Power Dressing with Marlies Dekkers
From Hatshepsut’s false beard to my ‘bare butt’ dress – the many faces of power dressing.
Did you know that one of ancient Egypt’s most successful pharaohs was actually a woman? Her name was Hatshepsut, and some consider her the first ever female power dresser. While later queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra dressed as Egyptian noblewomen, the formidable Hatshepsut went bare– chested and preferred to wear men’s kilts and false beards: a pioneering female politician’s way of asserting her power in a culture that had no words or images to portray a woman with this status. Fast–forward to the 16th century, to Queen Elizabeth of England’s awe–inspiring cartwheel ruffs and voluminous skirts stiffened with whalebone. In Tudor times, magnificence was regarded as being synonymous with power and greatness, and Elizabeth reigned supreme. Her wardrobe was rumored to contain more than 3000 breathtaking gowns, and she loved to dazzle with her legendary collection of pearls, shiny symbols of her maiden status.
Many years later, we would see the same ‘power pearls’ on Margaret Thatcher, first female prime minister of Britain. The ‘Iron Lady’ combined them with the 20th century costume of female rulers: the skirt suit. Invented by Coco Chanel and coinciding with the first women’s rights movement, the skirt suit consisted of a tight skirt and collarless button–up jacket, featuring masculine elements to give women an ‘authoritative’ appearance. “Women have always been the strong ones,” Chanel used to say, and with her comfortable, yet elegant uniform, she gave women the freedom to explore their ambitions. In 1966, Yves Saint Laurent extended and glamourized this concept by infusing different archetypes –for example, the safari jacket, the utilitarian jumpsuit and the pinstripe gangster suit– with a powerful, hyper–feminine sensuality. His ‘Le Smoking’ tuxedo became an archetype itself; the ultimate statement of Amazonian chique.
The official term ‘power dressing’ was actually first officially used in a New York paper in 1979. It heralded the beginning of ‘the shoulder pad era’ during which white–collar women started to dress for the power they wanted, not the power they had. Queen Elizabeth I herself would have appreciated the look: big shoulders, big hair, bright colors –vivid red being a favorite– and again, pearls. In the movie Working Girl (1988), Sigourney Weaver’s character embodies this 1980s style of power dressing perfectly, but there is also a critical note, expressed by Harrison Ford’s character when he comments on the more feminine look of Sigourney’s ambitious secretary: “You’re the first woman I’ve seen at one of these things that dresses like a woman, not like a woman thinks a man would dress if he was a woman.” Women were getting fed up with having to hide their sexuality to break through the glass ceiling. They were ready for Madonna’s fashion coup.
In 1990, on the first stop of her Blonde Ambition Tour, Madonna performed in a spectacular pink cone bra, created by French designer Jean Paul Gaultier. It instantly became the symbol of the third feminist wave. The bra, once a symbol of suppression, something to be burned, had become a symbol of power. Feminine power! Without Madonna’s bra moment, I doubt my own lingerie –which offers women the tools to explore their sexuality in a very similar way– would have had a chance. Around this time, I created my ‘Bare Butt Dress’; a design that dramatically reveals the wearer’s behind. Wearing it myself, walking down the streets, I felt surprisingly strong, sexy and powerful. This was a new, very personal form of power dressing, one that focused on creating confidence, rather than merely trying to impress. And I remember thinking: “Yes, let’s start this revolution!”. Looking back at my career in lingerie –now spanning over 25 years– it is very clear that it has been fueled mainly by one thing: my ambition to frame women’s beauty, with all its perfect imperfections. Early on, I developed a signature look with exactly that goal in mind, using straps and a sensual play of graphic lines. From the seductive Spider to the divine– inspired Dame de Paris; these design classics accentuate the parts women are already proud of, and show them new ways to feel confident about their bodies. With my Awaken Your Senses collection, I explored new sensual blueprints, and combined them with my usual superb fi t and a bold new strap. Think of the powerfully seductive pin– striped Gloria or the erotically charged leather Femme Fatale. And to stimulate women to confidently turn the beach into their catwalk, I created classic, yet seriously sexy swimwear like the hugely popular Holi Vintage collection with its cleverly laid out pattern that accentuates feminine curves in all the right places. Each one of these designs dares you to look in the mirror and fall utterly and completely in love with yourself. In the end, isn’t that the most daring power move of all?
REFLECTIONS FROM YOUR MIRROR
FOR THE WOMEN OF THE WORLD
Between king and QUEEN
Who is Tasya van Ree? The mysterious girl in the big black hat has been fascinating art connoisseurs and fashion lovers alike since she burst onto the scene with her stunning black-and-white photographs of celebrities like Michelle Rodriguez and (one-time lover) Amber Heard. I asked the Hawaiian-born visual artist of Dutch-Japanese ancestry (41) about her art and soul. “Between both King and Queen is where I exist.”
Sara Mearns (31) is New York City Ballet’s boldest ballerina. A passionate, intense dancer, she started dancing at 3 and starred in Swan Lake when she was only 19. But instead of resting on her laurels, Sara has kept challenging herself with daring projects, from a collaboration with hip-hop dancers to a leading role in a Broadway show. I talked with the fierce Swan Queen about sacrifices, body confidence, and how to turn pain into gain. “I’m not the typical skinny, tall, long-neck kind of ballerina.”
The art of love!
Get your creative juices flowing
This Valentine’s, don’t wait around for that love-note or those fancy chocolates to feel loved and desired. Express yourself to fall in love with yourself, now!