Power Dressing

>>I’ve always been curiously fascinated by the world of fashion since a very young age. As a curious creative child I would sketch dress patterns for my dolls, specifying materials, patterns and prints. This then manifested into a love affair with the V&A [museum] when I studied fashion at the London College of Fashion. Through my studies I was introduced to the curated fashion hall, learning intensely about the history of clothes, the craftsmanship & skill of couture gowns. Although my passion has since changed formats into a more spatial form of design I am still extremely captivated by the fashion world. Fashion, like interior architecture, has the ability to effect, adapt and mimic our own individualism. Like a second skin somehow we become one with it. It was my very own, personal experiences with fashion which compelled me to visit the Women. Fashion. Power exhibition which is currently running at the Design Museum.

Comprising of some of the most powerful & accomplished women in the world this exhibition (although I feel that this level of work goes beyond an exhibition personally) is not just some fickle feminist fashion statement, but an experience examining the very autobiography of fashion through history and also through the lives of twenty-five head strong women. Many I have admired for some time, the exhibition includes pioneers such as Camila Batmanghelidjh who founded and is Director of the dedicated charity ‘Kids Company’, esteemed Designer Dame Vivienne Westwood  and Interior Designer turned Lead Singer, Skin. This exhibition allows you to elegantly crash into both symbolic & influential stages in history which were imperative to the evolution of fashion. From the Suffragettes who fought tirelessly for our right to vote to the war effort which saw role reversals for women (which subsequently lead to changes in fashion and stereo-types to developments & introductions of new advantaging materials) we are reminded of the key elements in design both political & social which have helped shape the fashion industry and ‘us’ as women [and vice versa]. Co-curated by fashion expert Colin McDowell and Head of Curation at the Design Museum Donna Loveday certainly immerses you. Design by renewed architect Zaha Hadid it is clear through the elements encompassed within this exhibition that various elements of the creative industries can influence fashion and not merely fashion alone. I took the opportunity to interview Head Curator Donna Loveday on all things fashion, politics & power.

Camila Batmanghelidjh Carousel Camila Batmanghelidjh Carousel
Vivienne Westwood portrait Christian Shambenait Vivienne Westwood portrait Christian Shambenait

“Vivienne’s designs combine classic elegance with restless originality – rather like the irrepressible spirit of Liberty.”

— Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty
Skin - www.shedlightevents.com Skin – http://www.shedlightevents.com

“I love fashion. As a lead singer of a rock band my stage style is a very important part of my being, to me it’s interesting to develop the visual side. I’m not a typical fashion head, I’m definitely not a blank canvas. I came with personality, a hell of a lot of individuality and tons of attitude, this is directly affected by what and how I wear my pieces. ”

— Skin – Singer, Skunk Anansie

Q. Within the creative industry do you feel that the power of fashion is an essential component of the working woman’s wardrobe?

“Fashion can be an important tool of self-expression and empowerment, a counterpoint to the idea that fashion restricts or enslaves women, or is a frivolous distraction. For many women, fashion is an important part of what empowers them, allowing them to express politics, personality, creativity, and sometimes helping them to create completely new personas. For women working in the creative sector, they have to be very visually aware and this is something that inevitably extends to what they wear and how they appear. For many of the women in our exhibition, that doesn’t mean power suits but having a softer approach to corporate style and embracing the opportunity to be more creative with clothes.”

— Donna Loveday – Head of Curatorial, Design Museum Curator of Women Fashion Power

Q. The feminism debate has been prevalent over the last 30 years, however more recently there seems to be strengthened similarity or blurring-of-lines between masculine & feminine dress. If fashion does indeed reflect society, do you think that we are heading towards more equal-rights for women or do you think we still have a long way to go?

