGE and as a writer in Vanity Fair. She has written for publications including Book Forum AND Artforumand is the creator of the invitation-only Wealthy Tips newsletter.