2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first time (some) women were legally able to vote in the UK. Leading the fight for equal voting rights was Millicent Fawcett, a suffragist who also cofounded a Cambridge University college. To celebrate the centenary, Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing is today unveiling a statue in Parliament Square of Fawcett holding a placard that reads "Courage calls to courage everywhere". It's the first statue in the square both of and designed by a woman.
Further commemorating Fawcett's message, Wearing has also collaborated with designer Bella Freud on a range of T-shirts and tote bags, with all sale proceeds going to the Fawcett Society, a group that has been campaigning for gender equality for 150 years. With sartorial choices key to political movements – whether it's the green, white and red rosettes worn by the suffragists, or the Black Lives Matter T-shirts worn by those highlighting police violence in America – the collaboration seemed like a fitting way to mark the statue's unveiling. "Fashion can be used to express ideas regarding politics and art, and that fashion can be a way to open up discussions and thoughts; someone holding a banner can do the same," Wearing says.
The line is made up of a white T-shirt and black tote bag reading 'SUFFRAGETTE CITY' in Freud's signature slogan text, plus a pin badge with a quote from the designer's great-grandfather, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, that says "What do women want?" The collection will be expanded this autumn, too, with a new knit, brooch and tea set. Ahead of the collection launch, live on Matches Fashion today, we caught up with Wearing and Freud to discuss what they admire about each other's work, what feminism means to them today, and who their modern-day suffragettes are.
What do you love about each other’s work?
Gillian Wearing: I love Bella's clothes; the cut, design, how she can elegantly put text into her garments, with messages that can be fun, irreverent or political. She has a unique wonderful vision.
Bella Freud: I really like the look of Gillian's work, which may seem like an obvious thing to say. I find her pictures thought-provoking, the things she chooses to show, the people holding placards with words, the girls wearing T-shirts with odd words on – they stir me up – and I like that. I think I have seen everything in the picture but I can't stop looking and I see more and more.
Why was this an important collection for you to create?
BF: I was happy that Gillian chose me to work on the collection. I love her work and wanted to create something parallel in the merchandise that people can buy into. I tuned into the feeling of women and our different ways of protesting and demanding change. When people are demonstrating it is a serious business but there is a feeling of joy and camaraderie, which is so uplifting.
What was the creative process like?
BF: The process of interpreting the feeling of an idea into an aesthetic is my favourite part of designing. The song "Suffragette City" is so visceral and reminds me of a punk rock energy which seemed like a good match for the modern suffragette.
What does feminism mean to you in 2018?
GW: The same as it has always meant, and that is equality. The word will always be around, even when true equality has been achieved, and then it will be as a reminder that others fought to get those rights.
BF: A woman who can be demanding and feminine, if she wants.
Who is a modern-day suffragette?
GW: I think there are modern-day feminists but not suffragettes; suffrage means the right to vote. Caroline Criado Perez, who started the campaign for the Millicent Fawcett statue and having a woman represented (other than the queen) on a banknote is a modern-day feminist.
BF: I think of girls like Billie JD Porter, who is using her talent to mobilise young people to vote, so they can have representatives in the government who reflect their views. And Adwoa Aboah, founder of Gurls Talk, who is doing something really courageous, grown out of her own experiences, which she is sharing with other young people. The young women of today are all the modern suffragettes, they are showing us where equality is missing, they know where change needs to happen.