A black A-line dress embellished with stars on soft tulle and hand embroidered with metallic black thread adorned with Swarovski crystals.
Angela Merkel, Jacinda Adern and Oprah Winfrey may be some names that come to mind when you think of powerful women in today’s society, but seeing women in positions of power is still a relatively new phenomenon. But did you know that women once ruled the world?
Before the creation of Genesis and the myths of Ancient Greece, societies all throughout the Middle East, Asia and Europe were said to have venerated the feminine. In Merlin Stone’s 1976 ground-breaking book ‘When God Was a Woman’, Stone traces the ancient worship of the female goddess to as far back as the 7th c.BC. She went by various names: Isis in Egypt, Astarte in Canaan, Inanna in Sumer, Ishtar in Babylon (first to establish laws of Justice), Sarasvati in India, Brigit in Celtic Irelan, and Nu Wa in China.
As early as the the 2nd c.BC, women were documented as being able to represent themselves in court, motion for divorce, own and manage property, free slaves and sue other people. In the eyes of the law, men and women were virtually equally. Perhaps the most famous civilisation is Ancient Egypt, where by the 5th c.BC the classic historian Herodotus wrote that: “Women go to the marketplace, transact affairs and occupy themselves with business while the husbands stay at home and weave". Some of the most famous female rulers in all of history were in fact the Egyptian Queens Cleopatra VII and Nefertiti, two fierce female leaders who used their charm, wit and intelligence to rule.
Through every garment, Delphine wants to make people think and reflect on the position of women in our current society. Her designs feature symbolism often used to characterise men to empower the wearer.
The dress ‘Starry Night’ is inspired by the Salon du Soleil, a small circular room within the Palais Garnier that is dedicated to the sun. In the centre medallion of the salon, two mythological salamanders can be seen crawling around each other while a spectacular golden burst of the sun’s rays fills the dome.
In mythology, the salamander was viewed as a symbol of immortality due to the belief that it was capable of withstanding fire. This strong symbolism has been interpreted on the front of the dress through the depiction of a salamander. The fire breathing dragon, another ancient creature, is represented at the back of the dress. In mythology, the dragon has a dual interpretation: while in many cultures it is a symbol of evil, in the Orient it is in fact a symbol of imperial power and authority.
The spirit of these two animals is embodied in a Starry Night to empower the wearer to make her mark wherever she goes. Swirling around the neckline of the dress, the salamander and dragon use their magical forces to reassure her of her capability, while offering protection.
A navy blue crepe de chine dress featuring a sweeping fishtail train. The embroidery, a combination of golden French lace and wire, delicately wraps around the waistline of the dress.
Throughout history, women have fought against the unfair stereotype that it is impossible to be both smart and attractive. Women have traditionally been defined by their beauty first, unlike their male counterparts who are able to be recognised for their intelligence, humour or other capabilities.
Female fashion reflects society’s perception of women; hence, women’s clothing options have changed as the role of women in society has shifted. The corset is the most notable example of this, as its physical restriction of the female body mirrors society’s contemporaneous restriction of women’s rights and freedom. In the 1920s the designer Coco Chanel liberated women from the corset when she introduced pants and other practical yet elegant designs into the female wardrobe. Her designs sent a loud and powerful message that if women were able to dress and move like men, they could also do whatever men were able to do (all the while looking fabulous). Hence, women were no longer defined by their beauty, instead, they could be admired for all of their capabilities.
The dress ‘Lady on the Staircase’ is inspired by the mix of traditional and innovative architecture within the Palais Garnier - a pertinent reminder that women can be both intelligent and charming. The first image which the dress evokes is that of the magnificent and imposing marble staircase designed by Charles Garnier. The staircase was a way for the audience to socialise before the performance but more importantly, a way for women to showcase their exquisite gowns, and hence to admire their beauty.
Delphine challenges this more traditional component of the building through the combination of metallic hand embroidery and Anthacus leaves made of French gold lace that have been placed along the dress to represent the modern iron structure of the auditorium. In the centre of the dress, there is an Italian printed jacquard that resembles Marc Chagall’s artwork on the auditorium’s ceiling. When Chagall was commissioned to replace the original ceiling painted by Jules Lenepveu in 1964, his modern and daring artwork was deeply criticised and took years to be accepted. Through the contrast of the old and the new, a connection is drawn between the past (the traditional marble staircase) and future (the iron auditorium and Chagall’s painting).
