This year has been a big one for feminism. With pop stars like Beyonce and Taylor Swift tossing their activist hats into the ring with the likes of Gloria Steinem and Naomi Wolf, the notion of gender equality and the inherent strength of womankind has been thrust into the spotlight. It’s a trending topic, with its fair share of conversational landmines, which is what makes it so fun to explore. One of the biggest hot buttons is whether or not it’s possible for a woman to be both a symbol of strength and sex. Headromance explores this concept beautifully, with their collection, Rebel, Rebel.
The typical representation of a “strong, sexy woman” clad in leather and studs with slicked back hair and a bold red lip, or some other such styling that calls to mind a more BDSM type of dominance, is noticeably absent here. The Rebel, Rebel woman doesn’t seem to be trying to look strong, she just is.
“Our collection denotes resisting control and tradition. The inspiration behind the collection was originally from the military trends that littered the catwalks. We’ve always been fascinated with the tough and conforming which is contrasted with the feminine and free.” Emily Warne and Peter Gibbs, the lead stylists behind the collection share with us.
Illustrated elegantly through the wardrobe styling of Clare Frith is this fascinating concept—being tough as a type of groupthink—and a brilliant observation that perhaps the obvious antithesis is the sheer freedom of femininity.
By contrasting authoritarian influences like heavy peacoats and high collars with flowing silks, dainty accessories and a soft neutral palette, Frith brings the best of both the military and the womanly worlds into play. Echoing this subtle intermixing is the combination of equal parts bold and soft eye, crafted by makeup artist Naoko Scintu. Here is a creative team that seems to be truly in sync—thanks in large part, no doubt by the six months that it took to create this collection. Despite the fact that all eight looks were shot in a single day, the months of preparation leading up to the shoot proved to be invaluable. Warne & Gibbs told us that, “The whole aesthetics of the shoot oozes our concept. Every element —the hair, the wardrobe, the lighting, the models, just as we’d envisaged.”
That vision is exactly what I find so fascinating about this collection. Warne & Gibbs told us that:
Androgyny was key in this collection. The looks began virile and were given a shatterable, softer, more feminine edge. We wanted our images to denote women’s fierceness and rebellion.
Which leaves me with a question that I always have when it comes to portraying feminine strength: Why do we always begin with androgyny? When it comes to showing strength in men, you hardly ever hear of an artist stripping away all vestiges of masculinity as a first step, so why do we do so with women?
In our Embrace Your Strengths article, we discussed the different ways to show strength of all kinds, but it would seem that aesthetically speaking, strength has only one form: tough. The “steely gaze,” “hard lines,” “sharp features” all descriptions that are readily given to tough characters and all adjectives that denote strength as being hard—the very opposite of feminine.
Hair has always been a particularly ripe for feminist commentary. Largely considered a very gender specific physical trait, women are supposed to have long, soft, flowing hair and men short, clean and carefully groomed. Typically, when an artist wants to blur those lines of gender expectation, they will give their female models an ultra short, angular cut. As a way to explore the subjectivity of gender stereotypes, it’s a fantastic visual. As a way to show strength? Well, that’s when we begin heading into some extremely murky territory.
Not normally a vestige of hard-hitting journalism, there is a fantastic article on Refinery 29 that discusses the inclination of Hollywood to show tough, strong, feminist characters with shaved heads, (you can read that article here*), which is an interesting phenomenon in its own right. Why does our society veer towards stripping female characters of their most feminine traits in order to show them as strong? While it is the beauty industry’s inherent responsibility to explore the boundaries and definitions of what beauty is, when we start assigning hard and fast associations to those explorations on a larger scale, we start to shape societal definitions. Suddenly we go from a “what if” to a “what is.”
The beauty of Rebel, Rebel, is in its balance. All of the masculine elements—wardrobe with strong militant influences, bold, smudged eye makeup, a smattering of cropped cuts with sharp lines and angles—all of these elements are equally balanced with a soft palette, flowing materials and styles and the kind of lighting normally reserved for precious jewelry. Whether incidentally or intentionally, Headromance shows us that the true strength of femininity lies in its ability to adapt to any situation, while maintaining its own distinct value.
Hair: EMILY WARNE & PETER GIBBS
Photography: ANDREW O’TOOLE
Stylist: CLARE FRITH
Make-up: NAOKO SCINTU