It was a pair of trousers, a miniskirt, a metallic mesh dress. It was a clock set on pause, a refusal to follow the rules, a new way of looking at the rules. In the Fashion industry, freedom was what freedom wanted to be. After all, if Fashion didn't break the seams, would it even be Fashion?
In this complex universe that is Fashion, freedom may not be written in crooked lines, but there’s a chance that it is written through the creations of Coco Chanel, Mary Quant, Diane von Furstenberg, Donna Karan, King Kawakubo, Miuccia Prada, Vivienne Westwood or Donatella Versace. In a world where women (still) have to fight twice as much as men, freedom - and liberation - was also sewn by women who were not afraid to fly revolution flags, breaking conventions, tearing boundaries, creating new roles. When fabric scarcity during World War I demanded that creativity spoke louder than the crisis, Coco Chanel started working with jersey, a material so far reserved only for men's underwear. More than that, Gabrielle revolutionized the female silhouette of the time - when the sumptuousness of corset dresses was the norm, the designer challenged codes by introducing pants (a piece that was only intended for men), shift dresses, the little black dress (due to the fact that it was associated with mourning , this color was a debut in Fashion) the classic Chanel suit and, years later, the 2.55 handbag, which due to the fact that it could be worn on the shoulder also freed women - for the first time they could walk with their hands free. When women demanded more freedom in the 60s and 70s, Mary Quant and Diane von Furstenberg responded to the claim with two pieces of women's liberation - the iconic miniskirt and the famous wrap dress, respectively. When the conquests multiplied, the female wardrobe went the same way - with the conscious power of Donna Karan, with the subtle King Kawakubo's revolution, with the unusual beauty of Miuccia Prada, with punk by Vivienne Westwood, with intelligent sensuality by Donatella Versace. As Sarah Mower wrote in The Present Is Female: The Designers Behind a Fashion Revolution, published in the August 2019 issue of Vogue US, “women's culture runs broadly on the 21st century fashion scene. It is on top of an important French house; it permeates the uprising of young self-made independents and generations of established entrepreneurs: a multifaceted critical mass of women who constantly work to change an industry for the better. What is remarkable is the way they talk about feeling, their agile ability to intuit the time we live in, and their silent but constant change in the world of fashion in order to bring down the bad guys and old institutional behaviors”. In a world where women continue to fight, Eugène Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People image is painted with Simone Rocha's Gothic romanticism, with Stella McCartney's sustainability, with Marine Serre's aesthetic dystopia, with the Olsen sisters' minimalism and with the sophistication of Victoria Beckham, side by side with the women who continue to row the power houses boat forward - Clare Waight Keller at Givenchy, Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen, Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior, Virgine Viard at Chanel and Silvia Venturini Fendi at Fendi. In their own way, each one is a guarantee that women can be what they want, wear what they want, design what they want. Is there freedom more beautiful than that?
They say bad news travel fast, but in the era of the Internet it’s more like at the speed of light. At least that was the feeling caused by the headlines of September 15, 2014 amongst the Fashion industry and its faithful followers - 38 years after presenting his first solo show, Jean Paul Gaultier abandoned the frantic vein of ready-to-wear, leaving behind both his feminine and masculine lines. "It is a new beginning. I will be able to fully express my creativity again and without constraints”, the designer told WWD, citing commercial and financial pressures as the two major forces behind its decision. “For some time now, I found real fulfillment in working with Haute Couture - it allows me to express my creativity and my taste for research and experimentation. At the same time, the world of ready-to-wear has evolved considerably.
Commercial restrictions, along with the frantic pace of the collections, offer neither freedom or the time needed to find new ideas and innovate.” If Gaultier's message wasn’t clear enough for us to realize that the accelerated pace of the industry was starting to leave creative freedom behind, Fashion’s enfant terrible decided to take it further a few months after announcing its ready-to-wear “makeover”. “Too many clothes kill clothes... Fashion has changed. The proliferationof clothing. Eight collections per season is equivalent to16 a year,” he argued in an interview with the Associated Press. “The system does not work... There are not enough people to buy. We are making clothes that are destinednot to be worn at all.” Still in 2015, more precisely at the beginning of February, the Dutch duo Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren announced that they would press stop on Viktor & Rolf's ready-to-wear line. The designers told the WWD website, in a speech similar to that of Jean Paul Gaultier, that ready-to-wear is a business that operates at a fast speed, with many deadlines and fierce competition - and, like Gaultier, they cited the restriction of creativity as one of the reasons for abandoning that same business and dedicating themselves exclusively to Haute Couture. “We feel a strong need to focus on our artistic roots again,” said Horsting. “We have always used Fashion to communicate, it is our main means of artistic expression. Ready-to-wear began to be something that restricted us on a creative level. By stopping, we gain more time and freedom.” Perhaps it was Raf Simons who best summed up the value of creativity without constraints and restrictions when he abandoned the creative direction of Dior, in 2015, and said “I just wanted to do clothes”. But without the freedom - to think, to reflect, to create - the Fashion industry – meaning the one that challenges us, that forces us to look beyond the obvious, that makes us dream bigger - will always be bound to suffer as a result.
