Lissie Mackintosh is the author of ‘Fashion Thesis’, a column dedicated to her (bankrupting) love and interest in fashion and her musings on the fashion industry as a 21 year old in London. Lissie has previously worked with Tatler and hopes one day to be working at Vogue to fulfil her Carrie Bradshaw dreams. A strong advocate for size inclusivity, vintage shopping and met gala memes , Lissie intends to dedicate her column to opinion, inspiration, and finding a way to make pink cowboy hats part of everyday life.
Monday, 30 November
I’m not sure why the month of November is taking so long to end. Like hello, ma’am, you’ve had your turn, could you please make way. Anyway, it’s almost Christmas and I don’t know about you but gift ideas are a tricky one. Not that they are in any way the most important part of Christmas, more a nice surprise, especially in a funny old year like this one. But the thing is that it has been an even funnier year for small businesses. So here are my suggestions of what to get for the special people in your life. I love giving gifts, even if I did once buy my mum a KitchenAid which I think she used a grand total of zero times. I guess it’s the thought that counts. Even better, all these gift ideas have been contributed to by Courtauld members, and many of these shops are owned by Courtauld students, so let’s all support one another and buy small this Christmas.
A subtle hint to dad that fiiiine cheese and wine are welcome every trip home.
If your mum is anything like mine, she loves a good soap stash. This smells amazing, and is not a bad stockpile choice – put a smile on her face with these beautiful ombre soaps.
For your sıster
This necklace is made using Flourite, which is said to bring inner-knowledge and awareness, AND aid concentration! Sounds like magic.
Beauty, grace, elegance.
Fruity earrings, SilkandSprout, £6.80
for your best friend
Blazer, Sourced by Ebra, £70
The most gorgeous blazer I have seen in a while. Donations welcome xx
Chances are, if you have a best friend at the Courtauld, they will actually know what a linocut is! So I recommend saving this one for the other art students in your life, an incredible piece of art to complete the art student zoom background aesthetic.
Chain necklace, Elbe Jewellery, price tbc
Can you tell I like guys in necklaces? x
for your pet
Make sure your pet doesn’t get left out this Christmas -
dog lovers, this one’s for you.
To carry around all your emotional baggage from 2020.
Does the suit still have that much power?
Monday, 16 November
Illustration by Jago Henderson
I’ve started watching Suits. Yes, it’s true, my degree has fallen victim to my Netflix account but in the face of a global pandemic, I’m not sure self-control is a priority. It’s funny, when I was younger I always convinced myself not to watch Suits because I was genuinely terrified it would make me want to become a lawyer and I knew how unrealistic the show was. I guess you could say my career choices were always… inspired. There’s a character in Suits I think is so cool: Jessica Pearson, the managing partner of the law firm. She struts about in her business attire, sometimes a suit and sometimes not. She’s the boss, but she is very much in the minority of this law firm which is something I fear is not just true in this TV show, with the percentage of females in the legal profession being a mere 30% when the show first aired in 2011. A scene where Harvey Spectre, the successful, handsome (this part is true), smart Senior Partner, introduces Rachel Zane (Meghan Markle) as the ‘pretty paralegal’ irked me for some reason. ‘The Pretty Paralegal’. That’s it. No name, no mention of her success. Maybe it’s because as a paralegal (and maybe a girl), Rachel typically does not wear suits in the show. I’m not surprised considering the nature of the Suits poster, the men are all in sharp suits and all the women in dresses. I’m glad I waited to watch Suits, even if I am only 2 seasons in so far. It’s made me realise that that scene, actually probably realistic, was also incredibly diminishing. It got me thinking about whether the suit really does hold this power, this subtle upper hand men have had from working in corporate jobs for longer than women. Power suits, in particular, are associated with white-collar women of the 70s and 80s who ‘power dressed’ for success following the rise of feminism and enabled women to ‘establish their authority in a professional and political environment’ which was traditionally dominated by men.
Coco Chanel was one of the first designers to create a power suit for women. Her wide-legged slacks and tailored jackets were designed to allow women to move away from their heavy corsets and skirts into clothes which would allow them to carry out manual labour and to play sports practically. Cristina Giorcelli commented that women wearing trousers became a way to show their ‘intolerance for gender categorization and social distinctions’. No, the Chanel suit did not have trousers, but as Marlen Komar agrees, it opened doors for women they thought they would never open. It gave women a sense of power at a time when the world was changing and social change was snowballing.
Since then, ‘women increasingly adopted the suit in an attempt to level up with men’, Rav Sidhu says. However this was not always the case and there have been times when the power suit has embodied female power by taking a stand against powerful men, instead of following their lead. Anita Hill wore a turquoise suit during the 1991 hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, whom she had accused of sexual harassment. Hill was and is a symbol to women and their rights and freedom. Again in 2015, Janelle Monae clapped back on Twitter at criticism of her choice to wear suits and not being ‘sexy’ enough. Monae responded firmly writing ‘Sit down. I am not for male consumption’. The suit has become a symbol of independence, and as our culture progresses, and women become more sexualised, Monae’s response stands as a beacon of liberation and sexual freedom, the suit her choice of weapon. But does the suit even have as much power for men any more? In 2016, JPMorgan changed its dress code from business smart to business casual for most of its employees and Goldman Sachs ditching its suit dress code in 2019. These are two of the top financial firms in the world, in a sector known for its strict dress codes, and this move suggests the lack of value suits add and the outdated influence they have.
