I’m honoured to feature Caryn Franklin, someone I look to as an inspirational future female. A woman who has helped shape my thinking throughout my fashion career, with her insightful viewpoint on gender, fashion, diversity, race and menopause. Caryn describes herself as a fashion disrupter, with a responsibility as a tribal elder to help shift the balance of popular culture to represent a broader range of identities. Discover why Caryn believes dominant culture is immersed in a certain type of masculinity. For a deeper insight into Caryn’s work take a look at Franklin On Fashion
FF: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
CF: Having worked in fashion for 37 years, I have always been driven by my interest in people and what it is to be a human being and I’ve always investigated identity politics. I’m very excited about the current landscape, and our broadening perceptions. It is in part driven by a desire to see popular culture represent a broader range of identities. As a political imperative to a certain extent, I have always been aware that fashion occupies a huge taste leadership position in people’s lives, and therefore has a responsibility to address visibility and inclusivity.
During the last 10 years I’ve been particularly vocal about the lack of broader diversity to do with race, age, body differences and gender non-conformity. I am most excited by gender non-conformity, partly because of the huge avalanche of experience and conversation that is now coming out and the level of acceptance from main stream thinkers rather than resistance. I’ve always been very vocal about body image, having been on television I recognized I had a certain responsibility; but in the last 10 years I’ve felt very strongly and I’ve really upped my game to discuss these issues further and this is partly because I will be leaving the fashion industry soon. I want to leave it in a better place than it is. My reasons for bowing out is, I have a whole life and it’s not all about a career, there are exciting things about being a human being and being alive that are not necessarily about delivering a service to a market place. Part of being a human being is about the relationship you offer others and being consumed by a career does not always allow relationships to develop, and I want more from my relationships.
FF: What does Future Female mean to you?
CF: An investment in and pride in what femininity can bring to any situation, the dominant culture is immersed in a certain type of masculinity, which is dominant in as much that femininity has to fit around the edges. Evidenced by the limited number of female leaders, a limited amount of female perspectives to drive forward our culture. It is dominated by masculinity. I gave a talk recently to a large school audience which was 50-50 gender represented. The talk was about identity, I was provocative and teased gently at dominant culture perspectives. This affronted 50% of the room who were unable to empathise with the space that I was trying to create, the suggestion of more expansion for feminine perspective, and it was challenged, because gender privilege is not really explored in education. We need to address gender privilege as educators, it creates a sense of entitlement and that makes deconstructing dominant culture all the more difficult. So future female for me as a woman allows for some expansion, but what I know from dealing from dominant culture perspectives, which are largely masculine, is that Future Female might be something that creates anxiety and fear. Because anyone who is in a position of holding a sense of entitlement, to a world that works in a way that they want it to work, will always be challenged by diverse perspective.
FF: The recent #metoo hash tag caught the attention of many women who joined the conversation. Do you think this helped expose fashion predators like Terry Richardson, someone you have many times attempted to call out?
CF: Yes I do. I began writing about Terry Richardson in 2013 when he was brought to my attention by my students because I was talking about exploitation in the fashion industry and my students were showing me. He wasn’t on my radar because I don’t work in high fashion. What I think is vital to understand is that social media allowed for a lot more information that prioritized a female perspective, that meant I could see that information, and because of what has been reported about Harvey Weinstein it meant I could say it’s time for me to make that point around complicity with Terry Richardson, again. That’s why I really value social media. People often say it can be so negative, but it’s like a car, a car can be driven dangerously and not respected for its capabilities and can cause havoc, or it can be a huge benefit in our lives. Social media if respected can be used for change. I felt the #metoo campaign was one of many ways of being able to talk about women’s experience.
FF: Can you tell us about a project that is inspiring you at the moment?