If it’s true that freedom helps us to move forward, it is also true that it is thanks to it that we have managed to take a step back - and, when it comes to the Fashion industry, this may mean abandoning the traditional calendar of Fashion Weeks. In recent years, there have been plenty of examples of designers who decided to tear up the constraint of counting hours and days and opting for certainly freer approaches instead. In 2016, Christopher Bailey, then creative director at Burberry, announced to Business of Fashion that the British House would start operating at an entirely different time. Bailey's decision translated into a fusion of the womenswear and menswear collections (traditionally independent) in two annual events, which would adopt a nomenclature without season - instead of the typical “spring/summer” and “autumn/winter”, the collections would now be labeled “February” and “September” - and would be available immediately after the shows, in line with the see now/buy now model. As the BoF wrote at the time of the decision, “Burberry's new strategy is an answer to the long-standing problem of the calendar, a legacy from the pre-Internet era in which the fashion shows were conceived as behind closed doors events so that the press and buyers could have a preview of the collection, months before it was available in stores. In recent years, the growth of digital media has put tremendous pressure on this model, as the shows - now instantly shared on the Internet - have become powerful marketing events, leaving brands with no tools to convert buzz into sales for a collection that has not yet been produced”. The approach was not only pioneering, but established a new standard of freedom to question traditional models and look at Fashion with a more contemporary vision as well. In 2017, Demna Gvasalia confessed to the North American edition Vogue that Vetements would abandon the traditional Fashion show model. "We will stop presenting in the classic system. I got bored. I think it is necessary to enter a new chapter. Fashion shows are not the best tool. We did shows everywhere from an erotic club, a restaurant, to a church. We advanced the season, we showed menswear and womenswear together. It became repetitive and tiring. We will do something when there is time and need. It will be a surprise.” That same year, the duo Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez announced that Proenza Schouler would abandon the calendar altogether, in order to “follow a business model in line with the reality of today's market”; a year later it was Alexander Wang's turn to say goodbye to the official Fashion Week calendar from New York, presenting the brand's proposals in June and December; and in February of last year, Kerby Jean-Raymond, the creative mind behind Pyer Moss, confirmed to The New York Times that the brand would be one at the New York Fashion Week. Designer after designer, the revolution continues - just this year, Tom Ford traded the New York calendar for the freedom of Los Angeles, where he presented his fall/winter 2020, and Phillip Lim decided to cancel the fall/winter 2020 show in New York to “take a moment to breathe” and “have time to think about the act of creating happily again”.
From the empowerment of Yves Saint Laurent and Paco Rabanne to the discreet revolution of Coco Chanel and Miuccia Prada, not to mention the overwhelming sensuality of Thierry Mugler and Tom Ford, the minimalism of Helmut Lang and Jil Sander, the realistic fantasy of Pierpaolo Piccioli and the effortless chic (and cool) by Phoebe Philo, Fashion and freedom have always walked side by side - and, on the catwalk, this giant F word remains the motto and riot. Let's start with Alessandro Michele, the man who took Gucci by storm. In a good way, of course. For the Cruise 2020 collection, presented in the city of Rome in May last year, the creative director chose to do what he himself defined it as a “hymn to freedom”. “It was very important to organize the show in Rome, at a time when it is crucial to glorify this place as a place of freedom. All the beautiful things that surround us in the pagan world are linked to a freedom that was sometimes threatened. I tried to put all the characters in my film in the best possible setting, where they can be free,” said Michele referring to his collection, which focused on the idea of freedom of choice. Or, rather, in the defense of pro-choice - at a time when the impending anti-abortion laws in the United States of America threatened one of the most basic women's rights, some clothes were adorned with images of the female reproductive system, while in others you could read the powerful slogan “My body, my choice” or “May 22, 1978”, referencing the date when abortion was legalized in Italy. “The news that I have been reading in the newspapers made me reflect on the fact that women have to be respected. They should be considered as some men consider themselves. They should have the freedom to choose what they want. Ending a pregnancy will not pluck the flower that is in each woman's womb. Sometimes, decisions are difficult. It is the most difficult decision for a woman and I respect her choice.” Someone who also looked at freedom, although with a different lens was John Galliano. For the spring/summer 2020 collection at Maison Margiela - a collection centered on freedom, hope and activism - the creative director traveled through the history books and recovered some of the most significant figures who fought for freedom, from Marie Curie to Edith Cavell. As Galliano explained in the podcast The Memory Of ..., “Margiela's spring/summer 2020 is about remembering, about liberation, about having a voice. These people fought so that you could [have the right to] vote, so use it. Make them hear you. It’s important." And in March of the present year, freedom arrived in the Fashion industry in the form of a double C. “'Freedom!', Declared Virginie Viard during a fitting at the Chanel atelier on Rue Cambon, on the eve of her show,” wrote Hamish Bowles on Vogue Runway referring to the autumn/winter collection 2020 of the French House. “Viard explained that she was talking about the kind of wind-in-the-hair freedom that a rider feels while his horse roams the landscape. This idea of liberation was translated into a collection of spontaneous and women-friendly pieces that embraced the codes of the maison while reinforcing Viard's pragmatic instincts for comfortable, peaceful glamour and in no way silly.” In Fashion, freedom is just like that - more or less political, more or less activist, more or less idyllic. But always freedom.
This article was originally published in Vogue Portugal's Freedom issue, from April 2020.
Para ler este artigo em português, veja a edição de Liberdade da Vogue Portugal.