Female Empowerment – taking more control over all aspects of life as a woman, while acquiring power in society. This term, which has caused a lot of ink to flow lately, has largely exceeded its essentially political, educational, ecological and social vocations. But, besides spreading the word of empowerment for marketing purposes, does the fashion industry actually practice what it preaches?
Where are the Jeanne Lanvins, Coco Chanels and Elsa Schiaparellis who set the tone of fashion in the first half of the 20th century? They are still here, even if they are under-represented compared to their male counterparts. Having showcased her now famous “We should all be feminists” T-Shirts on the runway during her first Haute Couture outing, Maria Grazia Chiuri once again cited Nigerian author and activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as a reference for her Dior Fall/Winter 2017 show. Dior’s designer received some harsh criticism over this, including accusations that she was simply using and abusing a feminist mainstream statement concerned with helping low-income women, transforming it and making it bankable for the elite.
Adiche, in fact, seemed quite upset about these reactions and hostilities. “I’m already irritated,” the author told The Guardian in an interview with editor Emma Brockes. “What’s the damage?” Adichie continued. “This idea of feminism as a party to which only a select few people get to come: this is why so many women, particularly women of colour, feel alienated from mainstream western academic feminism. Because, don’t we want it to be mainstream? For me, feminism is a movement for which the end goal is to make itself no longer needed.”
When speaking of female empowerment, the outstanding impact Rei Kawakubo’s designs have had on the perception of womanhood for the past 40 years cannot be ignored. In fact, Kawakubo – the mastermind behind the much sought after Comme des Garçons label – is the first living female fashion designer to exhibit solo at the museum from May 4 to September 4, 2017, with an exhibition entitled, Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between.
Having said that, there is one main concern about the double-edged relationship between fashion and feminism: moving away from the clothes to actual tangible female empowerment seems be the real challenge within the luxury industry. A process that would upset the status quo of fashion brands as we know it. In other words, more women in top positions at fashion houses, as well as a better and less judgmental treatment of female models are the actual way to go. This would be a (r)evolution that would empower women within the luxury industry. And that’s a much more respectable achievement than any power suit or feminist branded T-Shirt.