21.10.2019

Reclaiming pretty

Boldy feminine fashion driven by women designers

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Words: Daniël Geldenhuys | Images: Getty

A womenswear suiting revival started gaining momentum in January 2018, right around the historic #TimesUp Golden Globe Awards. Attendees wore black to raise awareness around sexual assault and inequality in the workplace. It’s tempting to think of suiting as a symptom of modern feminism as we know it today – a way for women to reclaim a traditionally masculine staple as their own. While such an assessment is absolutely valid, it’s important to also consider the rise of unapologetically feminine dressing. Pretty is having just as big a moment as suiting. And it’s no less feminist.

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So how does pretty look at the height of the streetwear movement, where being cool means wearing an oversized hoodie and the “ugliest” chunky sneakers you can find? The answer is uncompromising: unapologetically frilly with an abundance of ruffles swishing between fields of printed florals in a burst of femininity.

No one designs this aesthetic quite like the Rodarte sisters, Kate and Laura Mulleavy, who never met frill they didn’t love. (The brand name is based on their mother’s maiden name.) Nature is their most consistent source of inspiration: from painterly Van Gogh sunflowers for Spring 2012 to Spring 2017’s bees. Kirsten Dunst choosing to reveal her pregnancy in the Fall 2018 lookbook felt absolutely appropriate: the Rodarte sisters are worthy role models for a new generation, having never been at the mercy of the fashion economy, moving in and out of fashion week schedules as it suits them and running a (rare) successful independent business.

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“I think independence is a luxury,” Simone Rocha told Vogue’s Lynn Yaeger at last year’s Forces of Fashion conference. One of the Rocha signatures is a trench coat dress hybrid, involving two different fabrics (one of which is often sheer) that play off each other in interesting ways. Often added to this is Rocha’s take on a bra top, serving to contrast the androgynous masculinity of the coat dress. “I love contrast,” said Rocha. “That is how I interpret femininity.”

It’s safe to say Molly Goddard, famous for her frothy tulle smock dresses, interprets femininity the same way. “I’ve always been a massive tomboy,” Goddard told Interview. She’s built her business, also independent, from the ground up on the power of sisterhood. She draws inspiration from the hand-smocked dresses she used to wear from her great-grandmother and for her first fashion show, she called friends to model her dresses over their everyday clothes.

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You can trace the frills and florals in today’s fashion back to independent women design talent like Rocha, Goddard and the Rodarte sisters. Their visions are uncompromisingly feminine and feminist in terms of concept and economic execution. Though they stand in contrast to the suiting and streetwear worlds, they don’t defy them. The way these women explore the idea of contrast seems to say you can move freely between masculine to feminine dressing as you please. “My main thing is I like women to be comfortable,” says Goddard. “Maybe that’s what makes [my work] feminine above everything else.”

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