“I have to find a muse, and that is Artemisia Gentileschi, the Renaissance painter.”—Gabriela Hearst
The Renaissance was a time of significant change and innovation between the Middle Ages and what would soon become modern Europe. Across Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, there was a communal effort to revive the art, aesthetics, and politics of ancient Greece and Rome. The foundation of the Renaissance was humanism, a system of thought that embraced human achievement in science, literature, and the arts. Artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli thrived during the Renaissance, and their achievements embody Renaissance innovation.
Despite some of the most well-known Renaissance thinkers and artists being men, one of the most captivating and courageous female painters of the time was Artemisia Gentileschi, who depicted female fortitude in her work. Gentileschi was astonishingly transgressive for her time. According to Italian art historian Roberto Longli, "There are about fifty-seven works by Artemisia Gentileschi and 94% (forty-nine works) feature women as protagonists or equal to men.” Gentileschi’s work primarily featured female brutality in the face of patriarchy. Her paintings portray heroic archetypes of men being dominated by women from ancient myths, the Bible, and history. For example, one of her notable pieces, Judith Slaying Holofernes, depicts the biblical story of Judith, a young widow, slaying Holofernes, an Assyrian general that had sacked her village. Gentileschi’s portrayal of Judith is forceful and determined as she beheads Holofernes, a reversal of gendered power dynamics and an illustration of the power of women. After surviving her own sexual assault and subsequent trial, many art historians consider Gentileschi’s work to be allegorical for her own life.
Artemisia Gentileschi’s life and repertoire are more relevant now than ever, as many historians and scholars believe we are entering a second renaissance. Across the globe, people are challenging governments, philosophies, and beauty standards, which perhaps place us in our own cultural rebirth in 2023. Art reflects and proliferates these social changes by challenging the ways we view ourselves and the world around us.
Among various art forms that reflect social change is fashion. Within the fashion industry, we are given windows into dominant societal principles and values, as well as how we can challenge those values and reflect on the past. Fashion trends reflect the context of an era lost to time, and designers are constantly working to explore hierarchies and inclusivity within the industry.
The French luxury fashion house Chloé is renowned for its soft, delicate, and feminine designs. Chloé’s designs are free-spirited, timeless, and wearable. Established in 1952 by Gaby Aghion, Chloé sought to merge the constraints of haute couture with ready-to-wear designs. It soon became an iconic brand, worn by elegant and feminine celebrities like Grace Kelly, Jackie Kennedy, and Brigitte Bardot.
In December 2020, Gabriela Hearst, a Uruguyan-American, was named creative director of Chloé, becoming the first non-European to hold the position at the fashion house. Despite joining for a prêt-à-porter brand, Hearst values a slower pace approach to fashion, creating garments with attention to detail and meaning, placing tradition above trends.
This season, Hearst was fixated on femininity—what it means to be feminine in the past and in the future. For Chloé’s Autumn-Winter 2023 collection, Hearst was inspired by Artemisia Gentileschi, citing the painter as a muse for imagining a modern Renaissance of powerful women. Hearst shared a quote attributed to the Renaissance artist before the show:
"A woman's name raises doubt until her work is seen."
Models walked the white runway at Paris Fashion Week in suits, dresses, leather, and shearling, reflecting the duality of womanhood in 2023: feminine and masculine, soft and strong, darkness and lightness. Although the collection primarily features a muted neutral color palette, several pieces mimic the rich colors and artistic labor of Gentileschi’s paintings.
For example, Look 12 featured a structured, multicolored tapestry dress. The eye-catching dress is unlike anything else in the collection. The dress was crafted by a Mumbai-based embroidery studio that provides jobs and education to low-income women. Tapestry work and embroidery is traditionally and historically women’s craft, highlighting the often uncredited visibility of women artists throughout history, even those that went unnamed and unmentioned.
Other pieces are inspired by the beautiful neoclassical drapery of Renaissance women’s fashion. Long, off-the-shoulder dresses are hemmed at the knees and feature bishop sleeves, hallmarks of Renaissance fashion. Several pieces also feature the Renaissance puff sleeves, referred to as “Juliet sleeves” after Shakespeare’s literary heroine. Additionally, the collection features lattice detailing, capes, and leather braids on many garments. Historical silhouettes, traditional and non-traditional feminine styles, and a celebration of women’s artwork make Chloé’s Autumn-Winter 2023 Collection an homage to womanhood, then and now. In less than three years, Gabriela Hearst has created a unique legacy within the fashion industry, combining the brand’s iconic free-spirited femininity with historical and modern elegance.
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