For autumn/winter 2018-19, Milan’s leading designers explore the concept of female power in the modern age. From all-out glamour to boyish silhouettes, brands including Roberto Cavalli, Max Mara, Prada and Moschino prove that power dressing is anything but dead
For autumn/winter 2018/19, in a social climate where gender politics are becoming international news, Italy’s leading designers have come together – consciously or unconsciously – to present collections that consider what it means to be a powerful modern woman. Brands including Roberto Cavalli, Max Mara and Prada make a case for luxury fashion itself as a form of female empowerment.
Roberto Cavalli is a brand that has long associated strong women with glitz and glamour. The label’s eponymous founder had a penchant for animal prints, leathers and – most notably – revealing silhouettes. In his second collection for the label, creative director Paul Surridge blended many of the founder’s signature tropes with elements of the loose tailoring and androgynous lines that typified his menswear roles at Jil Sander and Acne Studios. Ruched, bodycon dresses were layered under boxy biker jackets – both in matching leopard print. A white dress was high-necked and almost floor-length, yet partially sheer. In many ways, this collection is about balance.
Backstage at the show Surridge explained that, to him, glamour and attraction equate to confidence, and that confidence cannot exist without comfort. Roberto Cavalli clothes make women feel both confident and comfortable, whether the garments are bold and revealing or understated.
Encouraging women to feel confident is something that Max Mara is very familiar with, having played a big part in defining 1980s power dressing. This season, designer Ian Griffiths brought together the chic, almost masculine tailoring that has typified the house since that decade with another fashion reference from the same era: punk rock. Alongside the brand’s staple pieces – pencil skirts and wool coats, for example – Griffiths introduced the punk fashion mainstays of tartan and leather. The latter was found in almost every look, from belts to gloves to jackets, and even a few all-leather looks.
Punk and power dressing, explained Griffiths, were two fashions that gave women new authority and opportunity, though in different ways: one to stand out from the crowd and one to lend status in the workplace. In bringing them together, Max Mara highlights the complexities of female empowerment today, and also its potential.
The intricacies of being a woman in the modern world were a central theme at Prada, where designer Miuccia Prada spoke backstage about the ‘struggle between retaining femininity and being strong.’ Her collection looked to a future that embraced both the strength and the softness of womanhood. Delicate tulle dresses, which featured large bows at the nape of the neck, were layered over and under high-vis materials and bodices in military colours, or all but covered by oversized jackets in high-performance fabrics. Many looks were finished with a corporate ID badge, as if Prada were dressing women for every role they might play in modern life.
If Miuccia Prada’s constructions can be interpreted as an exaggerated representation of complex female identity, Alessandro Michele took it to the next level at Gucci. The autumn/winter 2018/19 collection explores the way that people construct their identities through fashion; here the catwalk became a laboratory, and the models its creations. Though the catwalk styling at Gucci is extreme – certain models held replicas of their own heads in a nod to Dr Frankenstein – the pieces themselves are eminently wearable and the success of the brand is testament to this. A glittery dress with sheer ruffles was dressed down with sneakers, but would look perfect with heels for an evening event. Garment bags encompassing models’ entire looks contained tailored pieces that would fit into any wardrobe. The collection, like womanhood, is what you make of it.
One woman whose identity has become inextricably linked with her fashion choices is Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and it was to her that Jeremy Scott looked for inspiration for this season’s collection at Moschino. He spoke of the incredible strength Onassis showed after losing her husband; how could she remain so seemingly perfect while enduring such pain? The answer, or at least the concept Scott chose to explore, was that she was actually an alien.
On the catwalk, this tongue-in-cheek conspiracy theory was played out in looks that were heavily inspired by the signature style of Jackie O. Classic 1960s silhouettes burst with bold colours and pop art prints. For Scott, their variety signified the endless possibilities of the unknown in outer space.
Though Moschino’s approach leaned heavily towards the playful and the humorous, there was a serious message behind the fun. Onassis used fashion both to shield and to empower herself, constructing a persona that she could take strength from. Whatever story your clothes are telling this season, be sure it’s one of feminine power.