As the world burns, modern womanhood has found itself mired in a reckoning of the patriarchy. An overdue and necessary recalibration, certainly, but one that treats Woman as a brand – a hashtag to drag through the distracted news cycle – rather than its true form as a human identity that breathes and evolves.
Back in September, my FOREFRONT team and I ran a roundtable conversation of Asian power-players at the top of their respective games. Every person in attendance came to the emotional realisation that they had never before sat amongst so many peers with so little personal friction. They could breathe – let their guard down with unspoken cultural understanding without the added layer of knowing that you are The Asian One at the table. It was moving. Building community with those to whom you don’t need to constantly pitch yourself, validate yourself. It is moving.
This lead me to consider how much time we spend unpacking the defense mechanisms baked into our racial identities that our gendered identity is often forgotten. In many ways, it’s so much easier to form collective consciousness around common value systems (and if I’m honest, colour or socio-economic status) that we’ve convinced ourselves that we actively embraced and internalised. Gender is a much less specific identifier. Society at large doesn’t yet feel like it was a choice. We feel like too disparate a category to form a tribe. It just is. So for all the progress women have made as a collective in the past century, on an individual level, other identifiers take priority – need our attention more urgently – as we make our way through our everyday.
We’ve exerted such energy getting ahead in the patriarchy, touting ideas of meritocracy that, though not invalid, shed our perspective of their femaleness. We have not wanted to believe that being Woman gives us so much substance, informs our growth in such distinct ways.
And yet, when I look at the women I love and respect, those who I am humbled to know and learn from in their personal growth, professional endeavours and support of those who supported them first; all of their actions speak to celebration of their womanhood. They have all played very particular roles in shaping and shifting my world view at different points over the past decade, so I’m proud to share just a small token of appreciation to Woman and these women – photographed in strange rooms against strange walls around the world in the midst of their crowded schedules making impact in the way they carry themselves, and the decisions they make.
Georgia and I had met very briefly at a fashion week shindig in New York over five years ago, but we only really got to know each other on a two-day shoot in Copenhagen midway through last year. We found common loves in ocean conservation efforts, coloured hair and questions about transparency on ingredients used in the beauty industry. And that’s just it: for someone who is well within her achievements to sit back and accept status quo, Georgia is always asking questions, drawing parallels, connecting dots and people. She is discerning in her research around the causes she throws her whole weight behind.
Georgia May Jagger is an English model and entrepreneur. She is a co-owner of the female-run, color-focused beauty salon Bleach London, which will be opening a new salon in Los Angeles this year. Georgia has been developing her own skincare line for the past couple of years, also launching in 2020. Both of the aforementioned are environmentally conscious: Bleach’s cardboard packaging is 100% recycled, runs a refill program for their product bottles and the salon has been completely vegan for the past three years.
Mel and I had circled each other in mutual Australian friendship groups for years. I’d always been such a fan of her work and evolution, but it was only last year that we sat down to engage one-on-one in our adopted home of New York. She is earnest, she is analytical, she is kind (she is kind). She is so cognizant of the forces at play in social discourse and how they land in her role as an image-maker as social responsibilities. We’ve discussed at length humanity’s disconnection from our bodies – our willingness to be transient amongst airwaves and temporary information, when more than ever, we seek tactile experiences. I was so glad to be a part of the grounded manifestation of this in her ongoing art installation of bodies in plaster.
Melissa Levy is an internationally lauded fashion stylist with a burgeoning portfolio of work featuring today’s top brands and most respected titles. Sydney-born Levy spent her early years engrossed in fashion magazines, where she found an escape from daily life as she nurtured her inherent creativity. She initially planned on becoming a fashion designer and pursued a fashion design degree at the East Sydney Institute. However, it was when she interned for the independent Australian fashion magazine RUSSH that she discovered her passion and vocation. She counts industry icons such as Fran Burns, Katy England and Karl Templer as her mentors, each one developing her eye and vision. Levy’s aesthetic is at once classic and contemporary. Her work is imbued with an understated and authentic elegance, often cast with a twist of androgyny or canonical iconography.
Aside from my own Mama Zhang, Ali has been a shining example of modern motherhood and its associated world-building/wisdom-imparting since the Christmas Day I met her six or seven years ago. I can’t even remember now. To all of their friends, Ali and Michael are the ones you feel like you’ve known all your life. Ali is engaged. You’re the only one in the room when you’re in conversation with her. She listens – really listens. Her mind is running seven tracks at once, looking for common threads to pull in from her vast experiences in art, in non-profit, in advocacy, in human interaction, and most of all, in her children. I’ve had the joy of watching the three of them grow into such dynamic humans with so much hope and fascination. Look at Phoebe! A young woman! With such verve!
