Feminism in Fashion

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The V&A presents ‘Feminism in Fashion’ as part of the V&A Connects evening events, with guest speakers: Caryn Franklin MBE (former Fashion Editor of i-D Magazine and co-founder of All Walks Beyond the Catwalk), film maker and curator Kathryn Ferguson and Lou Stoppard, Editor of SHOWstudio, chaired by Hywel Davies, author of Modern Menswear and 100 New Fashion Designers.

Feminism in Fashion discusses the issues that surround the idea of feminism which may not coincide within the idealisms of the fashion industry:

Hywel Davies: How responsible do you feel is your role of how you report on fashion?

Caryn Franklin: I work with All walks beyond the Catwalk promoting women of all sizes and ages because we seem to forget what women look like without all the airbrushing and falseness – we did a shoot with nine different designers such as Vivienne Westwood, to Giles Deacon and Stella McCartney, showcasing a sample look and worked individually with the model to create a bespoke fit for each unique body shape such as Valerie (pictured above) for Antonio Beradi, this is without any retouching because we wanted to project how beautiful age is and the individuality of the skin on every person. 

Lou Stoppard: It’s a tough one because fashion has always had bad press in all fields, especially feminism – I worry that feminists ignore or reject fashion because that means they’re not seeking any ability to change it. We at SHOWstudio created a series last year called fashion fetish which consisted of all female creatives, and to be able to do something like that in a fashion context is incredible.

Hywel Davies: Do you ever get concerned about the content of image portrayal going online?

Lou Stoppard: For sure, there’s always going to be a part of you when you’re a feminist and you work in fashion that wants to go into a room and just scream for a while but as I work for Nick Knight – he’s consistently known for being experimental and considerate in his imagery so a lot of his work looks at different bodies and ages. He was the first photographer to use a disabled person in a fashion magazine, so I think it’s more interesting and more relatable to see than a woman with a completely unachievable figure.

We did a shoot recently for V Magazine called ‘Studs‘ (pictured above) with a group of women who enjoyed presenting themselves as men and got a far better response than an 18 year old model dressed in a beautiful dress, not that that model isn’t also a valid image of a woman but I find the most exciting fashion imagery is something that is boundary pushing.

Hywel Davies: Can you be honest about your opinions on designers collections?

Lou Stoppard: Yes I can always be honest whether in terms of how they represent women’s or menswear, and even though some male designers aren’t that compassionate when they design for the female form, I find it frustrating when female designers who are often heralded as brilliant are actually putting out very difficult outfits and looks for a regular woman to wear. Take Phoebe Philo at Celine, I love Celine but those aren’t compassionate designs any more than Christopher Kane with his bodycon dresses.

Hywel Davies: Do you get people who ask why you’re doing what you’re doing?

Lou Stoppard: Yes but my argument is that fashion is amazing – it’s so creative, it’s pioneering, it’s intelligent – look at Miuccia Prada or Rei Kawakubo, it’s not an industry filled with airheads.

Guest Question: It seems male designers are overtaking womenswear but yet I think some designers like Vivienne Westwood are creating for the male gaze, is it down to women designers to change womenswear options?

Lou Stoppard: I take issue with the idea that some of the female designers are responding to the male gaze because you easily dismiss all of fashion – anything that accentuates the female form can be classed in that category its an easy criticism to make. But I agree with you that they can be more empathetic to women but then I don’t particularly think its a gender thing – its just what an industry needs to be.

Caryn Franklin: This was something that was highlighted by Karl Lagerfeld when he picked on Adele – said that she was just a little bit too fat, but he didn’t finish his sentence. What he really meant was I cant design for her body, I don’t know how to flatter a realistically shaped body and thats a failing on my part because I only know how to iconize a model who is 6″ and a size 6.

Kathryn Ferguson: It’s interesting you mention Adele, because when she was featured on the cover of The Gentlewoman magazine, Penny Martin had said she found it humiliating because they had to advertise the garment Adele was wearing – it was the done thing, but Adele’s dress wasn’t fitted – it was open at the back and they had to tape it up, Adele wasnt bothered because she was clearly used to it but its just an repetitive cycle, theres always that element of advertisement dictating in fashion business.

Hywel Davies: What advice would you each give people from a feminists point of view on how they should be able to express themselves?

Caryn Franklin: I think the power of fashion is that its an amazing carrier, what you choose it to carry is up to you. I would never ask for fashion’s approval, I’m so anti- all these fashion dictates magazines like ‘get the look’, for me, it’s about you using fashion on your terms to do the job that you want it to do. I think thats a really important space to work with it – its a tool , not a rule, I think as an industry we have yet to really deliver how fashion can iconize or embolden to make warriors of us all. It can proivde the battle dress you need for your day or the comfort or support that you want.

It seems that the corporate in trying to farm us for profit has created some sort of messaging to undermine us. It’s like they got into a room and said lets make people feel shit about themselves so they’ll buy more stuff and its worked! So if we dont respond to that, they dont make profit therefor they will stop. When we complain about the exploitative advertising and don’t buy the product than they will have to try something else.

Hywel Davies: So its the power of the consumer to take action?

Caryn Fanklin: Its the power of the individual.

Kathryn Ferguson: For anyone thats interested in shooting fashion imagery, just really try and think about how you want to view fashion yourselves and take responsibility to what you are showing to the world. 

Keep an eye out for the next ‘Feminism in Fashion’ talk at V&A Connects online.

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