5 Revolutionary Moments in Fashion

Features. Posted 3 years ago

Courtney Sanders
A look from Alexander McQueen's Highland Rape presentation.A look from Alexander McQueen’s Highland Rape presentation.

Fashion is ever changing; chopping, progressing and reinventing itself at breakneck speed. In fact, sometimes it seems that the turnover of fashion trends happens faster than the industry itself can even keep up.

Importantly, though, it’s also an industry with no shortage of creative geniuses — Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, Tom Ford, Raf Simons, JW Anderson, the list is far too long to include in this one post. As a result of this creative concentration, though, the centuries-old fashion industry has seen more than its fair share of revolutionary moments in its time. Again, there are far too many to include in one sitting. In honour of Fashion Revolution Day this week though, here is a list of some of the top most revolutionary fashion moments, in my most humble opinion.

Alexander McQueen’s Highland Rape collection

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This, McQueen’s fourth collection was definitely one of the ones that put him on the fashion map, least of all because of the controversy that surrounded it. Inspired by the rapes — referred to as “ethnic cleansing” — committed by the British army in the Scottish Highlands during the 18th and 19th centuries, it featured models who were made up to look battered and bruised, with torn clothing hanging from their bodies. In response to critics later labelling him a misogynist, the designer begged to differ. “If people do say I portray women like that, it’s because I want to portray the way society still sees women, not how I see them,” he later explained in an interview with Style.com. It turns out, in fact, that the collection was a response to one of his sister’s experiences with domestic violence and it was a powerful statement, too, about the objectification of women in the fashion industry. A designer with the unique ability to blend extreme beauty and a hint of the disturbing, this was one of the earliest examples of Lee McQueen’s revolutionary genius.

Fashion welcomes Andreja Pejic

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It started with a 17-year-old (then male) Andrej Pejic being scouted while working at a McDonalds in Melbourne. Just three years later, the androgynous model closed Jean Paul Gaultier’s spring 2011 women’s couture show in a tiered white wedding gown and Pejic was quickly embraced by the fashion industry worldwide.

Having walked in a number of both menswear and womenswear shows since, Pejic last year decided to undergo gender reassignment surgery to finally become the woman she has always identified as. Changing her name to Andreja Pejic, the fashion industry has been remarkably supportive of the model’s decision, with all of her global agencies now listing her as a female model. This has been a huge step forward for fashion in terms of its recognition of transgender people and difference in general.

Jourdan Dunn walks pregnant for Jean Paul Gaultier

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For spring 2010, Jean Paul Gaultier made headlines yet again by casting Jourdan Dunn for his runway presentation. The headlines had nothing to do, however, with the colour of Dunn’s skin and everything to do with the fact that the then 19-year-old was heavily pregnant at the time. Instead of hiding this, JPG celebrated it as only he could; by reinventing his classic cone bra into a cone bodysuit that accentuated her beautiful belly. The fashion industry has been much criticised for its singular portrayal of thin models, but a mother with child is one of the strongest images of unadulterated femininity. Gaultier’s celebration of this led to similar examples later on and even as recently as Dolce and Gabbana’s model mothers for fall 2015.

Alexander McQueen celebrates difference… again

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For spring-summer 1999, Alexander McQueen cast Aimee Mullins, a successful Paralympic athlete to open his show. Wearing a leather bodice and a pair of hand-carved wooden prosthetic legs made from solid ash, Mullins was the star of the show. McQueen said at the time, “When I used Aimee [Mullines] for [this collection], I made a point of not putting her in… sprinting legs [prostheses for running]… We did try them on but I thought no, that’s not the point of this exercise. The point is that she was to mould in with the rest of the girls.” This remarkably talented beauty then went on to serve as a muse of McQueen’s until his death, further proving the designer’s unique vision and ability to see beauty beyond the norm. By challenging traditional beauty ideals in this way, McQueen set the stage for later campaigns like Kenneth Cole’s recently launched MANKIND fragrance, the face of which is double amputee and war veteran Noah Galloway.

Vivienne Westwood’s Ethical Fashion Africa campaign

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In 2011, the queen of fashion revolution, Vivienne Westwood made yet another statement with her Ethical Fashion Africa campaign. Taking to the streets of Nairobi, Westwood designed a range of bags to be produced by local women under ethical conditions. The bags were crafted from recycled materials like old safari tents and made a powerful statement about the industry’s tendency to ignore what goes on behind the scenes, especially when clothes are produced in economically disadvantaged nations. Though criticised by some — a response not unfamiliar to Westwood over the course of her career — the designer described the campaign as “work” rather than charity. She said that the project “gives people control over their lives,” whereas charity “makes them dependant.” Long live Westwood!

Meadham Kirchhoff’s Fuk LVMH fanzine

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For Meadham Kirchhoff’s most recent collection (spring 15) — and also their last before it was announced their debts had caught up with them — the progressive London designers staged a bold collection that would have made Ms Westwood proud. Not only were the clothes a fierce statement in and of themselves though, but the duo also produced a nineties style fanzine to mark the occasion. Bound together in a carpet-like fabric, the zine recorded a number of the designers’ loves and hates. Among the former were Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Australian performance artist Leigh Bowery. Among the latter, however, were Terry Richardson, model agents, and men who drive what vans. “Fuk LVMH corporate fashion” the zine proudly proclaimed. It was a fervent comment on the corporatisation of fashion and a very bold way for the designers to bow out… at least for now.

Liked this? Read these articles about the fashion industry:

1) What’s Changed in Fashion Since Rana Plaza Collapsed?

2) The 8 Most Revolutionary Fashion Advertising Campaigns Ever

3) How to Get Involved in Fashion Revolution Day, This Friday

4) Oxfam: Why Just Jeans Should Sign the Bangladesh Accord

5) MBFWA 2015: Clean Cut Talk Sustainability in Fashion

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