Six Designers Fusing Their Fashions With Strong Principles
Through its platform, Printemps.com showcases female identifying designers who advocate progressive values and bold aesthetics. Each in their own way, these creators are re-defining the face of fashion. Here are six engaged designers who are making clothing a political tool for empowerment.
In a globalized and interconnected world, fashion and luxury are becoming catalysts for social change. Increasingly committed to social change, brands have been invited to respond to the search for meaning that undergirds society. At Printemps.com, we select designers who create spaces in which new values can blossom — gender fluidity, sustainability, intersectional feminism, and multiculturalism — previously incompatible with the very idea of luxury, itself resistant to the idea of social cohesion and often oriented towards the exaltation of the power of the individual.
Six young designers in particular symbolize this humanist turning point: Ester Manas, making plus-size luxury a reality; Miuccia Prada, a figure of the avant-garde and a feminist from the start; Martine Rose, whose collections are gender-neutral and inclusive; Yoon Ahn, a key figure for streetwear and a model of identification for many of her young designers; Vivienne Westwood, environmental activist and punk queen extraordinaire; and finally Paria Farzaneh, who celebrates Iranian culture and privileges diversity. Here, let's take a look back at the history and commitments of these outstanding female designers.
Selected as one of the 10 finalists for the Hyères Festival Fashion Prize in 2018 with her "Big Again" collection, French designer Ester Manas, a graduate of La Cambre, designs for all women, all bodies, and all morphologies. Her plus-size fashion is far more than just lip service: her pieces,designed to highlight curves, are suitable for all sizes, without exception. "Why should you have to go hungry to wear creative clothing?" the designer asks. Drawing on her experience at Balenciaga, Paco Rabanne, and Acne Studios, Ester Manas is effectively shaking up visual and aesthetic standards with her unique collections. Her creations contain subtle architectural details, designed in a "one-size-fits-all" logic, in which any garment can spontaneously adapt to any body type via a clever system of cuts, clasps, or stretchy pleats. Ester Manas designs her pieces as protective cocoons — reassuring mini-habitats with a highly functional approach inspired by the Bauhaus movement. For the designer, the modularity of the garment is a way to create inclusive fashion, in keeping with the apt mantra: "Size (doesn't) matter".
Miuccia Prada is the quintessence of Italian fashion — a monument of style. This committed feminist, and card-carrying member of the Communist party, first studied political science, followed by studies in miming at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan before becoming a committed and respected fashion designer. Speaking out against patriarchy is in this designer's DNA, and she has always made a point of refusing to follow the rules. For her, women must first be seen in order to be heard. Described as one of the "deep thinkers of the fashion world", Miuccia Prada is a leader who isn't afraid to experiment, all while developing highly wearable fashions. She actively questions what is socially deemed beautiful or ugly, not hesitating to develop a kind of tongue-in-cheek kitschiness. She has always fought against the cliché of beauty and women's obligation to be "sexy." At Prada, femininity expresses itself freely and without worrying about convention, never contained to a pre-ordained role. This creator subverts decorum by mixing cinematographic silhouettes — ultra-feminine and Hitchcockian — with grandma-inspired looks and military details. This striking attitude makes it clear — there is far more than one way to be a woman.
Martine Rose launched her eponymous brand in 2007 as part of the "Fashion East" shows in London. Born in south London to a Jamaican family, she grew up in the vibrant mix of counter-cultures between the 90s' rave and reggae scenes. Her sister Michelle, 15 years her senior and a fan of Jean Paul Gaultier, Katharine Hamnett and Pam Hogg, quickly introduced her to fashion, while her cousin Darren introduced her to London streetwear by showing her brands like Joe Bloggs and Boy London. As a teenager, Martine attended her first techno parties and frequented clubs such as the Velvet Room, Twice As Nice, and World Dance. She spent her 14th birthday in an underground club, the Strawberry Sundae, in Vauxhall.
Drawing on these experiences, Rose's gender-free fashion is centered around unconventional, subversive, half-streetwear/half-Savile Row collections. Independently, she has built her brand by collaborating with talented personalities such as the iconic photographer Sharna Osborne and stylist Tamara Rothstein, deconstructing stereotypes with an assertive feminine gaze. Free-spirited Martine Rose advocates for experimental, inclusive fashion that is mindful of difference.
Yoon Ahn, 43 and of Korean origin, founded the Tokyo-based label Ambush alongside her husband, the rapper known as Verbal. The idea: to twist and mold the ordinary, transforming commonplace pieces into precious objects. Clothespins, nails, paper clips, barbed wire, and heavy chains are thus transformed into pieces of jewelry. But the line really took off when Kanye West flaunted one of Ahn's creations, a punchy "POW!" pendant. In no time, the likes of Pharrell Williams and Jay-Z set their sights on the brand's huge 18-carat gold chains. Publicly, the label's signature piece, a lighter necklace, was a resounding hit and Ambush has gradually established itself as a reference in gender-fluid jewelry, mixing futuristic, hip-hop, and punk inspirations.
In 2016, Verbal and Yoon Ahn rolled out a unisex ready-to-wear line with an underground and street-inspired aesthetic. The designer mixes cultures and genres horizontally, eschewing the verticality of hierarchy. Popular on social networks, Yoon Ahn is a reference in the streetwear industry — a sphere that in large part remains quite masculine. In 2018, she was appointed Creative Director for Dior Homme by friend Kim Jones. Never having hidden the fact that it required a tremendous amount of work to reach such a level of success, Ahn is a strong role-model for many of today's young designers.
An emblematic figure of the British punk movement, Vivienne Westwood took her first steps in fashion in the early 1970s when she and her companion at the time, Malcolm McLaren, opened a boutique on King's Road dedicated to reviving the culture of the 1950s' Teddy Boys. Renamed SEX in 1974, the store became the nucleus of the punk scene, where all sorts of accessories and clothing imagined by the designer were concentrated: torn T-shirts, shirts covered with slogans, harnesses, etc.
Westwood's first collection — presented at London Fashion Week in the early 80s — is dripping with this subversive, rebellious spirit. Season after season, tartan patterns, safety pins and provocative prints resurface and confront elements that pay homage to the history of fashion, such as crinoline dresses. A hybridity that the avant-garde designer - now 79 years old - is using to further her commitment to environmental protection. Never the shrinking violet, Westwood doesn't hesitate to share this commitment at fashion shows and events, where she presents pieces made of organic cotton and recycled materials.
A semi-finalist for the 2019 LVMH prize, Paria Farzaneh advocates for multicultural, border- and barrier-free fashion. Through her creations, this menswear designer bridges East and West, paying tribute to her Iranian family heritage and blending it with the creative energy of London, where she lives.
The granddaughter of an Iranian tailor and raised in England, Farzaneh studied menswear at Ravensbourne University in London. She returns to Iran every year to explore her country's garment and textile traditions, as well as stereotypes and social developments, with an aspiration to change the perception of Middle Eastern countries. In her ready-to-wear collections, she mixes inspirations from grime — a mix of hip-hop, garage, and drum & bass that emerged in East London at the turn of the 2000s — with Persian aesthetics (notably Paisley prints, hand-made in Isfahan using traditional block-printing techniques). Her aesthetic thus celebrates Iranian culture, as well as the resilience of the Iranian people — who have "so much to offer," she reminds us — and whose history should not be limited to the conflicts reported in mainstream media.