“This exhibition demonstrates that there are an impressive number of high achieving women – but there is still a very long way to go, certainly in terms of opening up professions to women, traditionally assumed by men. Morwenna Wilson is one of the youngest women to feature in the exhibition. As a Mechanical Engineer and Senior Projects Director at Argent LLP leading on the design and delivery of several major projects at Kings Cross, she is a great example of how women are breaking through those ‘glass ceilings’”

— Donna Loveday – Head of Curatorial

“There is new shift in dressing to express power and authority, as more women wield power in many different spheres. Today we see the evolution of a new power dress code that moves away from avoiding mistakes, playing safe and following the rules. Professional women are engaging with contemporary fashion as a way to express individuality, a sense of style and project empowerment. The women in this exhibition demonstrate their individual approaches to fashion – in their own words”

— Donna Loveday Head of Curatorial

Q. Following SS15 Fashion Week and using the example of the Chanel SS15 catwalk show in Paris, do you think politics has a place in womenswear fashion?

“Politics has always had a place in fashion and will continue to do so. The exhibition reflects a number of key historical moments. During the 1980s when a number of designers were actively confronting political issues. Katharine Hamnett brought world peace and environmental issues into the fashion arena with her Autumn/Winter 1983-84 ‘Choose Life’ collection. This featured t-shirts emblazoned with bold slogans in capital letters, ‘Vote Tactically’, Worldwide Nuclear Ban Now’ and ‘58% Don’t Want Pershing’ – a design she famously wore to meet Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at Downing Street. The same for Vivienne Westwood, from her subversive origins as an engineer of punk, she has evolved into an internationally successful champion of British design and identity. In the past two decades, she has campaigned fiercely for human rights and environmental causes, encouraging her fans, and consumers at large, to “Buy less, choose well, make it last.”

— Donna Loveday

“Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty and who features in the exhibition states,
“What we wear does matter because it is an expression of our individuality. That is why clothes are so repressed still in so many parts of the world and uniform is imposed on so many people, often against their will.”

— Donna Loveday

Q. Over the last 50 years the power of fashion has profoundly influenced our society – from the liberation of the mini [skirt] in the sixties to the power dressing shoulder padded suits in the 80s to the girl power of the 90s – which decade do you feel embodies the power of dress the most?

“The clothes that women wore so often reflected how they were positioned in society. Decades of great change have left their mark on contemporary trends. During the course of the twentieth century, women have gradually taken complete control over how they dress. Prior to this, they had never had the freedom from rules and convention that they now enjoy. An immersive timeline in the exhibition presents a selection of political, social and cultural events from 1850 up the present that have changed women’s role in society, and which have had significant impacts on the way that they dressed. A diverse range of exhibits help to illustrate these key, liberating moments for women and for fashion.”

— Donna Loveday
Back view of a ribbon corset, 1904, The Bowes Museum Back view of a ribbon corset, 1904, The Bowes Museum

Q. Do you think that fashion is a choice for those at the pinnacle of their careers  or do you feel that women have conformed to the notion of the higher the heel the more successful you are (for instance)?

“Some women do feel empowered and more confident in high heels, for others, a lower heel or flat shoes works equally well. The important point to come through this exhibition is that women no longer feel the need to ‘conform’ but have a choice as to what they wear and how they present themselves. The exhibition expresses a positive message – that fashion can be an important tool for self-expression. Women Fashion Power helps to provide an understanding of the nature of power for women, how they choose to project power and how it is expressed through fashion. As Hillary Clinton declared, when interviewed earlier this year, “Now its sorted. Women can express who they are more…You have to be aware of conventions, but you don’t have to be a slave to them.” ”

— Donna Loveday

Packaging for Cream and White Bri Nylon Brassiere with Nottingham Lace Detail © Marks & Spencer Company Archive Packaging for Cream and White Bri Nylon Brassiere with Nottingham Lace Detail © Marks & Spencer Company Archive

Design Museum: Women Fashion Power –

29 October 2014 – 26 April 2015


IMAGES: Mirren Rosie | Design Museum

2 thoughts on “Power Dressing

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