Two hand-embroidered sphinges with multifaceted seed beads appear facing each other on the back of the light blue silk organza bodice that is supported by a navy blue tutu made out of 17 layers of Italian soft tulle. On the front of the dress, a mixture of natural and hand-dyed goose feather create the illusion of a flying eagle.
Cultural myths rather than biology have traditionally defined the roles, rights and duties of men and women. While physical strength has been one of the main ways that men have been able to exceed the abilities of women, women are not biologically prevented in any way from achieving the same as a man. It is the set of cultural norms assigned to genders, however, that has restricted women.
The international bestseller, ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’, argues that ‘A good rule of thumb is ‘Biology enables, culture forbids’. Biology is willing to tolerate a very wide spectrum of possibilities. It’s culture that obliges people to realise some possibilities while forbidding others’.
‘The Sphinx’ reflects on this competing notion through the representation of two mythical sphinxes facing each other on the back of the dress. Unlike the Egyptian sphinx which was portrayed as male, in Greek mythology, as represented on the dress, the sphinx was depicted as female. She was portrayed as a winged lioness with a human face and was used to protect the entrance of the city. This symbolism supports the view that there is no difference between male and female genders - it is a cultural construct developed over time.
The presence of the sphinxes is contrasted by the softness of 17 layers of tulle floating around the ballerina allowing her to express her femininity, while hand-painted feathers on the front of the dress enable her to take off and be free to start her own life without being restrained. The Opera of Paris is a constant reminder of this combination: a harmony of ancient age and modernity, a world where gender equality is possible.
While Delphine’s designs use symbolism and traits often assigned to men, through this dress and her designs, she wants to encourage gender equality by taking and being inspired by each other’s strengths. In all of her designs, she wants to demonstrate that like men, women can be strong and determined, while also being protective, confident and assertive.
Reminiscent of a shimmering mosaic, this silk pale blue taffeta dress is embellished with hand-cut tesserae and the designer's signature metallic thread.
In her landmark 2018 address at the United Nations, Jacinda Adern reminded us that ‘Me too must become We too’. Her speech recognised that gender stereotypes are deeply entrenched in our society and that the struggle for gender equality is a fight for everyone to break away from traditional gender norms. From a young age, unrealistic societal norms are placed on women as caregivers and homemakers; men similarly are expected to be breadwinners who provide the material needs of the family, rather than on the nurturing and caring roles assigned to women. These social norms persist due to society’s disapproval of those who seek to build their own identity, and thus the struggle continues.
Adern’s speech concluded with her saying that ‘we are all in this together’. This call for unity has inspired Delphine’s dress, ‘A Million Mosaics’, which features a combination of mosaic and marble in shades of blue and pink. Her use of these traditionally gender specific colours is a representation of men and women working together; the assemblage of a million identities in one mosaic.
The Palais Garnier, another strong reference point, was built from over 24 different types of marble from various European countries; hence, its very existence is a living reminder of the power of bringing together diverse groups of people. Delphine pays homage to the opera house by including her signature on the shoulder of the dress, just like Garnier hid his signature inside the Palais Garnier’s rotunda. The inclusion of her signature recognises Delphine’s ability to create her own identity and not be defined by the social constructs around her.
Made out of silk georgette, over 16 different materials have been used to create the Art embroidery on this gown, including mohair threads, cords, gold and silver threads and Swarovski crystals.
Time and time again, we hear that girls wear pink and boys wear blue. Why do these gender stereotypes exist?
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst, believed that men and women contain a mix of qualities that are typically associated as masculine or as feminine. For men, these archetypical female traits were tenderness, compassion and vulnerability while within women he believed there were masculine qualities such as courage, assertiveness and analytical thought. These qualities could be expressed if allowed, or repressed and removed, thus remaining ‘unconscious’. However, Jung found that from childhood we create gender identities and roles to conform with the often crippling gender stereotypes that society imposes. These stereotypes tell us that girls play with dolls while boys play with Lego and trucks.
Jung theorised that the embrace of all qualities allows for a true, united self to emerge. His theory may remind you of the Ancient Chinese belief in dualism, which is symbolised by yin and yang. This recognises that seemingly opposing forces can complement each other and that harmony can be achieved when everyone possesses a balance of different characteristics and qualities.
Throughout the collection, Delphine seeks to find a solution to the issue of gender inequality. She believes that this can be solved by educating girls and boys from a young age that they should embrace all aspects of their personalities, before they are taught to adhere to strict gender stereotypes. Integrating social and emotional learning at school would allow children to empathise by understanding the existence of gender norms and learn the value in recognising that each person is unique and that differences in gender should be celebrated rather than ignored and fought.
