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Making Room for Unlimited Interpretations of Femininity

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Since its inception as an art and a business, fashion has served as both a reflection of and a challenge to the social norms of each era. Every decade brings with it a new tension between conformity and rebellion in style, but the global nature of today’s world has done something different (and exceptionally welcome) with that decade-by-decade cyclical trajectory.

At New York Fashion Week: The Shows, which graced NYC this September, the fashion world validated what many of those in favor of social progress has been asserting for decades–that femininity, sex appeal, and grace are subjective. They cannot be restricted to one definition, nor can they be restricted to one aesthetic. Three Spring/Summer 17 shows–Dan Liu, Anniesa Hasibuan, and Namilia–perfectly showcased in vastly different ways the arresting complexities available within the performance of femininity.

Dan Liu Takes the Repression out of Traditional Femininity

In fashion, the aspirational needn’t be completely inaccessible. There’s a certain aspect of fantasy to the pursuit of classic style.

The Dan Liu Collection showed for the second time this September, and with it came a beautiful fantasy of classic grace reimagined for the 21st Century. The collection explored ways that traditionally feminine garments could be fresh, modern and perpetually desireable. The wow factor was in not the extravagance of the collection, but instead in Liu’s keen eye for texture, shape and detail.


Dan Liu fashion show

Even more refreshing was Dan Liu’s ability to create high fashion garments that would bring out the beauty in any woman–not just the models in his show. His aesthetic favors dresses that drape naturally over a woman’s form without overpowering her.

Rather than being confined to the overly structured, almost aggressively feminine silhouettes popular in the ‘50’s, Liu employed a softer, more subtle approach, using an airy spring color palette and modern florals to enhance the sense of ease and effortlessness throughout his collection.

Namilia takes the shock value out of the female form–using S&M

In the same space on the same day as Dan Liu’s show, Namilia took the construction of ‘appropriate’ female sexuality and demolished it vigorously with darkly humorous, unapologetically revealing S&M-inspired designs.

The collection was more of a statement than a wardrobe, and it visibly rejected any inherent preciousness traditionally ascribed to the female body, presenting flesh solely as flesh. The collection was titled, “You’re Just a Toy,” and featured a blend of religious, literary and pop culture references.


Namilia fashion show

Created by Nan Li and Emilia Pfohl, Namilia is known for its rebellious subversiveness. Among the six statements on the show’s manifesto was the intention of “Freeing yourself from the common rules of decency and letting your most inner fantasies run free.”

This collection’s direct target audience is certainly not as broad as Liu’s. Whether or not rubber face masks are your day-to-day aesthetic, though, the fact that they are presented as an option at one of fashion’s most important events should make it clear that in the 21st century, there are a myriad of ways to have a striking sense of style.

Anniesa Hasibuan proves that sensuality has nothing to do with skin

At a time when Muslim women’s garments are under particular scrutiny, Anniesa Hasibuan’s NYFW show, in which every model wore a hijab, made a more powerful statement than even Namilia’s shocking showcase of deviant sexuality could elicit.

The Indonesian designer’s pieces were truly a case study for why more can also be more. The tasteful embroidery, the richness of the spring color palette and the fusion of modernity and classic grace were stunning testaments to Hasibuan’s vital talent and vision. From glamorous evening looks to chic daytime styles, the collection was dripping with class.


Anniesa-Hasibuan fashion show

This vision of femininity was in no way devoid of sensuality–if anything, it defied notions that covering oneself from head to toe must inherently be about suppression rather than expression. And the audience–people of all colors, shapes, sizes, genders, dressed in high-fashion hijabs, luxury streetwear, skin-tight dresses and golden crowns–seemed enraptured by the intoxicating gracefulness of it all.

The collection’s successful debut will likely cause Hasibuan’s popularity to grow even more. It will also, hopefully, help convince those that attempt to regulate Muslim women’s fashion choices (see: the burkini ban) that Muslim women are more than capable of making such choices for themselves.

Is there room for such distinct interpretations of femininity? Absolutely.

How is that fashion became known as a rigid enforcer of rules? So many times, women talk about fashion to ourselves and each other as though it is this inescapable presence we must either adhere to, fail at or deliberately deviate from.

Ultimately, though, our style is meant to showcase us, as individuals, whatever that means to us individually. Perhaps you spent every decade evolving your style with the fashions of the time, or maybe you maintained a consistent sense of style all along.

Today, you can identify with Dan Liu’s modern classic aesthetic, Namilia’s wild spirit of rebellion, Anniesa Hasibuan’s playful and glamorous approach to modesty, or anything in between.

It’s refreshing to see that after many eras of stylistic ping-pong, with fashion picking sides over what women are supposed to be and allowed to be, now more than ever there is enough room for women, whatever our interpretation of our own femininity, to just be.



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