How women’s fashion has been used as a tool of self-expression and a reinforcement of authority is currently the subject of the exhibition “Women Fashion Power” at the Design Museum in London displayed in a space designed by world-renowned architect Dame Zaha Hadid.
Hadid is also one of 27 women to be featured in the exhibition that span from the world of politics, culture, business and fashion. Other names who have contributed an outfit to be displayed with an accompanying explanation of their style include Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, Lady Gaga, Princess Charlène of Monaco, fashion designer Roksanda Llincic and founder of Net-a-Porter Natalie Massenet.
The exhibition, curated by Colin McDowell and Donna Loveday, celebrates women who have created an impact on the world stage and explores their choice of wardrobe. Loveday who is the Head of Curatorial at the Design Museum, explains that the women invited to contribute to the exhibition “were chosen because they are leaders in their field and they understand that the clothes they wear are a part of the way that they communicate with the world.”
The “Women Fashion Power” exhibition also examines the last 150 years of women’s fashion. A visual timeline takes visitors on a journey from the restricted boned corsets of the nineteenth century to the Louboutin heels of today. Also on display is a collection of archive photography and film footage.
Amongst the items of clothing and accessories include a 1920s beaded flapper dress, the blue Mansfield suit worn by Margaret Thatcher when she was elected leader of the Conservative party in 1975 and a pair of bubblegum-pink 1980s Reebok Hi Tops and the Jacques Azagury dress worn by Princess Diana on her 36th birthday.
As more women hold office and reach prominent leadership roles, the question about women and fashion remains pertinent and one which the exhibition explores. According to a review of the exhibition by the Guardian, the agenda “is to frame women as the protagonists in the story of what they wear, rather than the victims of fashion.”
Meanwhile the review from the metropolist.com concedes that for some, “the exhibition is controversial in that focusing on what a woman wears, especially a woman in a position of power of authority, has become something of a feminist no-no in recent times, because it harks back to the old idea that the predominant purpose of a woman’s outfit was to attract a man’s gaze, and it detracts from what she is actually trying to do or achieve.”
However, it concludes that “the exhibition turns this idea on its head by showing that on the contrary, women can and should use fashion to their advantage in their personal and precessional lives; to enhance rather than detract from their message - and perhaps suggests that they always have.”
This is reinforced by co-curator and fashion expert, Collin McDowell, when he said: “Few of the women in this exhibition would see themselves as fashion plates or even strong fashion followers. They create their own wardrobes, not to be fashion plates but to demonstrate who and what they are.”
The exhibition is on at the Design Museum in London until 26 April 2015.