Women: Voices

To celebrate International Women’s Day this month I though it would be an idea to share the opinions of my female colleagues here. Dr Djurdja Bartlett is a Senior Research Fellow here at London College of Fashion.

I asked Djurdja how she spent International Womens Day this year…

“On my way to the library of the Museum of the Decorative Arts during my recent AHRC-funded research trip to Paris, I saw at least ten women walking with a single rose on a stem. It was a nice, uplifting sight, but, with my thoughts dedicated to my research, I did not dwell on why I enjoyed that sight just on that specific day, although I had walked the same route, from my rented flat to the Library, every day. Additionally, that was a very busy time for me, as I also planned to attend a lecture on the French couturière Jeanne Paquin, taking place at the Archives of Paris on the same day at 5pm. I have been interested in Paquin’s work, as she collaborated with Leon Bakst on the costumes for the Ballets Russes’ ballet Jeux in 1913, designed a collection with Bakst in the same year, and had a Russian apprentice Anna Gindus, who turned into one of the leading high fashion designers in St Petersburg in the 1910s. Later, on my way to the lecture, I spotted more rose-clutching women, and upon my arrival at the Archives of Paris, I was given a beautiful pink rose myself.

I knew, of course, that it was the 8th of March, but only then I realized that all these roses, and the lecture itself, were dedicated to International Women’s Day. With a socialist government in power at the moment, no wonder that the French celebrated International Women’s Day. Yet, they did it the French way, with a lecture about an haute couture designer given by Dominique Sirop, another couturier and the author of a well-researched book on Paquin. It made me think about International Women’s Day, its history and its meaning.


Clara Zetkin. 1910

As industrialization changed the fabric of society and many women entered factories at the beginning of the twentieth century, their rights, as well as their battles against appalling working conditions, emerged as an important socio-political issue. Initiated in 1911 by one of the leaders of the German Social Democratic Party, Clara Zetkin, International Women’s Day was an offshoot of the increased unrest amongst female workers at that time.


Rosa Luxemburg. 1910

These thoughts brought back the images of those brave women – Clara Zetkin and her co-party member and confidante, Rosa Luxemburg – in their long skirts and body-hugging jackets, beneath which they wore delicately embroidered blouses. While certainly not designed by Paquin, their outfits belonged to the same respectful and feminine style, which did not prevent them from acting as dedicated revolutionaries.


Alexandra Kollontai in fur coat and hat. 1910

But fashion and revolution were not going to become true comrades. Following the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, Zetkin’s Russian counterpart, and one of Lenin’s closest collaborators, Alexandra Kollontai, was shunned by her comrades because of her good looks, her smart dresses and her sexually liberated views. This made me wonder, once again, why the Left historically has had such a hostile relationship to fashion. Returning to my rented flat with my own rose one hour later, I appreciated even more the French celebrating Women’s International Day with a lecture on haute couture. I thought to myself: actually it might have been a highly political statement.”