The story of women’s rights through the eyes of fashion

The first G20 ministerial conference about women’s rights was held end of August at Santa Margherita in Italy. In parallel, Angela Missoni, chairwoman of the eponymous brand, spoke about the challenges that still need to be addressed.

Bettina Bush Mignanego

By Bettina Bush Mignanego30 septembre 2021

Maria Grazia Chiuri, artistic director of Dior, chose the slogan inspired by the strong statement of the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie "We should all be feminists". Here, the Dior T-Shirt worn by actress Jennifer Lawrence (Dior)

It only takes Mary Quant, the British designer who invented the miniskirt, to understand that fashion has been conveying women’s rights challenges through iconic symbols for a long time. This small piece of fabric draped around the hips was a strong signal for changes that society in the 1960s was going through, and quickly became the symbol for freedom and independence. Earlier on, Coco Chanel had understood that women’s struggles also lied within day-to-day challenges: “The new active woman needs to feel at ease in her dress. She needs to be able to roll up her sleeves.” The first women’s trousers were created for this purpose.

The first women's trousers were created in 1928 by Coco Chanel (Shutterstock)

The new active woman needs to feel at ease in her dress. She needs to be able to roll up her sleeves.

Coco Chanel

Today, women have increasingly been leading couture houses. Virginie Viard, creation director at Chanel, Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen and Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior are a few examples. Maria Grazia managed to translate the transition from feminine to feminism when she chose the tagline inspired by the hit sentence from the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “We should all be feminists”. The eco designer Stella McCartney uses fashion as a storyline to intertwine ethical and sustainable values.

Stella Jean, however, was first a model, then worked with Egon Von Furstenberg, and wanted to give fashion a political role by travelling to Pakistan for a project with the UN about ethical fashion. Here, with Kalash women, near the Afghan border, the Italian and Haitian designer chose to promote beautiful handmade embroideries created by local craftswomen worldwide.

A dialogue which the G20 summit, held on August 26 in Italy at Santa Margherita, also wanted to open under the leadership of the Italian Minister for Equality and Family, Elena Bonetti. Alongside major political actors, including Mario Draghi, the conversations touched upon hot topics such as women’s empowerment, made increasingly urgent by the dramatic events in Afghanistan a few weeks prior. The Ministers for Equality worldwide were invited to tackle the question of women’s emancipation: “We need to reinforce women’s leadership, said Elena Bonetti, and accelerate feminine entrepreneurship.”

Italian Minister for Equal Opportunities and Family, Elena Bonetti chaired the G20 Conference on Women's Empowerment last August (DR)

During the first wave, feminine employment was reduced by 2.2 million jobs in the European Union

Emma Marcegaglia, president of the B20-G20

Prior to the G20 summit about women, the B20-G20 Dialogue led by Diana Bracco was held in Rome end of July. The Chairwoman of the B20 forum, Emma Marcegaglia, wanted to debate the best solutions to encourage women to engage in the workplace, while the Covid-19 pandemic unfortunately contributed to drastically endanger their jobs: “During the first wave, feminine employment was reduced by 2.2 million jobs in the European Union,” said Emma Marcegaglia. A preoccupying and urgent situation according to Diana Bracco, who claimed that “in order to tackle the challenge of women’s independence, we need to focus on skills, merit and capabilities to improve feminine workforce from 76.4% to 81% by 2024 in the most performing countries, while for less performing countries, the percentage should increase from 52.4% to 66.5%.“

To understand the question of empowerment within corporations, Luxury Tribune met onsite with the businesswoman Angela Missoni, Chairwoman of the Missoni S.p.A, invited to debate regarding women’s rights challenges, alongside Arturo Artom, economic consultant and technology expert, creator of the famous Artom conferences.

Angela Missoni, President of the Missoni brand (Index Missoni)

Can you tell us about your experience as a woman entrepreneur in the world of fashion?

Of course, and it is important to me to mention that I represent the fourth generation of leading women alongside my mother, which is rare enough to underline. For us, and of course for my daughters, work is indispensable to life, to reach independence.

Your father Ottavio and your mother Rosita founded the company together in Gallarate in 1953. What was their work relationship like?

It was definitely led from an equality standpoint. And it would be false to define my mother as a businesswoman, and my father as a designer. Rosita built the company with pragmatism, from one milestone to another, while my father had a kind of detachment from day-to-day complications and preferred to go straight to the essence. For them, fashion meant to fight for their ideas and to forge their success by anticipating trends. My father believed in mesh and knitwear. My mother, who had grown up in fashion and with fashion magazines, brought style. Together, they combined fashion, knitwear, and innovation. My father discovered his talent for color, which my mother knew how to highlight.

What can you tell us about women’s empowerment?

In fashion, women that work and create for women know exactly how the feminine body works. They build from reality, while men work based on an ideal. On my end, I joined the company when I was 19 and after over 40 years, I would like to see more women in our board. Too few women have the opportunity to reach important positions, even in fashion.

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