The Spirited Women Who Inspired the Spring/Summer 2019 Collections

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Dolly Parton in 9 to 5(Film still)

From the effervescent Dolly Parton to a gender non-conforming writer, this season’s designers found inspiration in women who dared

The Spring/Summer 2019 collections, as ever, drew on a whole gamut of inspirations, past and present. Chief of those were women themselves; from a legendary country singer to a German contemporary artist, the season’s designers sought out only the most spirited, and reinterpreted their legacies for the woman of today.

1. Dolly Parton at Gucci (above)

A sleeveless denim jacket with the face of country singer Dolly Parton airbrushed across the back (underneath: ‘Dolly’, written in the swirling pink typeface of her Tennessee-based theme park, Dollywood) might have once seemed an entirely foreign object at the house of Gucci. Not so in the just over three-year reign of Alessandro Michele, where such a marriage of the sacred and the profane has become commonplace; after all, who else could deliver Parton in the same breath as a lengthy musing on the legacy of obscure Italian avant-garde dramatists Leo de Berardinis and Perla Peragallo? Parton is, of course, a worthy muse – like Elton John before her, whose outré stage outfits were woven into Michele’s previous Spring/Summer collection – for her commitment to dressing with wild abandon. (“Never leave a rhinestone unturned,” one of the country star’s catchphrases, could likely be attributed to Michele himself.) It made for a collection which reiterated the sheer joy of clothes – and the near transcendent power of dressing up.

2. Annemarie Schwarzenbach at Givenchy

“I was researching silhouettes and I came across this spectacular looking woman, whose mother had never insisted on her dressing like a girl, and who as an adult dressed sometimes as a man and sometimes as a woman but always in a modest, elegant way,” Clare Waight Keller reported backstage at her Spring/Summer 2019 collection for Givenchy. Regularly finding her inspirations in lesser-known but no less adventurous women of the past – Waight Keller is an avid, obsessive researcher – Annemarie Schwarzenbach seemed particularly befitting of current discussions on gender. In fact, had she had the words to do so, the Swiss journalist and photographer who traversed the world in the early 20th century – from Afghanistan and Istanbul to Tehran – might well have deemed herself non-binary. (Her life would be sadly cut short aged just 34, after undiagnosed injury caused by a fall from a bike.) Waight Keller utilised photographs she found of Schwarzenbach as a backbone for the collection, which in turn ricocheted between utilitarian shirts and Perfecto-style jackets tucked into boyish pants, and diaphanous draped gowns, as Schwarzenbach was inclined to do herself. “I wanted the women and men to be indefinable,” Waight Keller said of the co-ed collection. “Something about that felt relevant – and appealing, actually.”

3. Gala Dalí at Erika Cavallini

“I imagined a woman madly in love,” said Erika Cavallini of the inspirations behind her Spring/Summer 2019 collection. “She longs to reach her lover, they can’t bear to be apart, she’s almost in haste so she packs a few things in her travel canvas tote and she leaves for a summer journey of love.” The woman behind this vision was Gala Dalí, the oft-derided wife of Salvador Dalí – in 1998, Vanity Fair deemed her the “demonic dominatrix” – who, earlier this year, was recast as an active and vital collaborator to her husband in an exhibition in Barcelona. Cavallini’s own interest was piqued after a holiday spent in Cadaqués, Spain where the Surrealist duo owned a home, yet Dalí was evoked in the same revisionist spirit – twisted and knotted tunic dresses, mannish trousers and unencumbered tailoring in warm, Mediterranean tones looked well set for a woman on the move. 

4. Georgia O’Keeffe at Coach 1941

Earlier this year, Stuart Vevers took a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, as part of a continuing tour of the country that the British designer now calls home. Specifically, it was the 21,000-acre Ghost Ranch, once the home and studio of artist Georgia O’Keeffe – where she painted several of her most memorable paintings – that Vevers, like most other visitors to the region, found himself at. But it was a lesser-known landmark in the desert state which brought the whole thing together – El Matador, a dive bar-cum-nightclub where the young patrons dress in the romantic spirit of Prince, albeit in Western-wear. Back in New York at his Spring/Summer 2019 Coach 1941 show, a sandy runway – and Burning Man-esque sculptures – set a similar tone for a collection which drew on the earthy, resilient wardrobe of desert dwellers, shot through with a wistful, 1970s-tinged glamour. 

5. Isa Genzken at Proenza Schouler

Guests at Proenza Schouler’s recent show in New York – a return to the brand’s home city after a two-season sojourn in Paris – were greeted by a collection of mannequins, arms raised, draped in both the designer’s clothes and sheets of clear plastic. Those attuned to contemporary art would find it easily recognisable as a work by seminal German artist Isa Genzken, whose bold, improvisational approach to art and sculpture saw her become a rare and vital female voice for the previous three decades. “The Berlin-based woman, artist, and icon, has dedicated a significant amount of her work to her experience and obsession with New York City,” designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez wrote on Instagram post-show. “The collection reflects a native perspective, while the work of Genzken offers a remote notion of the city. The juxtaposition between the two allows for a further study of the collection’s backdrop.” As such it was not simply art, but the woman herself, that informed the collection – on the pair’s moodboard were photographs of Genzken, including a work entitled Isa Mon Lisa by Wolfgang Tillmans from 1999 – her own clothing coming to inform the urban, insouciant mood of the collection.