Fashion Fights Back: NYFW is All About Empowering Women

It’s safe to say the United States – and the world for that matter – has not quite been the same since this past November. There’s a certain confusion and worry in the air, and what might have felt normal (or even safe) politically, socially, or economically has changed. Some of the very rights men and women might have been taking for granted now need fighting for. 


​Milly Ready To Wear Fall Winter 2017 Fashion Show in New York (by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION)


This was echoed best during New York Fashion Week by Michelle Smith – Milly’s co-founder and creative director – in her show notes: “The elections left me feeling defeated especially as a woman...[N]ormally an optimist, I feel uncertain about the future.

Of course, there is often a yin to the yang, resulting in a renewed awareness for many of us, as well as the renaissance of a fresh and positive resistance. An early example was the Women’s March in Washington, and in cities around the world, where more than one million people gathered as a direct reaction to the president’s disparagement of women before, during, and after the elections.

Fashion, as it were, has always served as another conduit of popular expression and personal views – from artistic to political and everything in between – and so it has become another front of resistance. Various designers, like Smith, have decided to focus on empowering women through their collections because “there is strength in acknowledging the fractures.” Her show – appropriately named "Fractured" – was about projecting strength, and whereas many of the pieces might have felt gloomy, slouched, and distressed at a glance, there was often an offset of catchiness, warm comfort, and in some instances even sparkles! Smith’s worries were present in her collection, but so was her hope.

Although in a quieter and more overarching manner, Shane Gabier and Chris Peters of Creatures of the Wind also reacted to the current state of affairs, namely by encouraging people to find “a sense of belonging,” as per their show notes, within their own communities. 

We’re playing with these ideas of uniforms and at the same time kind of playing with these ideas of communal living, of where you belong through visual codes in these weird and troubled times,” as told to NOWFASHION after the show. In some cases, this message of finding identity in mutual understanding was conveyed quite literally. In other instances, the message might have been more abstract, possibly suggesting that feeling beautiful and elegant could be empowering, bringing some relief in these times of distress. 

In this country, you rarely feel confronted with such hopelessness and things getting progressively more difficult. At the same time, we feel there is strength in beauty, in the detachment it provides. It’s an odd thing to say but when all else fails, you always have beauty and I do feel empowerment through beauty because it is about loving yourself.


​Jonathan Simkhai Ready To Wear Fall Winter 2017 Fashion Show in New York (by Elizabeth Pantaleo for NOWFASHION)


Over at Jonathan Simkhai, the show notes spoke for themselves, with the designer using his Fall/Winter 2017 collection to emphasize "that women need to draw attention to their invaluable place in society, now more than ever.

To visually express this notion, Simkhai revisited century-old techniques that connoted authority, and designed the collection with a modern handwriting. Drawing inspiration from the "visual power dynamics played out in religion, entertainment, and the aristocracy in Spain," the traditional references were intended to "impress awe and wonder upon the viewer."

The striking contrast between highly-tailored pieces, matador uniforms, and sublime evening wear, spoke to the designers' high-low approach – perhaps pushing the agenda that women are creatures of all extremes, and clothing, at least, should represent that. By purposefully presenting forms of feminine strength – a matter "very personal for Simkhai this season" – guests (and the overwhelming majority were women as you'd expect) were further assured of the designers' intent with a placard on each seat announcing his participation in "CFDA's  Fashion Stands with Planned Parenthood."

"In honor and support of all the strong women in my life and yours, a $5 contribution has been made to Planned Parenthood for every seat in this room."

The giveaway on front row? A simple tee emblazoned with "Feminist AF," a fitting slogan for a trailblazing collection aimed at supporting and empowering women. Simkhai has decided to produce and sell the t-shirts on his website, donating all the proceeds to Planned Parenthood. 

"With women across the globe asserting their right to equality, Simkhai felt the need to create a look that would mirror the fortitude of their voice," read the show notes. And the designer did exactly that, portraying "women as a powerful force to be reckoned with."


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