Tmusician Lorde made the cover of American Vogue this week with a Schiaparelli breastplate. Metallic flowers became a makeshift bra, while the stems served as a belt. With the New Zealander having released a new album, Solar Power, about nature’s transcendental capacity, this body jewel seemed to say that her allegiances go to the natural world. Perhaps it also served as protection against the artificiality of the urban environment, as well as against recent reviews from his work.
From Lorde to Cardi B, to Bella Hadid and Gwyneth Paltrow, who wore one, from Tom Ford, on the cover of Harpers Bazaar in February, the breastplate has become fashion’s most prominent feminist trend. In an era of constant online surveillance and criticism, this is a literal piece of armor, with an implicit reference to Joan of Arc. At every turn, as women we are now politically exposed and we expect us to fight for the kind of feminism we want to support, says Angela McRobbie, cultural theorist and commentator. [The breastplate] reflects our current sense of being under siege as women.
Last month, Cardi B wore a gold breastplate in Lizzo’s Rumors video. This raised her pregnant body, adding to the growing trend to de-stigmatize pregnancy in popular culture.
At Cannes in July, Bella Hadid wore a different gold breastplate, this one shaped like a lung, from the same Schiaparelli collection as Lordes. The look doubled as a piece of red carpet mastery (when I looked down you could see everything so it was very weird walking the carpet with a breeze in places you usually wouldn’t no breeze, she said Vogue), but also as physical protection against the sea of flash bulbs from photographers.
It prompts us to look at her chest, but then puts us off when we realize it’s a golden lung with jeweled bronchioles, says Andrew Groves, professor of styling at the University of Westminster. There is here a contradiction between soft and fragile objects remelted in hard and cold gold.
McRobbie interprets the harsh, metallic nature of body jewelry as a rejection of men’s expectations of women in the public eye. She sees a connection to A Cybord Manifesto, a 1985 essay by American scholar Donna Haraway. I’d rather be a cyborg than a goddess, Haraway wrote.
The breastplate transcends gender differences and expectations. It is an escape from the normative body. The idea of the cyborg Haraways was to radically denaturalize femininity and the female body, says McRobbie. In many ways, it offered a feminist defense of radical body modification.
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