WonderWomen. And not just the Wonder Woman of 1984 - the sequel of the film will be out in August, starring Gal Gadot, and it will be the first Marvel film directed by a woman and starring a woman.
However, the Wonderwomen we're talking about now are the women who have talent and tenacity which they use in the world of fashion. A world which was, starting with Charles Frederick Worth, usually dominated by men, despite the continuous presence of exceptional couturières and stylists. But apart from Rose Bertin, Marie Antoinette's "fashion minister," apart from the 1920s / 1930s, when the genius of Madeleine Vionnet and Jeanne Lanvin eclipsed the rest, and later on when the Chanel / Schiaparelli rivalry took the centre stage, male stylists have always entered history as creative geniuses while women were recognised above all for commercial success. Of course, talent is talent - it is not a matter of opposing categorisations. Paul Poiret, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, Azzedine Alaïa, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen have all participated in writing the history of fashion, but there is no doubt that the system (fashion, media and social) has tended to favour them over women.
The same thing happened in perfumery. While today there may be more perfume makers who are women than men, Christine Nagel remembers when she was not admitted to the Firmenich perfumery school as a woman in the early 1980s. Many of the most reputed brands today were founded by women, but the scene today still seems to be dominated by males - the brands at the top of perfumery sales, Dior or Guerlain, for example, have men as artistic directors. If independent lines founded by women have been affirming themselves in the make-up industry for at least thirty years, it is only recently that the big brands have started to entrust women with the creative direction, notably Chanel in 2015 when they appointed Lucia Pica. Giorgio Armani, whose make-up line was born in 1999 with Pat McGrath, and, since 2010, is supervised by Linda Cantello, and Lancome, which has Lisa Eldridge as artistic director, are among the few exceptions. Not to mention the backstage of the top fashion shows, all firmly in the hands of men - if it were not for Pat McGrath, who is one of the greatest make-up artists in the world and works each season.
Returning to fashion, last year Virginie Viard was Chanel's "natural" choice to succeed Lagerfeld, who called her "my right arm and my left arm." During her ten years as the head of Alexander McQueen, Sarah Burton has known how to develop and maintain the legacy of the genius of which she had been the alter ego for 14 years. If Clare Waight Keller has just left Givenchy after only three years, the wave of appointments like that, Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior, for example, is destined to change things. Asked if she had the feeling of breaking the "glass ceiling" by being named the head of an institution like Dior, the Italian stylist replies: "Certainly my appointment was a gesture of rupture with respect to the history of the maison, the design of the creative directors who had preceded me have defined, over the years, a precise idea of femininity. Woman, and also Italian (although before Chiuri there had been another Italian designer, Gianfranco Ferré, ed.): this allowed me to better understand the qualities of the Italian culture of fashion in relation to the French culture of fashion. And to weave this knowledge."
Chiuri is also responsible for the introduction of feminist ideas in the Dior collections and fashion shows. "I was summoned by Dior at a particular moment in my life when I was reading a lot of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's works, and I faced a confrontation with my daughter Rachel - becoming aware of the complexity of being a woman. But also the beauty of being so. I thought that being the head of a maison like Dior gave me the opportunity to work for other women, focusing on a project that reconciled the idea of femininity with that of feminism. But feminism for me is not a theme to play in the collections. It is a way of looking and reflecting on our time, it is a guide in my work for women, it is giving space to artists, scholars, activists who see that a brand like Dior can communicate and amplify their project and their message in an extraordinary way."
Among the designers interviewed in this portfolio are the icons who have been shaping the fashion over the last 50 years: Rei Kawakubo, Miuccia Prada, and Vivienne Westwood. For others, the instinct and passion for fashion comes from the family - there are women's fashion dynasties such as Fendi, Missoni or Biagiotti, where Lavinia, who succeeded her mother Laura three years ago, recalls that, in the brand's DNA, there is also work of her grandmother Delia. «Mum and I have worked side by side for 21 years. We have been an unpublished duo and, let me be the winner, we have found the alchemical synthesis between different generations and created an inclusive project. We had a precise individual identity but we knew how to be interchangeable. She had a very strong sense of duty: in the backstage of the show, she often worked for 12 hours straight. When we showed signs of slowing down, with her unmistakable grace and calm voice, she said: "We are here to improve." I borrow from my mother, Laura, the motto "draw the future, every day" and the joyful, rigorous and coherent approach in the inexhaustible search for the dress that doesn't exist. My mother taught me the importance of having a vision. She taught me that fashion can build bridges between different worlds, because she believed that it was possible to communicate and share ideas also through beauty."
Carolina Castiglioni, on the other hand, worked for Marni, the cult brand founded by her mother Consuelo. For her, it was a natural, indeed "physiological" choice to go down the fashion road, assimilated growing alongside of a woman with an eccentric and poetic style at the same time. "I have always lived the feminine fashion. I grew up with my mother, observing, internalising the work of Miuccia Prada and Phoebe Philo at Céline. The aesthetic of Plan C is mine, all I do are garments that I would wear myself, while at Marni I did not share the entirety of the collection. I am an active person, I ride a motorbike, I like special things, not trivial, but I would certainly not go out in the morning in heels and in long skirts. I would define my personal style as creative, I look at art for the colour combinations and I take great inspiration from children, starting with the drawings of my daughter Margherita, which I have used as graphic motifs since the first collection." Perhaps the third generation of Castiglioni stylists is already in the making.