Today’s top designers are a diverse lot, but their fall collections had a common thread. If there is one item to buy this season, they seemed to all suggest, it’s a suit. And then they each went their own way.
The result is a wide-ranging survey of what tailoring ought to look like in 2019—and just in time, given that a record number of female candidates are running for president. Today, women don’t need a stiff pantsuit to empower them; they already have power. What they need is a way to express it in their own singular manner. (“Fuck, yeah!” as the artist Ashley Longshore, who is pictured in this portfolio, enthuses.)
Those of us looking for something beyond a traditional, classic cut have a wealth of options to choose from: Tom Ford, Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia, and Givenchy’s Clare Waight Keller all offered tailoring that was resolutely feminine, with curves and slouches, in sensuous fabrics and traffic-stopping colors. Saint Laurent’s Anthony Vaccarello took the seduction one step further, with beaded boss-lady variations that one can envision being tossed to the floor. Burberry’s Riccardo Tisci took a punk route, deconstructing and reassembling otherwise neatly coordinated camel-colored looks; Gucci’s Alessandro Michele went eccentric, with unfinished jackets and trousers that had the legs cinched with cords. Proenza Schouler and Grace Wales Bonner, meanwhile, argued for comfortable, oversize suiting.
For this story, we invited an array of creative, hard-charging women to take their pick, choosing what works for them and styling their selections with pieces from their own wardrobes. Some of them gravitated toward all black; others were drawn to wild colors and witty patterns. One wanted to go shirtless; another insisted on being fully covered. But each found a way to express her individual voice and values with supreme style. And that is the essence of the new power suit.
Conie Vallese When Conie Vallese, 32, moved from Argentina to New York seven years ago, she changed both her career and style. After studying film in Buenos Aires, she realized the solitary practice of painting and making sculpture was more her speed—and that simple, sensual clothes matched her sensibilities. Her work is marked by strong, clean shapes, as is her wardrobe. Roomy coats, tailored Simone Rocha pants, and pleated suits (given to her by her mother) fill her closet. “I’m drawn to clothes that are a bit off,” she says.
Noor Tagouri Growing up in Maryland, Noor Tagouri dreamed of being a reporter. “But I thought you had to be blonde, blue-eyed, and dress a certain way,” says the Libyan-American journalist. She later realized that it was precisely her dark skin, hijab, and go-to cargo pants and combat boots that allowed her to build trust with marginalized folks across America. “Once I embraced my voice and my style, I could do anything.” At 25, she has produced documentaries on the sex trade and the mistreatment of people with mental disabilities, and is hosting season three of The Barneys Podcast, in which she chats with fashion figures who are moving the culture forward. “My mission is to tell stories that build connections through commonality,” she says. And as her career has evolved, so has her wardrobe, becoming more intentional and refined. “A good turtleneck, a well-tailored suit, a pair of Chuck Taylors, and I’m golden.”
Renell Medrano Renell Medrano, 27, grew up around boys, so it’s no surprise that baggy, comfortable clothes, often borrowed from her boyfriend or bought in the men’s section, are her comfort zone. “Most girls don’t think of a suit right away when they want to feel pretty,” says the Bronx-born photographer, who has shot campaigns for Nike, Adidas, and Levi’s. “I’m into them.” And the slouchier the trousers, the better. She sports them along with her multitude of miniature tattoos that say things like stay gold, and pieces from Tiffany & Co.’s gritty gold and silver HardWear collection. (She’s worked with the company in the past year, most recently partnering with them on a solo exhibition.) “I always thought their jewelry was very girly,” she says. “But now it’s cool.”
Maggie Rogers Maggie Rogers became a viral sensation in 2016, while she was still a music student at New York University, thanks to a video of Pharrell Williams looking both shocked and awed as he listened to her during a master class. With the release of her major-label debut album, Heard It in a Past Life, earlier this year, the 25-year-old singer-songwriter, whose sound melds traditional folk with pop and dance, is now a certifiable star—one with a wardrobe to match. “My look is a mix of San Francisco art teacher and space cowgirl,” she says, adding that she likes classic shapes, raw fabrics, and artful styling. Men’s wear plays heavily into her stage attire. “I definitely prefer to wear pants rather than a dress in every situation,” Rogers says. “It makes me feel in charge.” In fact, she keeps a Paul Smith men’s blazer in her suitcase at all times. “No matter the event, I can get away with throwing it on.”
Amy Sall Amy Sall was born and raised in New York, but Africa is always on her mind. When the first-generation Senegalese-American model, editor, and professor is not teaching courses at the New School on the visual culture of postcolonial Africa, she is working on getting SUNU, a journal highlighting emerging African artists and thinkers, off the ground. “I want to show all the different colors of Africa in the past, present, and future,” she says. When it comes to her style, though, Sall, 29, is all-American, opting for clean lines in a predominantly neutral palette. “For me, less is more,” she says.
Ashley Longshore “I’m challenging what the modern American woman is all about,” says Ashley Longshore, the 43-year-old New Orleans artist known for her big, bright, bedazzled paintings. “And you know what’s cool? Making your own money, so you can buy whatever the fuck you want!” It’s hardly surprising that Longshore, whose numerous upcoming projects include the book I Do Not Cook, I Do Not Clean, I Do Not Fly Commercial (Rizzoli), likes to make a statement when it comes to fashion. She spends her hard-earned dough on A-Morir sunglasses, flashy Libertine jackets, Gucci x Dapper Dan dookie chains, and piles of diamonds, which line her fingers, wrists, and front teeth. “My power look is full accessories, 100 percent in your face,” she says. “Whether you like it or not, you ain’t gonna forget it.”
Francesca Amfitheatrof With the launch of Thief and Heist this year, Francesca Amfitheatrof is intent on bringing a sense of playfulness and irreverence to the jewelry world, one nylon Tag bracelet at a time. She approaches her daily outfits in an equally unconventional manner. “I don’t like anything that’s predictable,” says Amfitheatrof, who is also the artistic director of jewelry and watches for Louis Vuitton. She loves masculine pieces, clashing patterns, and interesting shapes to complement her tailored jackets. “I’m not complete without a jacket,” she says. “It makes me feel like I’m finally dressed.”
JoAni Johnson JoAni Johnson spent a quarter-century toiling in the advertising and marketing worlds. When she finally left, she piled together all her Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani suits to give away. “After 25 years, I wanted to retire my corporate attire,” she says. At 67, Johnson has a newfound, and far more zen, career working as a tea blender and educator, concocting custom brews from her New York apartment for cafés all over the world. Her wardrobe consists of an edited mix of avant-garde pieces from Rick Owens, Maison Margiela, and Demobaza. Yet, funnily enough, she recently bought herself another suit—this one a red velvet number from Norma Kamali. As she explains, “I realized I actually like the way I look in them.”
Clara Cullen Since the age of 6, when she went through an all-black phase, Clara Cullen has been decisive when it comes to her personal style. “It was always a little awkward,” says the Buenos Aires–born filmmaker, who created the video for Should I Lose You, a collaborative piece about children learning to swim, shown alongside an improvisational piano performance by Richard Sears this summer at the Shed, in New York. “I wasn’t into what was cool at the moment.” Now that Cullen is 33, little has changed. Although she likes clothes from Chloé and Prada, she buys only vintage—“It improves your style to not just get whatever is in stores,” she notes. Yves Saint Laurent tailored pieces from the 1970s are a particular obsession. “There is nothing sexier than a woman in a suit,” she says. “Nothing.”