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SS24 Womenswear trend preview: The evolution of fashion’s feminism

By Rachel Douglass


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(From left) FW23 collections by Versace, Roberto Cavalli and Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood. Images: Launchmetrics Spotlight

Rebellion intertwined with feminism has always been a part of fashion, and can regularly be seen in how designers have communicated their values, whether that be runways in the form of protests – think Karl Lagerfeld’s SS15 Chanel show – or statements in the clothing itself – note the slew of printed t-shirts in AW17 collections responding to Donald Trump’s election bid.

As time goes on, and as history repeats itself, feminism’s place in the industry has naturally evolved, as designers begin to explore new ways of portraying female empowerment. This resulted in a vast contrast in approaches within the collections of the AW23 season, with some lines referencing feminist staples of the past, such as the Power Suit, while others drew on the power of lingerie as celebration of the female form.

Speaking to FashionUnited on this simultaneous showcasing of emerging trends, Fashion Snoops’ director of womenswear, Patricia Maeda, said: “With social media providing real-time access to the latest new products and micro trends bubbling up at every second, today’s fashion trends are much wider (and faster) than they once were. I think that while there is space for all the different themes to co-exist, what’s become clear is that the top layer of creative directors today have a strong sense of who their customer is and what they’re shopping for, therefore delivering on-brand pieces which can ultimately take on different aesthetics.”

Witches rule the roost

(From left) FW23 collections by Aniye Records, Acne Studios and Victoria Beckham. Images: Launchmetrics Spotlight

Last year, conversations around the link between witchcraft and feminism took on new forms, as witches moved up in status to become the ultimate ‘modern day feminists’. The shift was spurred by a range of new films and publications on the topic, and eventually seeped out into the fashion world, initially impacting SS23 collections, such as Versace’s lace-laden black widows. The gothic take continued into AW23, with the likes of Aniye Records and Acne Studios exhibiting equally provocative looks, many adorned with symbols like crosses or flames. Such a trend has been largely steered by former dominatrix and ex of Kanye West Julia Fox, who has become somewhat of a poster child for this deviation to the dark side.

And it appears that we could expect more from the occult in the coming season, as envisioned by trend researcher at Deutsches Mode-Insitut, Carl Tillessen. During a presentation on trends for the SS24 season, Tillessen noted a transformation in designers’ muses, stating they were “sending not only angels but also fallen angels down the runway”. He added that people were once again able to acknowledge their moral ambivalences, noting: “It’s about uncensored and uninhibited sex for the advanced.”

Lingerie becomes an outerwear staple

(From left) FW23 collections by Dilara Fındıkoğlu, Miu Miu and Dsquared2. Images: Launchmetrics Spotlight

While lingerie’s place in the daily wardrobe isn’t exactly new, its growing use in runway collections hints at the shift in how such garments are viewed in the fashion world. In the eyes of creators, showing skin or drawing inspiration from underwear is actually a form of taking pride in one’s body and highlighting the female figure, with recent iterations also coming as an offset of the Y2K hype that has dominated the industry in recent years. One backer of the trend is that of 2021 LVMH Prize winner Nensi Dojaka, whose lingerie-like ready-to-wear has garnered her an acclaimed status. Speaking to WWD, Dojaka said that showing the body “started more as a trend, continued and is becoming a statement of empowerment and making the female body ‘acceptable’, instead of being either scared [of seeing it] or sexualising”.

Compared to other iterations of feminism on the runway, the lingerie trend portrays somewhat of a softer take on the concept, often defined by pastel colours and lightweight materials, such as chiffon or lace. Fashion Snoops’ Maeda noted: “The shift towards more feminine and softer themes showcase the growing desire to move away from the rigidity of patriarchal structures and embrace a softer approach to fashion. In the current societal landscape in which women’s body autonomy choices are restricted and punished, reclaiming femininity becomes an important act of emancipation. In this cultural landscape, clothes can reveal important layers of the experience of feminine identity, from empowering bodily displays via sheer layering or reclaiming sexualised items with lingerie on display.”

Power Suits return in full subtlety

(From left) FW23 collections from Bottega Veneta, Balmain and Alexander McQueen. Images: Launchmetrics Spotlight

In its infancy, the women’s Power Suit was designed to give the wearer a strong appearance in the setting of a male-dominated environment. The two-piece was marketed as a look that every woman needed in order to showcase their power as they began to enter the job market throughout the 20th century. Now, the suit’s meaning has dramatically changed in line with the desires of the modern day, as the lines of its purpose continue to blur and it becomes less of a status symbol. In the current setting, its resurgence has been triggered alongside the ‘Quiet Luxury’ trend that has taken over fashion in recent months, an aesthetic that is defined by subtle, toned-down looks that are entirely logo-free yet are the epitome of high quality.

Trend forecaster Hilde Franq referenced such a trend in her semi-annual Colour Webinar for SS24, where she linked the return of “real luxury” to the current unstable climate as people look to the certainty of the past when faced with a turbulent period. For Franq, this will be seen in customised and refined luxury for the coming season, achieved through finishings and detail. Hints of this could already be seen during the AW23 in the form of sleek tailoring, with modernised cuts that still drew references from the past. While Alexander McQueen presented sharp-shouldered, pinstriped two pieces, Balmain’s look mirrored suits of the 80s, with distinct silhouettes.

Barbie continues her reign

(From left) FW23 collections by Ahluwalia, The Blonds and Christian Siriano. Images: Launchmetrics Spotlight

Barbie’s place in feminism has been a highly disputed topic in the pop culture world. However, many do collectively agree that the doll is what could be considered a “feminist icon”, with arguments in her favour typically being centred around the sense of empowerment she brings to young children and her ability to inspire girls to pursue a vast array of job titles. Last year, Barbie’s popularity was further reignited by the revelation that Greta Gerwig was to release a film on the Mattel creation, sparking a flurry of Barbie-esque fashion trends – namely a surge of pink – on runways and in stores. Now, with the film preparing to make its debut in July, the hype around this iconic figurine will not be dying down, as evident in the prominence of looks that bore similarities to the fashionable friend on AW23 runways. Links to the famous figure could also be seen in Versace’s recent Cruise collection with Dua Lipa, where big hair and fun prints took front seat.

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