Back in 2014, Karl Lagerfeld sent a riot of supermodels down the catwalk wielding protest banners. ‘Women’s rights are more than alright’, read one: ‘History is her story’, read another. While it wasn’t the first time feminist sentiments had made their way on to the runway, it was indicative of a shift towards greater visibility. In recent seasons all kinds of political pronouncements, statements and slogans have accompanied the clothes on the catwalk, something now accepted in the same way one has come to expect a statement heel or an oversized earring.
Feminine is feminism
Fashion is increasingly being informed by feminism, yet this season its expression is taking a different form. What characterised the spring/summer 2017 shows in Paris was less an abundance of slogan-heavy pieces and instead a quieter, more subtle sense of female empowerment that was threaded through the designs. ‘Being a feminist does not mean you need to shout,’ notes fashion writer Catherine St Germans. ‘Equally, clothes that embody female empowerment can have impact while also being graceful.’ She cites Chloé’s now former creative director Clare Waight Keller as a great example of this. ‘Her collection has that quintessential feminine simplicity; the floaty silk dresses and separates we’ve come to expect from the label are evident, but they have been supplemented by softly structured trouser suits which feel right for the moment.’
At Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquière opened his show with draped jersey dresses that had cut-outs at the hips and shoulders and sprays of diamante. They were sensual in their cloaking of the body, but subtly so, resulting in a soft and glamorous femininity that felt grounded and solid rather than heady and flirtatious. At Givenchy, creative director Ricardo Tisci made no secret of the show’s underlying message: ‘Women are fighting for power, everywhere … so I wanted something more sensual,’ he told US Vogue. This sensuality came in the form of silk slip dresses with beautiful, nature-inspired prints which were worn over long ribbed tank tops and accessorised with peach-coloured satin-heeled pumps finished with patent leather laces.
It isn’t just on the catwalk that a shift towards a more sensual notion of femininity has been observed. On the streets of Paris, brands are also paying tribute to modern femininity. This season The Kooples, known for its quirky, androgynous take on dressing, has created a collection of shirts and dresses in romantic, free-flowing designs, with pretty colours and sheer textures. There are silk dresses with pleats and printed florals, frilly cuffs and high necklines. There is also lace trim and thin velvet bows, in line with fashion’s current fascination with how women dressed in the 1970s.
Founded by former music producer brothers Laurent and Arik Bitton, Iro blends French tailoring and modern details for a new take on irreverent Parisian style. Here, trouser suits and classic leather pieces are tempered by floaty printed silk tunics and dresses. Layers and ruffles in sheer fabrics have a whimsical feel and inject a softer, lighter note into classic dressing.
The beauty of these pieces is how well they combine with the grittier urban style – the mannish trouser suits and harder lines that French style heroes such as Emmanuelle Alt and Carine Roitfeld have made their uniform. Even Comptoir des Cotonniers, renowned for its pared-down, minimalist tailoring, has incorporated components of feminine detailing into its pieces this season. This is seen in a silk dress with a side ruffle and in floral maxidresses. At Les Petites, a brand that has made a name for itself with distinctive printed knee- and calf-length dresses, designer Isabelle Benichou presents flared trapeze dresses with bell sleeves. These sit alongside long 70s-influenced tiered dresses with ruffles and Hispanic-inspired wrap dresses with vibrant, multicoloured flowers.
The Vetements effect
Vetements shot to fame by reworking modern design classics. For spring/summer, its collaborations with fashion’s great and good (from Manolo Blahnik to Brioni) are joined by two floral dresses created with the label’s key stylist, Lotta Volkova Adam. One comes in a pale white fabric with small blue flowers, a cinched waist and ruffle neckline. The other has oversized blooms, an empire line and drawstrings at the cuffs and neckline. Both are a joyful nod to delicate, romantic dressing. Yet, more importantly, for a label that is garnering so much attention right now, the inclusion of these pieces in its collection can mean only one thing: fashion for 2017 is heavily invested in the feminine.