A shift in the balance of power
The 2000s saw a change in the ‘designers cape’ in Paris with Christian Laconic filing for bankruptcy, the death of Alexander McQueen, the retirement of Martin Margie and Helmut Lang, and end-of-era retrospective shows featuring Sonia Riskier (Plate 19), Vivienne Westwood, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo celebrating more than thirty years in the fashion industry. Newcomers who made their first mark on the Parisian catwalks include, amongst others, Antwerp’s Veronique Branquinho and Raf Simons, who continued the tradition of classic Belgian pragmatism; the Spaniard, Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga, who maintained the technical expertise of the house using the corset.
His medium in the March 2001 collection; the Los Angeles designer Rick Owens, who presented garments that looked like modern armor; Oliver Theyskens for Rochas in the March 2003 show, who reinstated 1950s French elegance and panache; and England’s Gareth Pugh, whose fashion-as-performance showings exhibited forms that came close to wearable sculptures in September 2008. It is significant that the Belgian designers, Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester, emerged as the leaders in the latter half of the decade.
Van Noten, named International Designer of the Year in 2008 by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), followed the Japanese lead in terms of consistency in his design. His work demonstrated the Belgian fastidiousness for superlative construction and cut, incorporating classical elements into contemporary design, and he aimed to create clothing that could be combined in different ways by different individuals.
This pragmatic approach has been essential to his success over the past decade. Demeulemeester, in particular, seemed to capture the essence of the ‘urban warrior woman’ in her collections, and as leading journalists explained, her designs manifested the new generation of self-determined women who were emerging.
The twenty-first-century image of modern womanhood
Out of this economic quagmire, the fi rst millennium ushered in the beginning of a new era, a period when women felt stronger and thought their voices might be heard in the sociopolitical corridors of power. Initially, there had been a trend towards a masculinized form of feminism in dress, bordering on androgyny.
The favorite model of 2001, Eleonora Bosé, was the daughter of a legendary Spanish bullfight her, and her strong jaw line, closely cropped hair, and tattoos made her the personification of the ultimate ‘warrior’ woman. She was photographed by Steven Meisel and Bruce Weber for Italian Vogue and appeared on the covers of numerous other magazine covers, including Dazed and Confused, Nylon and Pop. Tom Ford chose her to model the Gucci range, and Women’s Wear Daily’s caption said, ‘Think Marlon Brando’ and described the models in both Milan and Paris that season as ‘Tough Cookies’.
Interestingly, this transgender image paralleled the rise of interest in queer theory publications.
Feminist theory academic Suzanna Walters commented that ‘an endless commoditization of difference goes on in our culture, an endless search for a variation on a theme that will sell women slightly new images of themselves. According to New York fashion journalist Gina Belafonte (2004), ‘the rise of corporate superbrands narrowed the range of stylistic roles a woman could play.’ She explained.