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THE WOMEN WHO REVOLUTIONIZED FASHION: 250 YEARS OF DESIGN

The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion: 250 Years of Design, 2020 by Peabody Essex Museum in collaboration with Kunstmuseum Den Haag and Rizzoli Electa, edited by Petra Slinkard

Fashion was, is, and will likely always be a way to differentiate oneself in a world that often feels most comfortable with sameness and conformity. If clothing is indeed the “armor” that Bill Cunningham firmly believed it to be, then it makes sense that women would be well-suited to clothe other women in a way that truly makes them feel safe, beautiful, and helps them better express their beliefs. The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion: 250 Years of Design is a publication that accompanies an exhibit created by the Peabody Essex Museum called Made It: The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion that seeks to provide greater recognition of women as makers of fashion.  

The book and exhibit cover figures well-known, overlooked, and emerging, while exploring why and how it took so long for female designers to be seen as relevant or as equal to their male peers in an industry to which they are absolutely essential.  

From top left: Left: “Dress for Comme des Garçons”; Right: “Ensemble for Comme des Garçons”, 2014 by Rei Kawakubo (pages 124–125); Left: “Kate Moss models a tartan wedding dress by Vivienne Westwood”, 1993; Right: “Ensemble”, 1993 by Vivienne Westwood in collaboration with Keith Haring (pages 102–103); Left: “Minidress by Mary Quant”, 1965–66; Right: “Oilskin outfit”, 1963 by Mary Quant (pages 78–79); Left: “Katharine Hamnett wearing a protest t-shirt while meeting Margaret Thatcher”, 1984; “Protest t-shirts”, 2007 by Katharine Hamnett; Right: “Dress for Michelle Obama”, 2012 by Tracy Reese (pages 150–151) from The Women who Revolutionized Fashion: 250 Years of Design2020 by Peabody Essex Museum in collaboration with Kunstmuseum Den Haag and Rizzoli Electa, edited by Petra Slinkard

As Brian P. Kennedy writes in the foreword, “Of all the arts, of all the manifestations of culture, none touches us quite the way fashion does. It envelops us intimately, providing practical protection from the elements and ensuring our comfort. Garments are also psychological armor and a social pronouncement, clothing us in the courage to launch ourselves into the day and broadcasting to the world how we would like to be seen. Before they know who we are, people around us take in what we wear: uniform or sackcloth, plumage or rags.” 

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Left and bottom right: Lee Dress, 2017; Top right: Chandler Jacket and Austin Skirt, 2018 by Natalie Chanin for Alabama Chanin from The Women who Revolutionized Fashion: 250 Years of Design2020 by Peabody Essex Museum in collaboration with Kunstmuseum Den Haag and Rizzoli Electa, edited by Petra Slinkard (pages 128–129). 

Natalie and Alabama Chanin are honored to be featured alongside many who we admire and look up to as inspirations – women like Vivienne Westwood, Ann LoweClaire McCardellDonna Karan, Ann Demeulemeester, Isabel Toledo, and so many other talented visionaries. The book and exhibition both offer a glimpse into designers who are working toward sustainability and the future of design. (You can view Natalie’s profile, along with photos of our Lee Dress, Chandler Jacket, and Austin Skirt on pages 128–129.) 

From top left: Left: “Dress by Claire McCardell”, 1940–60; Right: “Pauline Trigère after her 1992 fashion show”; “Suit”, c. 1960s by Pauline Trigère (pages 74–75); Left: “Dress by Ann Lowe”, 1966–67 courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Black Fashion Museum; Right: “Dress by Tina Leser”, c. 1950s (pages 68–69); Left: “Dress for Mary Todd Lincoln”, 1861 by Elizabeth Keckley (pages 30–31);  “Evening dresses by Madeleine Vionnet, 1930–31 (pages 48–49) from The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion: 250 Years of Design2020 by Peabody Essex Museum in collaboration with Kunstmuseum Den Haag and Rizzoli Electa, edited by Petra Slinkard

One thread that runs through this book is how often the combination of women and fashion provided a spark that powered social and economic advancement – however incremental, incomplete, and belated it may have been (and continues to be). We look forward to poring over the pages of the book again, taking in all of the details of women working today and those who have been mostly lost to history. Look for more information on the exhibition next week on the Journal.

1 comment on “THE WOMEN WHO REVOLUTIONIZED FASHION: 250 YEARS OF DESIGN

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  1. Joan Bickerstaff

    This is such an honor to what you have accomplished with your company and your seamstresses!I am definitely going to get a Boston layover and head to Salem!

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