'The little girl cuddles her doll and dresses her up as she dreams of being cuddled and dressed up herself; inversely, she thinks of herself as a marvellous doll,' writes Simone de Beauvoir.
Using key A/W 14 garments as a starting point - from Ryan Lo's bunny ears and tutus to Meadham Kirchhoff's pastel frilled dresses - SHOWstudio launches an investigation into the exaggerated almost fetishistic girliness championed on some runways, by certain female musicians and celebrities, and, with increasing frequency, on Tumblr and Instagram. The series, instigated by editor Lou Stoppard and director Nick Knight, will explore what this embracing of ultra-femininity and childishness - pink, cartoons, fluff, sparkles - says about attitudes to women and female identity and the luxury industry. We will question what motivates the 'Living Dolls' who embrace this style. Are they reclaiming girlishness? Are they dressing for themselves, rejecting the male gaze and the idea that one should dress to resemble a man to be seen as strong, sticking two fingers up to those who obsessively scrutinise women's clothing in the media? Or is the notion of choice so slippery that one could feasibly presume they are merely conforming to entrenched societal expectations that continue to be reinforced by toy shops filled with pink dolls for girls and blue cars for boys?
Indeed, such is the complexity of the 'girly' trend that it can be read in two directly opposing ways. On one hand as the ultimate sign of women ‘dressing up’ or ‘performing’ for men by turning themselves into passive, pouting, fragile, child-like fantasies echoing a pornified culture that fetishises youth, virginity and inexperience and renders women mere objects. And on the other an example of strength and irreverence; a sign of women reclaiming certain elements of femininity and dressing not to conform but to stand out and please themselves.
The series kicks off with a fashion film, created in collaboration with The British Fashion Council, that shows off and documents the work of key London designers, from Christopher Kane and Simone Rocha to Lo and Kirchhoff, alongside archive pieces from designers such as Luella Bartley and Louise Gray. The film was funded by the BFC Fashion Film initiative, which is sponsored by River Island. The piece plays with ideas of gaze, autonomy and voyeurism and, in a pioneering venture, was made by two directors - Nick Knight and Rei Nadal - working independently but together at the same time. Nadal shot model Ali Michael while Knight captured her at work. The footage from both cameras is presented in the film, so the two visions are united. Both Nadal and Michael were styled by Ellie Grace Cumming. The film shoot was streamed live on 1 and 2 September 2014.
Additionally, essays and interviews explore the topic further. Fashion writers, academics and feminist thinkers unpick the many facets of this style, each offering a unique and personal opinion. They question why a grown woman would want to look like a child, while exploring the look's aesthetic roots. Amongst others, Chris Hobbs tackles fashion's obsession with the language of the internet, while Bertie Brandes offers an update on the 'Girly' trend post-S/S 15, a season that fetishised feminism and femininity. Finally, to unite theory with testimony, and to aknowledge the fact that the style is worn and championed by real women on the street everyday, individuals who embrace and live this aesthetic - from stylists Louby Mcloughlin and Lola Chatterton to designer Ryan Lo - are interviewed.