Rose & Willard founder Heidy Rehman on why she wants to help women embrace their femininity in the workplace
In September last year, Karl Lagerfeld presented his autumn/winter collection for Chanel with a mock ‘women’s rights demonstration’ in the Grand Palais, complete with models holding megaphones and placards, shouting feminist slogans. Many were sceptical, accusing Lagerfeld of taking a slice of a complex movement and turning it into a fashion week gimmick. In an industry that feeds millions of pounds into advertising an unrealistic female body image and places crippling pressures on models to keep their weight down; is there really room for feminism in the fashion world? Heidy Rehman, founder of clothing label Rose & Willard believes the answer is a tentative yes. She says she wants to celebrate real women, and given her background, Heidy has some interesting insights into the the gender politics of dressing for business.
A former research analyst for Citi bank, Heidy launched Rose & Willard to answer her own frustrations with the lack of choice for professional women. When working in finance, she noticed that many women seemed to feel pressured to adopt a more masculine dress sense, as that’s what’s often associated with respect and power. ‘Clothes can communicate an awful lot about what somebody is about. What a lot of women would do is try to emulate the men and mask their femininity… What I learned later in my career was to embrace femininity; that’s when I feel the most empowered.’
The collection features blazers with angular trimmed necklines, samurai trousers and smart panel dresses, all cut with a view to ‘flatter the bits that women don’t like’. Some pieces are designed with experimental materials, such as ethically-sourced ‘fish leather’ made from salmon, cod and other skins, which Heidy assures me don’t have an unpleasant smell.
It’s described as a feminist fashion brand, one which doesn’t use traditional skinny ‘model’ models to showcase its clothes, ‘we use actresses, we’ve got a clown, we’ve got a krump dancer, a freelance pr,’ Heidy tells me proudly. Though the Rose & Willard models don’t quite reflect the average UK female dress size (16), they do portray a more realistic body image than the industry status quo, featuring women wearing an 8 to a 12.
With women now surpassing men in record numbers for uptake of university places in the UK, Heidy believes she is serving a constantly growing market, ‘as these women become more and more educated, we’ll see them increase in the workforce and professional roles, they’ll have lobbying power to call for better childcare and all the things that women are frustrated about now… We want women to go out and conquer the world, but how they choose to do that is entirely up to them.’