Who are the forces in fashion today? According to Vogue, they include Zendaya, supermodels Iman and Paloma Elsesser, and Meghan Markle, whose style profile has only risen since her May wedding, where her Claire Waight Keller-designed dress sparked bridal trends we’ll be seeing well into 2019.
All of the above (minus Markle) were present at last week’s Vogue Forces of Fashion conference and spoke about what it means to make an impact, whether as a style icon, activist or trailblazer.
For Zendaya, whose profile as an activist has risen alongside her presence on the red carpet, being a role model to her primarily young fan base is a responsibility she takes seriously.
“There’s a duality to it, of not thinking of it as a real thing, while also realizing that I could touch a lot of people’s lives, and how many I could positively affect those lives,” she told the Forces of Fashion audience. Speaking about her influence as a style icon, she credited longtime stylist Law Roach, saying:
“He really has taught me to be fearless, and that if you feel confident in what you’re wearing, why does anyone else’s opinion matter? That’s what Law has helped me find through fashion.”
Zendaya also admitted she views the red carpet as an extension of her acting career, using it as another opportunity to play different characters. For instance, one of her most famous looks to date was her Joan of Arc-inspired 2018 Met Gala appearance in armored Versace, of which she said, “That felt like some real Game of Thrones shit. I felt good, and that’s what fashion should be.”
Speaking of dramatic fashion moments, one of the most dramatic of the year involved an ex-actress. When Meghan Markle emerged from her royal sedan to marry Prince Harry back in May, the reveal of her minimalist wedding gown skyrocketed Givenchy’s new artistic director, Claire Waight Keller, to instant prominence.
“For me, it was a really extraordinary experience, and one that was quite unexpected, as I’d only been at [Givenchy] for six or seven months,” Waight Keller told the Forces of Fashion crowd. “So the commission itself was really quite a moment for me, a huge thing both professionally and personally as a Brit, to be a part of British history.”
In creating the dress, Markle communicated exclusively with Waight Keller for five months—to keep the design a strict secret.
“I realized that I had to really decide with her exactly the right thing that also everyone in the world was going to watch,” Waight Keller said. “So of course I had that in the back of my mind. But for me first and foremost, it was about what [Markle] really wanted.”
Supermodel and beauty and fashion mogul Iman is no stranger to making an impact. Over the course of her more than four-decade-long career (and counting), she has not only been a pioneer in changing the face of American fashion as one its first black supermodels, but also championed full-spectrum beauty long before “The Fenty Effect” with the 1994 launch of her own eponymous cosmetic line, which offers shades for every skin tone.
Iman took the Forces of Fashion stage as part of a panel with eyeglass designers Warby Parker, for whom she recently co-designed a pair of frames for their Pupils Project, providing free exams and glasses to schoolchildren in need. As she told the audience, the operative word in activism is “active.”
“Hidden agendas don’t work,” she said. “I think the public is very smart these days. ... Friends of mine have said to me: Activism is a daily thing, it’s not just when you feel like it. To be an activist is a daily thing.”
Paloma Elsesser is a new brand of supermodel, one whose rise represents the growing inclusivity of the fashion industry. Plus-sized and multiracial, Elsesser is keenly aware of the effect of her presence in the fashion industry—and is wary of becoming a token within it, as she shared while appearing with fellow models of the moment Ashley Graham, Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner.
Speaking on diversity in fashion and representing the reported 68 percent of American women who wear a size 14 and above, Elsesser said:
We’re supposed to be the pillars of the actual norm in America. Ashley and I are in the same industry, but we represent very different women, different identities, different experiences. Obviously, we have a connection, but it’s hard when we’re supposed to represent all of those identities in one. That’s why it’s important that we need other identities incorporated into this imagery to make everyone feel validated in a real way that can shape the narratives for people to come. As women we all have traumas, and looking at things that we can identify with feels good. So it does feel powerful to be an agent in shifting that, but at the same time, there are girls who are bigger than me, girls who are darker than me, girls who don’t have thin faces. There are all of these experiences and we’re supposed to be responsible for it. That’s why tokenism is difficult because it leaves people out.