Fall fashion is on the catwalks, and what's in vogue this season isn't just florals, ski pants and asymmetric hemlines. In the world of fashion advertising, feminism is the hot new look. From designer names to mass-market fashion retailers, brands are embracing strong, real, independent women in their autumn and winter ads, while beautiful, impersonal models take a back seat.
First, Kenzo blew traditional fragrance advertising out of the water with a spot directed by Spike Jonze, which depicted actress Margot Qualley as a woman going berserk, in a kind of female homage to the director's iconic "Weapon of Choice" video for Fat Boy Slim. Carol Lim, the founder of Opening Ceremony, which co-created the fragrance for Kenzo, described the woman in the video as an "activist" and a "doer."
Elsewhere, H&M promoted its women's Autumn/Winter collection with a spot set to a cover of the Tom Jones track "She's a Lady," by all-female group Lionbabe. The film deliberately rejects the old-fashioned notions of "ladylike" implicit in the lyrics -- someone who "always knows her place" -- and depicts new definitions of femininity, such as sporting large muscles and armpit hair, or eating fries in bed. Transgender model Hari Nef is among the real women to appear in the ad.
The campaign is by Swedish agency Forsman & Bodenfors, and the same shop has also created a film for Danish luxury metalwear brand Georg Jensen that eschews models for powerful women carving their careers in male-dominated fields (like the Emmy-winning "Night Manager" director Susanne Bier and French chef Dominique Crenn.) "We looked at jewelry industry advertising and saw impersonal images of mannequins, or advertising clearly aimed at the man buying for the woman, but many of Georg Jensen's customers are now women buying for themselves," explained Viktoria Wallner, senior client director at the agency.
Another brand focused on female empowerment is Wrangler. Its new European spot features musician Kimbra interviewing different women and creating a track out of women saying the word "bum," to make the point that women are "more than a bum." It was created by an all-female team and, much like Forsman & Bodenfors team, creative director Anne Fleming at agency We Are Pi looked at other ads from the category and didn't like what she saw. "There were a lot of disembodied women, but it wasn't about who they were and what they were doing."
The Wrangler campaign also ties into a specific product message, promoting the brand's Body Bespoke jeans. Each of its 11 sizes is designed to be most flattering for that size, rather than just scaling from a size zero, as is the fashion industry norm.
While the likes of Dove and Always have been embracing female empowerment for a while now, We Are Pi head of strategy Jessica Perri believes advertising is now evolving into a "post-Dove" era, where brands are now going beyond the debate about beauty and whether or not women love their bodies to talk more broadly about women as real people. "That's why we centered the ad around a real person -- Kimbra -- and we see her talking to real women who are more complex than story-less models."
According to Sarah Owen, trend forecaster and senior editor at WGSN, this isn't just a passing vogue --the fashion industry is playing catchup.
"Fashion brands have been slower to the game than FMCG brands, generally speaking, and have been bystanders to the harm of objectification of women in the industry," she said. "But the fashion industry is now priming Gen Z (its next biggest set of luxury consumers) and realizes it needs to tap into a different set of morals to appeal and resonate with this audience. Conversations surrounding female empowerment are finally evolving from awareness to action."
One important ingredient in the pro-feminist mix is that many of the senior clients and agency teams behind these campaigns are female. Georg Jensen's new CEO, Eva-Lotta Sjostedt, was influential in the brand's campaign, while the Wrangler client is head of European marketing Ilaria Pasquinelli.
But commentators agree the the real change is due to the power of young, outspoken women on social media -- from music industry role models like Taylor Swift to comedians like Amy Schumer, inspiring their followers to speak their own minds online. This was exemplified this week when Cosmpolitan teamed up with Seat to introduce a car specifically aimed at women. The purple-hued "Mii" was widely derided on the internet, with some asking whether it has a tampon holder, and quipping "Now women can drive themselves."
As Sean Pillot de Chenecey, a youth culture commentator who lectures at the London College of Fashion, said: "Fashion is having to take a clearer and stronger stance. Powerful young women are center stage now, with hundreds of Instagram followers, and brands cannot afford to be patronizing towards them."