Chloé’s 2023 Fall Ready to Wear collection, which debuted Thursday in Paris, used Artemisia Gentileschi, a Renaissance era painter, as the muse for the new collection, Gabriela Hearst, the brand’s creative director, said in a recent interview.
Heart has been designing with two issues in mind, climate change and “the urgent need to champion women as leaders,” as Chloé has put it in brand messaging. “This is already accounted for. So how do we do this in our design context?” Hearst told Vogue. “I have to find a muse, and that is Artemisia Gentileschi, the Renaissance painter.”
The brand’s Instagram is full of references to Gentileschi, introducing the new collection with quotations from the artist, like, “A woman’s name raises doubt until her work is seen” or “I will show your lordship what a woman can do” alongside videos featuring her paintings.
The influence of the muse appears subtly. Whereas Paco Rabanne’s recent Fall 2023 collection included textiles printed with Salvador Dalí’s paintings, Chloé refrained from recreating Gentileschi’s work. Rather, Hearst seems to have taken loose inspiration from Renaissance era modes of dressing, invoking Gentileschi as a symbol of womanhood that transcends eras.
Born in 1593 in Rome, Italy, Gentileschi managed to become an artist despite the obstacles facing her as a woman in a male-dominated craft. Her rape at 17 years old, and the subsequent trial, defined her life, as onlookers and critics defined her as a curiosity. Meanwhile, her work would be strongly influenced by that violation. Paintings like Judith Slaying Holofernes (1615) and Jael and Sisera (1620) both depict strong, capable women killing unsuspecting men.
The Chloé collection is devoid of that violence. The collection toggles between two modes: cosmopolitan looks featuring models swaddled in leather and shearling and then the Renaissance-inspired designs. Taking cues from the oft-used finestrella sleeves of that period —that is, ballooning sleeves with slits cut out to show off fabric underneath— Hearst designed dresses with long, flowing sleeves pinned at the outer shoulder whose cuts showed off skin instead of textile.
Other dresses show off Heart’s various attempts to modernize the sumptuous sleeve: one look had skintight sleeves that morphed into elongated bells at the elbow, another flowing sleeve erupted from a tight black chest panel at the mid-forearm. There was a lot of wide, almost off-the shoulder necklines, often found in Gentileschi’s depictions of women. And while there were no corsets in the collection, the designs often featured aspects of the corset, such as the low, v-shaped waistline popular in Renaissance corset designs.
Gentileschi’s influence on the collection doesn’t go beyond her invocation as a woman who overcame the biases of her time, a mascot more than a muse. Despite how thin the connection to the artist is, the collection is a beautiful and sophisticated experiment in modernizing elements of Renaissance fashion.
If they educated more people about this pivotal artist along the way, well, what’s the harm in that?