Fabiani Collection Spring / Summer 2017
Fabiani Collection Spring / Summer 2017
Image: SDR

Although we’ve seen women rise through the ranks of traditional male power structures for decades, we’re inclined to associate tailoring with men’s suiting, London’s Savile Row, and Hillary Clinton’s failed US presidential campaign. Yet there is a long history of women wearing the pants.

Recently, cool kids, such as Cara Delevingne, Kwena Baloyi, and Alexa Chung, have styled women’s suits with a modern twist, using sneakers and slogan tees, bowties, and braces. Stylist Baloyi favours suits for their authoritative look, fun factor, and versatility. “The fact that I can tell different stories and create many looks makes the suit very resourceful,” she says.

Kwena Baloyi
Kwena Baloyi
Image: Supplied

Warrick Gautier, appointed as chief designer for Fabiani’s recently launched women’s wear range, says the suiting trend for women has long been an influence across major houses in the world. The suit “has become a staple in collections, like a wedding dress”, says the Cape Town-based designer.

Warrick Gautier
Warrick Gautier
Image: Supplied

The history of women wearing suits started with war. Walter Buchholz, fashion lecturer at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, says the demands of the First World War compelled women to be dressed in a practical way. With men fighting in the trenches, women drove ambulances, went down mines and worked in offices. Their new roles required that previous staples of women’s fashion be replaced with trousers and tailored suits for the workplace, he says.

Buchholz, who has worked on Savile Row, says no two women were more iconic during the period between the two world wars than Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. “Both championed a very masculine tailoring style. Garbo made the trench coat her signature piece, while Dietrich shocked the conservative with her mannish suits,” he says. A few decades later Bianca Jagger stunned the fashion world in a white suit when she exchanged marriage vows with Mick Jagger.

And of course, there is the iconic Le Smoking. This tuxedo, created in 1966 by Yves St Laurent, used perfect tailoring rather than bare skin to subtly show off the body’s shape. Today, Yves St Laurent’s label remains synonymous with the suit, with creative director Hedi Slimane’s interpretation sealing its reputation before he left the house last year.

Le Smoking’s influence is obvious in Gautier’s women’s wear for Fabiani. It’s in the beautifully fitted tailored jackets, and in the tuxedo stripe along the side of his slim women’s trousers. It’s in the perfect finishes, and the luxurious look and feel of the jacket’s silk linings.

“This is my way of doing something for women,” Gautier says, referring to his tailored collection for Fabiani. “It’s high-voltage, sexy suiting for high-profile women.” The suit takes centre stage, with a strong emphasis on separates. Not only does Gautier offer the ultimate pinstripe and the iconic black suit, he also offers tailored couture with beaded and sequined suits for occasion wear. Although Fabiani has traditionally been a Eurocentric brand, Gautier will subtly position it as South African luxury. Expect hints of African-inspired patterning, and touches of Fabiani’s signature colour, magenta.

Another South African designer focusing on tailoring, Rahim Rawjee is well-known for making men’s suits in his made-to-measure studio in Johannesburg. Over the years though, Rawjee has had a growing clientele of women buying his men’s clothes. “I’ve never doubted the need for a women’s collection, but I knew that it would require a massive commitment.” Rawjee has made the commitment and introduced a range of women’s wear, which, like his men’s wear, is based on the principles of Savile Row: meticulously tailored, made-to-measure suits. His studio is all about craftsmanship, personalisation, and quality, Rawjee says.

Rahim Rawjee
Rahim Rawjee
Image: Supplied

“I’m offering exactly the same service I offer men, to women,” Rawjee says. His new collection captures the androgynous trend and the strong place women find themselves in, as well as the zeitgeist of women being the future. “Women are shaping our lives,” he says.

A good suit transcends seasons, Rawjee says. Expect shaped jackets and the slightly boxy look. “Because I’m an ’80s baby and watched Dynasty, you’ll find strong shoulders in my collections,” Rawjee says.

International designers to watch for softer, oversized, flattering tailoring are Stella McCartney and Celine’s Phoebe Philo (who Buchholz regards as a women’s-wear god). McCartney has always been a fan of men’s suiting. “It’s very much my thing,” she told the Financial Times. “I have an absolute love for bespoke… I always liked trying on my mum’s Tommy Nutter suits and definitely felt very held in by them, very sculpted, and very safe. And I think there’s something very sexy about a woman in a man’s suit.”

Sexy or not, there is no denying the freedom we now have to wear suits, whenever and however we want to. It’s a freedom we should celebrate… by wearing a tailored suit.

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