Anita Hill at the 1991 hearing against Clarence Thomas
It leads me to the present. Are power suits still a symbol of power? Arielle Patrick, a New York based executive argues that ‘we’re seeing a change in what an executive looks like. These days it can be a woman in a dress’. Dresses are becoming just as powerful as suits, and we are ‘moving away from women feeling that they need to look like men, in the traditional sense, to be taken seriously.’ Take that, Suits poster. It’s true, why do some women feel they still have to wear an outdated symbol of male power to be powerful? Nowadays, it feels that wearing whatever makes you feel strong and confident makes you powerful, suit or no suit. Karen Pine, fashion psychologist, agrees: “In the past, women had to dress like men to reach senior positions in the workplace’, she says. ‘Now they can dress as they like and assert their individuality through their work attire, without fear of bumping up against the glass ceiling.” Today we stand in a place where a women should be able to feel equal power with men in any job, role, or position they are in, and thus it is not only the suit that is a symbol of female power, or being a ‘boss’, but being able to wear whatever we choose, whatever makes us feel comfortable and most like ourselves. We don’t all need to look the same, using clothing which ‘imposes the homogeneous yet male standards for office wear to women’. To be honest, maybe it doesn’t matter what we wear. Our power is not in the fact that we can wear what men wear. It is in the fact that we are just as smart, interesting and innovative as men like Harvey Spectre. Suits can be worn out of the office, by Beyoncé on stage (YES YES YES YES) and women are still just as powerful as if they were wearing them in an office job. And this is where the real magic happens. So maybe it’s true: the suit has lost some of its power. But maybe that’s okay.
As for some of my favourite suits at the moment?
4. Paul Smith
Can we truly call the fashion industry ‘diverse’ in 2020?
Monday, 2 November
Illustration by Jago Henderson
On Wednesday evening, it was announced that the Man Repeller site was closing down. After a good ten-year run, the fashion blogging site which called itself a ‘humorous website for serious fashion’ started to unravel and attacks were made on the site’s subtle-racism and lack of diversity. After a couple of vague, mainly empty statements from the brand’s founder Leandra Medine Cohen and not much else, the site closed. This ‘too little too late’ approach got me thinking about the industry’s inclusivity, (or lack thereof) how people of colour, disabilities and different sizes are represented following a decade of some innovation. It leaves me thinking, how diverse truly is the fashion industry in 2020? Was SS21 a turning point for diversity in the fashion industry, or will the rise of unattainable and exclusive nature of the industry continue?
The modelling and fashion industries are inevitably linked. Each fashion week season, brands will hire models from agencies to model their clothes, and typically these models are the ‘skinny, minnie, blondie, boobie’ girls (ten points to whoever gets the reference) whom I, for one, grew up watching. These are the people who bring these clothes to life and embody the message they hold. What kind of message are we receiving when only 86 models across SS20 shows in Milan, Paris, New York and London were plus-sized? Zebedee Management, ‘the UK’s first modelling agency to exclusively represent people with disabilities’ had no bookings last year, while Tamara Cincik, CEO of Fashion Rountable stated that she didn’t see diversity in terms of size, non-binary models, age, or disability’. Is this really good enough?
Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect an entire industry to change course so swiftly. But in my opinion it is not unreasonable to expect each brand to take on an individual responsibility to diversify not only their models, but their teams, their designers, their retailers; this is how change happens.
Models walking the Runway at the FW19 Tommy Hilfiger x Zendaya show in New York
I guess another question to consider is: why don’t all fashion brands cater to plus sizes? Why is there a continuous cycle of the types of clothes produced and thus the models who are hired to wear them? Rob Williams, from clothing manufacturer Hawthorn argues that the process of designing plus size clothing is more ‘difficult’ than designing clothing in smaller sizes. He explains that it takes ‘more time to develop a shape which is an average of the plus size population, so as to not have something which only fits very specific body shapes’. It seems then, that few brands will take on this challenge, with brands like Prada catering to only sizes 4-12 in their jeans and even high street brands like Bershka doing the same. Laura Downing Peters adds that this is because over the past few years and until recently, plus-size fashion has been deemed unfashionable and ‘commercially risky’, many brands have not been prepared to invest the money in creating larger pieces. If the fashion moguls Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour themselves declared that “nobody wants to see curvy women on the runway,” what chance are there of smaller brands following suit, especially with a smaller financial incentive? How can we have a diverse fashion industry when some of the leading names in the industry don’t even cater for diverse body types? Perhaps this is more reflective of toxic media stereotypes proliferated by the fashion industry and its nature over time.
There have been improvements in diversifying fashion weeks over the last few years, and this should be recognized as progress. Last year, Paris Fashion week saw Christian Siriano’s Pop-Art inspired collection modelled by a diverse cast including pregnant women and mature models. It’s promising to hear that smaller, upcoming brands are showing some change. Tommy Hilfiger too, his 2019 collaboration with Zendaya was particularly inclusive with pregnant models and older models showcasing the clothes… this show breathed life into a fashion world which often feels lifeless. Moments like these do have an impact. Meanwhile there are there are also initiatives that hold potential in making progress, such as the 15% pledge, a mission which aims to summon major retailers to pledge 15% of their shelf space to black-owned brands. Participants include Sephora and Rent the Runway, and if anything, the initiative leads to a subconscious consumption of black brands and exposes us to their beauty, whilst holding big retailers accountable for instigating change.
Models walking the Runway at the FW19 Tommy Hilfiger x Zendaya show in New York
Overall, there have been some radical shifts in the diversification of the fashion industry. The brands we, as individuals choose to engage with determine our own biases, but the dependency also lies with the brands themselves (and especially the ones with the most influence) to create more inclusive size ranges, have diverse teams and employ a wide range of models in their shows. Whilst the right questions are being asked, there is more to do. As Janelle Okwodu sums up: ‘The true impact of these turning points will come when they cease to be radical’.