Delphine conveys this message in her dress, ‘A Golden Goddess’, while paying homage to the Palais Garnier by incorporating classical and baroque features into the dress’ design. Despite the fact that the baroque style, with its opulence and grandeur, was a rejection of renaissance architecture, renowned for its harmony and balance, Charles Garnier used both styles in the construction and design of the Palais Garnier. The dress, with its long floating silk chiffon, represents the classical architecture of the opera house and is reminiscent of white columns and the drapes worn in Ancient Greece. The overloaded embroidery, a mix of gold and silver sequins, pearls, metallic threads and seed beads, represents the ornate baroque style of the opera house. While they are naturally opposing styles, when put together they complement each other perfectly in harmony.
A multi-layered tulle tutu, made of 15 metres of fabric for each layer, and dimensional hand embroidery hanging ballerina shoes contrast with a structured passementerie military jacket.
What if leaders were selected on competence rather than confidence, humility rather than charisma, and integrity rather than narcissism? Perhaps then we would end up not only with more competent leaders but also with more women leaders. This is what organisational psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic argues.
In theory, this sounds like a simple solution, but it also illustrates the struggle that women have traditionally faced in the workplace. When women exhibit character traits typically associated with male leadership such as decisiveness, authority or assertiveness, they are likely to be viewed as bossy, pushy or too aggressive. And yet when they embrace traits like empathy and collaboration, they can be perceived as pushovers, too soft, or not tough enough to do their jobs. Some may call these “feminine qualities” but as Chamorro-Premuzic points out, they are also some of the qualities of a well-rounded leader.
However, we must also acknowledge that men, despite typically being more likely to obtain high positions, can also be neglected in this struggle. For decades we have spent time defining “womanhood” and challenging women to be more confident while the same cannot always be said for men. Men are often told to be tough at all costs and are discouraged from having interests that are considered feminine. To raise future male leaders that act with humility and integrity, we need to teach this from a young age.
The dress named Rebellious Ballerina, is a protest against the status quo; it is a bold statement to say that women can be strong and assume managerial roles just as men can have feelings and be vulnerable at times. It is also a notable reflection of the Palais Garnier’s history, through the combination of the passementerie style military jacket, which represents the period in which the opera house was used as a military reservoir, and through the soft romantic tutu which is inspired by the costumes worn by ballerinas during their performances. The hanging ballerina shoes on the neckline of the jacket symbolise the rebellious ballerina’s rejection of our current system which is slow to recognise women’s abilities and to allow men to be more vulnerable.
Composed of fine silk organza, this wedding dress is inspired by the light and enchantment of the magnificent crystal chandeliers that illuminate the Palais Garnier. Hand-stitched French lace has been used to create intricate motifs on the dress, while the long train is made of a heavy silk satin.
At least once in your life, have you ever felt that you weren’t acting like your true self and were trying to act like someone you’re not?
All of us, whether a man or woman, occasionally wear masks to try to conceal who we actually are rather than revealing our real selves. The reason we do this is inherently psychological; rather than acting like ourselves, we wear a mask like a form of protective armour when we are fearful of rejection for exposing what we believe to be our weaknesses. As we feel more comfortable and able to trust the other person, we are able to take off the mask. Likewise, as we become more self-aware of how we may be perceived, we learn to let go of our fear of being who we really are.
A pièce de résistance, ‘Beneath the Chandelier’, is the final dress of the collection and the one that everyone waits for eagerly, like the moment when guests turn to look at the bride as she walks down the aisle. Nothing is a truer representation and reflection of one’s self authentic self than a wedding dress, which allows the bride to radiate what she feels inside to the outside world: internal beauty, joy and love for the person she wants to support during the good and bad times and devote her life to. Wearing it, the bride is no longer wearing a mask; she is her true self.
Adorned with Swarovski stones and crystals on a delicate French lace, the wedding dress is an interpretation of the Palais Garnier’s magnificent chandelier. Faced by critics who considered the chandelier to be ostentatious in its size, Garnier replied at the time: "What else could fill the theatre with such joyous life? What could offer this variety of forms, in the arrangement of the flames, in these grouped and tiered points of light, these tawny gold hues flecked with bright spots, and these crystalline highlights?". With long sleeves, the dress has an A-line cut with a structured collar and two columns on the shoulders forming a dramatic train at the back. Like Garnier’s chandelier, the bride lights up the room, reflecting the multitude of facets that makes her who she is.