CF: I am doing a lot of work with creatives on a variety of projects. That gives me the opportunity to be a disrupter and take stealth feminism in wherever I can. That takes a lot of nuancing, because I don’t want to alienate the 50% of the room by making them feel challenged. I am also looking to educate myself, around experiences that I don’t have enough knowledge of, around race, body difference, sexual orientation. I do a lot of extensive research and reading. I want to be in a strong position and explore it properly before I implement it.
FF: You describe yourself as a disruptive fashion lover, do you feel vindicated by your persistent efforts, given some of the changes in diversity at Vogue and gender equality firmly on the agenda?
CF: I feel excited that we are talking about it. But what I know from being a teenager growing up in the seventies, things have to go through many permutations for change and ideas to be really embedded. For example, my fifteen-year-old self, seeing female scholars talking about lack of gender equality was like, “great, this is being talked about so it’s going to change!” I never dreamt that 45 years later, we would still be saying it’s got to change.
FF: Who is inspiring you and disrupting the fashion status quo?
CF: Katherine Hamnett has always inspired me and was very influential when I was just starting out in fashion. Her banner headline tee-shirt showed me that style could be very vocal, and shouty; that style was not a subtle thing; that you could become a real stakeholder in statement dressing; that you could be read politically. Katherine did it in a very literal way and her style influenced me, I was formulating my ideas about how people could read each other, I was in a space where I was promoting a very counter cultural position, I’d shaved my head and was wearing knee high DMs and self-styling from Camden market. It was the early 80’s and Bodymap were on the catwalk and had their mothers and aunties modelling.
And there is Vivienne Westwood, for being an individual, who could not care less about what people think, she continues to do her own thing regardless of whether its popular. I just love her spirit and that’s how I connect with people, through spirit. Spirit influences how people present themselves, and this filters out a lot of people who stand before me, I need to make a connection.
Also, the author of Rosalind Miles ‘Women’s History of the World’. This book was a turning point for me. It showed me the resilience of women and to keep on disrupting. I came from a generation, where age fourteen I actively said to one of my teachers, why don’t we learn about women and she said to me because ‘women didn’t do anything’. I felt a kind of despair about being a girl.
We need women role models, particularly for the school curriculum, women like Mary Seacole, one of the few women of colour, she has been stripped out of the curriculum, without female voices it’s difficult to get gender and racial parity.
FF: If there was one thing you would change about your life as a woman what would it be?
CF: Nothing particularly, however being a woman has brought me many gifts and insights and I value those greatly.
FF: Are there key messages you are passing on to your children when it comes to gender equality, how important do you think it is to change the story around gender?
CF: I have two feisty daughters who have often gone ‘put a sock in it Mum’ and fair play to them, yes, I would like to get over myself and I would like to live a life in which I don’t see in-equality all the time. I’d just like to go ‘I’ve gone fishing’. Many women my age are free of child rearing responsibility’s, we are free and empowered, we are tribal elders and we are using that energy to change things and this is a valuable space. To put so much into the balancing act of child rearing and living and know we have energy to spare and that’s very exciting to see what women my age can do when we apply critical thinking.
FF: What are you reading at the moment?
CF: I am reading three books at the moment
‘Daring Greatly’, by Brene Brown. An author who is a leader in the art of understanding human behaviour, very insightful indeed.
‘The Successful Self’, by Dorothy Rowe. This book has some excellent viewpoints.
‘Equal Power: And How You Can Make It Happen’ By Jo Swinson. Having worked with Jo for some years on body confidence initiatives I have been very heartened by her tenacity and grit, she is a natural leader.
FF: How would you describe your style?
CF: My style is mannish, I love stripes, tailoring, monochrome. I’ve never done girly girl, I enjoy dressing in that middle space. Women have a lot more freedom to dress.
A heartfelt thanks to Caryn for being part of our future female series, and sharing some excellent thinking on gender privilege and how that impacts on future female progress and occasionally feeling the need to stop thinking and ‘go fishing’! A sentiment I fully embrace!
Photographs are used with permission from Caryn Franklin.