Fashion has a habit of overusing the word “Power Fashion” as an adjective (power stylists, power silhouettes), but this Marvel-esque trend really does semaphore strength. From armour-like breastplates to rippling torso motifs and chainmail finishes, designers are toughening up their eveningwear for stars who want their looks to convey a message of resilience – or at least a certain sense of badass-ness.
Against the backdrop of a dismal news cycle, it’s hardly surprising fashion is, quite literally, bracing itself for whatever comes next. This steadfast approach to glamour was the mood at British Vogue and Louis Vuitton’s dinner in London last week, where Renate Reinsve, Michaela Coel and the Haim sisters mingled in The Apartment wearing Nicolas Ghesquière’s Cruise 2023 collection inspired by warrior-like goddesses. Metallics abounded, as more than a few guests chose the shiny leather harnesses to do cocktail hour the tough-girl way, while Gemma Chan’s arrow dress looked singularly spectacular.
From New Bond Street to the BFI, Jodie Turner-Smith took her out-of-the-box styling to the Southbank last week. In lieu of classic step-and-repeat chic, the actor put her weight behind superhero-inspired couture. Her gold Balmain gown, featuring a protective mosaic sheath down one side, was inspired by Olivier Rousteing’s own experience of compression pads after he suffered serious burns in lockdown. On a statuesque Turner-Smith, who dyed her buzzcut purple for a shocking contrast, Rousteing’s private pain translated into a message of courage. No mean feat when thematic red-carpet dressing can look gimmicky.
An army of stars has followed suit, such as Ana de Armas in a Louis Vuitton look that was chainmailed to the max on the Blonde promo tour, and Jourdan Dunn, who strapped up in a metal sculpted bra by Patrycja Pagas for a London event during Frieze. The Schiaparelli show during Paris Fashion Week, meanwhile, saw the house’s body-shaped bijoux come into its own, as front rowers, such as Ashley Graham, nodded to the trend with hard-edged accessories. No one tries to take your seat when you’re wearing gold toe-capped shoes, it turns out.
Of course, we’ve seen Daniel Roseberry’s haute hero wear play out on celebrities before. Kim Kardashian’s custom moulded leather six-pack gown made headlines thanks to its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle colourway and striking use of corsetry on Christmas Eve 2020. Tom Ford’s glossy spring/summer 2020 breastplates, too, almost broke the internet on Zendaya at the Critics’ Choice Awards the same year, and Jonathan Anderson’s spring/summer 2022 shield dresses met their match in Jeanne Cadieu at the Vanity Fair Oscars after-party in March. Paco Rabanne’s signature chainmail minidresses? Well, they prove heavy paillettes are perennial.
This season, however, “power” fashion is less about social-media impact and more a direct reflection of the industry’s response to the current climate. Consider armour-like looks a strain of the hemline index – which states that hems go up when economic, social and political times are good and down when things darken. Fashion gets gritty when it needs to and lets its guard down when it can.