Fashion Feminism?

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Bath. The famous site of the Roman baths, Jane Austen’s setting for many of her novels, and more importantly the residence of the one and only Manolo Blahnik. Over Easter I went to ‘Bath in Fashion’- Bath’s week-long celebration of Fashion- to see Amanda Wakeley’s show transferred from London as the event’s first inaugural designer.

When I stumbled across the event in the newspaper I didn’t hesitate. A chance to spend an afternoon in one of my favourite cities boasting beautiful architecture and all my high street favourites and quirky boutiques, combined with Amanda Wakeley’s Spring/Summer collection sounded pretty perfect to me (the glass of real champagne included in the £15 ticket price was just an added bonus…).

So, did Bath’s Fashion Week live up to its surroundings? Wakeley’s collection showcased thirty-nine pieces transferred from London Fashion Week that exuded subtle glamour and gentle movement. In the Q and A which followed the show she said that for evening wear she wanted to ’empower’ a woman, not in the ‘shoulder pads 80s way’, but just ‘to have more confidence in life’. She said that every woman should be able to feel like a ‘goddess’, and that her use of Scuba jersey helps to ‘skim over and smooth’ a woman’s ‘less beautiful parts’.

It all sounds a bit Gok Wan, but a ‘goddess’ was certainly what we were presented with. There was a great sense of draping of the body, and the bright jewel colours such as turquoise, gold, and orange only added to this— aspects only fitting for a show taking place in Bath, synonymous with Rome, and the toga.

Both maxi and mini dresses seemed to glide and wrap around the body, in a way that celebrated the female form. This was another thing that Wakeley underlined in the Q and A when asked about her approach to dressing those in the public eye, such as Demi Moore and more recently the Duchess of Cambridge. She said that you shouldn’t just take into account the view of a woman from the front or back but also consider the way the clothes move around the whole body; something which is vital for those under the constant glare and judgement of the camera.

However, the focus wasn’t just on the famous. One photographer sniped looking at the beautifully coiffered and pampered female audience ‘…so these are the ladies that lunch’, and I suppose many in the crowd could be placed under this banner, but my mother kindly corrected him ‘No, ladies that work’. They may look glamorous and as if the only care in their world is whether Waitrose will have run out of the salted quail’s eggs, but like Amanda Wakeley herself, these women were mostly those who work hard but manage to look glamorous at the same time.

The room was full of ambition, and this was reflected by the strong female presence not just on the runway but at every stage. Wakeley was interviewed by the successful Grazia Fashion Editor, Paula Reed, and there were frequent mentions to Wakeley’s right-hand woman, Bridget Bowen. Let down by her ex-husband and then the ‘ruthless’ man her husband sold his share (and the brand name) to, Wakeley, having now managed to build the business back up, runs a rather female affair.

According to Wakeley living in a man’s world is difficult, especially where women seem to be judged on their appearance at every turn, and it seems she has hit the nail on the head. The audience fell in love not just with the clothes but with the ideology behind them. It seems that these days a successful woman is not one who just succeeds in the work place and has a career as well as balancing a family, but one who does all that while doing their best Beyoncé impression. So yes, they may look like ‘ladies that lunch’ but really they are women who not only work hard, but look, and more importantly feel, beautiful too.

So the collection certainly wasn’t groundbreaking, and it was definitely aimed at the ‘woman’ rather than the ‘girl’ — but I still found myself marvelling at the brilliant simplicity of the designs, and even the message that was conveyed. Wakeley demonstrates that there is no shame in a woman wanting to look good, as well as wanting to be taken seriously in the workplace. You don’t have to make a choice between airhead and career woman. In fact, feeling beautiful can bring about amazing results, as Wakeley showed in her battle against all the odds to get her very successful business back on track.

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