ELLE (UK) - - Elle Voice - byKENYAHUNT

This is an age when women build small em­pires and reach C-suit­elevel jobs wear­ing uni­forms as var­ied as body­con dresses, leather trousers, the clas­sic off-duty combo of jeans and a tee, and (yes!) yoga leg­gings. At the time of writ­ing this ar­ti­cle, the women mak­ing head­lines in busi­ness couldn’t look more dif­fer­ent from the pro­to­typ­i­cal ca­reerist in the 1989 film Work­ing Girl. Uber’s new chief brand of­fi­cer Bo­zoma Saint John, a lover of bright, flam­boy­ant dresses, and Into The Gloss founder Emily Weiss, a sweater-and-jeans loy­al­ist, both come to mind. So it’s ironic that workwear has come full cir­cle back to the suit when most of­fice dress codes have moved away from it. Af­ter per­co­lat­ing through­out the spring/sum­mer and pre-col­lec­tions, power dress­ing in the tra­di­tional, tai­lored and her­itageprinted sense hit a tip­ping point for au­tumn, blan­ket­ing the run­ways from Stella McCart­ney and Cé­line to Off-White and Gabriela Hearst just as it was on the verge of ex­tinc­tion in real life.

For Gior­gio Ar­mani, the man fa­mous for be­ing an early ar­chi­tect of the idea with both his epony­mous and Em­po­rio Ar­mani lines, the new wave of workwear is a case of go­ing back to the fu­ture. He started cut­ting suits for women in 1975, a year af­ter show­ing his first men’s col­lec­tion. ‘That was af­ter my sis­ter and some women friends wanted to wear what I had de­signed for men. They wanted sim­ple, soft jack­ets, in which they would be able to move freely and nat­u­rally,’ he ex­plains from Milan. His fem­i­nine, el­e­gant take on suit­ing was rev­o­lu­tion­ary in a decade in which women were climb­ing the ca­reer lad­der in record num­bers, most of them dressed like men, in boxy shapes and shoul­der pads. ‘I was able to ex­pe­ri­ence first-hand how much fash­ion in­flu­ences cus­toms and per­cep­tions. It’s the pri­mary means of out­wardly rep­re­sent­ing one­self and a pow­er­ful tool, the value of which should never be un­der­es­ti­mated, in any con­text,’ he says. His trade­marks: jack­ets and trousers in easy, elon­gated sil­hou­ettes and a chic, neu­tral colour pal­ette that im­plies wealth be­came a cur­rency in the work­place. To own an Ar­mani suit was to have ar­rived.

‘I re­alised that my work re­sponded to an ex­ist­ing need for pro­fes­sional at­tire that would give women a sense of dig­nity and an at­ti­tude that would let them sat­isfy the de­mands of pro­fes­sional life with­out hav­ing to give up on be­ing women. I tried to ren­der that into a strong im­age. And from there the phe­nom­e­non of the power suit was born.’

The idea ex­ploded in the Eight­ies, with Ar­mani, Anne Klein, Donna Karan and Ralph Lau­ren all tak­ing the rigid­ity out of the suit and re­plac­ing it with a sense of fem­i­nin­ity and sen­su­al­ity. ‘It was pre­cisely the con­struc­tion and stiff­ness of cer­tain suit­ing that rel­e­gated women to the role of “dolls”. With my styles, I wanted to of­fer suit­ing that would com­mu­ni­cate author­ity, while re­main­ing com­fort­able and fluid,’ he says.

Four decades later, Ar­mani has main­tained his com­mit­ment to the task, through­out the many phases and faces of tai­lored workwear — the Jil Sander min­i­mal­ism of the Nineties, the clean tai­lor­ing of Phoebe Philo-era Cé­line, and the re­vaped suit­ing from a range of de­sign­ers in stores now. Though his def­i­ni­tion of power dress­ing has changed with the land­scape, as have the women who wear his clothes.

The con­cept has changed rad­i­cally since the Seven­ties when the au­thor John T. Mol­loy wrote The Woman’s Dress for Success Book, in­struct­ing the fe­male work force to con­sider the male gaze be­cause ‘it is a stark re­al­ity that men dom­i­nate the power struc­ture’, be­fore ad­vis­ing ‘to never wear a shirt and tie’ or ‘pin­striped or chalk-striped suit’. No doubt Mol­loy would have cringed at the reimag­in­ings of those very things on the women’s run­ways. Per­haps the de­sign­ers had all seen the results of the 2016 study pub­lished in the So­cial Psy­cho­log­i­cal and Per­son­al­ity Sci­ence Jour­nal link­ing cloth­ing to strate­gic think­ing, ne­go­ti­a­tion skills and feel­ings of power, re­veal­ing that peo­ple were more likely to per­form like a boss when wear­ing more pol­ished workwear — pin­stripes and all. For Ar­mani, the beauty of work wear lies in its pro­gres­sion.‘ The evo­lu­tion of my style has fol­lowed a path par­al­lel to that of women’s eman­ci­pa­tion. To­day, women make their own choices and de­ci­sions in­de­pen­dently, and not to please any man or so­ci­ety.’

THIS PAGE White tri­co­tine jacket, £660, and black vel­vet trousers, £430, both EM­PO­RIO AR­MANI. Ster­ling-sil­ver ear­rings, £355, FAY ANDRADA

OP­PO­SITE Cot­ton shirt, £900, dou­ble-faced wool

skirt, £3,350, and leather boots, £1,020,


Ear­rings, as be­fore

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