Alison Kubler has a double major in Art History from the University of Queensland, Australia, and a Masters in Post-war and Contemporary Art History from Manchester University, England. She has over 20 years experience working as a curator in museums and galleries in Australia. Alison is a Member of the Council of the National Gallery of Australia, and the Editor of VAULT, a journal of art and culture. Alison also sits on the Advisory Board of the Sherman Centre for Culture and Ideas (SCCI).
In November 2013 a book she co-authored with Mitchell Oakley-Smith entitled Art and Fashion in the Twentieth Century was published by Thames and Hudson UK, and has subsequently been translated into German and Japanese. Alison is married to artist Michael Zavros and together they have Phoebe (14), Olympia (12) and Leo (8).
They live on acreage with horses, chickens and cats.
“Sitting on the Council for the National Gallery of Australia is my greatest privilege. The national collection is incomparable and it is an honour to act as custodian. In 2020 we are rolling out the Know My Name a campaign that seeks to elevate the role of women artists, historically and into the future. Know My Name is the most important initiative the gallery has ever undertaken and I am honoured to sit on the Know My Name Board. This is a legacy project.
I also sit on the committee for Second Chance, a charitable organisation set up in 2001 to raise awareness of the plight of homeless women and their children; as well as raise funds for registered charities, to provide them with comfortable housing and appropriate services to help these women regain control of their lives. secondchance.org.au There are no salaries or offices so all monies raised go directly to the services that need them. There is such an urgency with this. We need to build compassion in the community.
Phoebe, who will be 15 in July, is my eldest daughter. She has an excellent sense of humour, very dry, and I love spending time with her. She is studying art as one of her chosen electives so I guess a little something has rubbed off! She will do something marvellous.”
Rachael has always been a woman of principle. She is always the first to question the baseline of social responsibility. She uses her platform
Rachael Wang is a New York based stylist and creative consultant. She is recognized for her ability to develop cultural relevance and edge while maintaining the idiosyncratic integrity of a brand’s identity. Wang previously served as Fashion Market Director of Style.com and Fashion Director of Allure where she collaborated with some of the most influential talents in the industry. Her fashion direction can been seen in collaborations with brands like Bergdorf Goodman, Bottega Veneta, Equinox, Levi’s, Maybelline, Nike, Nordstrom, Olay, Saks and Samsung and in her inspired editorials for Document Journal, Telegraph, Office, and international editions of Numero and Vogue. As an early champion of ethical and sustainable fashion, Wang focuses on bringing ethics and thoughtful representation to creative and fashion direction.
I met Kim on a roundtable conversation that I had co-curated at SXSW, speaking to the female perspective on innovation. I had been a long-time admirer of her tireless work on the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, and in a time where the over-saturation of cause marketing can feel forced and overwhelming, Kim and her team make their mission truly personal to the general population, whilst implementing grassroots initiatives around literacy as freedom.
Kim Kelly is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF). She is a mother of four with a background in business management, and has worked tirelessly for almost 20 years to raise funds for innovative literacy programs with tangible results in some of Australia’s most vulnerable communities. She was formerly a model, then principal co-owner of Monde Model Management and The Sydney Literacy Centre. Kim’s accolades and appointments include: Consultant on NSW Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Task Force, Worldwide Who’s Who Professional of the Year in Nonprofit Operations Management 2012, Madison Magazine’s “Australia’s Most Inspiring Women” and she received a recommendation for Sydney’s Top 100 Most Influential People. She was also nominated for the 2016 Australian of the Year Award and the 2018 Probono Australia Impact 25 Awards recognising individuals for their positive impact on the community.
Kim believes that literacy is freedom- literacy allows individuals to access education, participate meaningfully in our society and to have a voice. It is a basic human right. Together with her partner, Mary-Ruth Mendel, they have most recently led ALNF to win at the World Summit Awards, Solve MIT Challenge, South by Southwest (SXSW), and ALNF is now a finalist for the Edison Award. They have empowered thousands of people to read and write, breaking the cycle of illiteracy and disadvantage.
“I am so incredibly passionate about human rights, and the role that literacy and education play in giving people the freedom to lead autonomous lives. In particular, I’ve seen how literacy transforms women’s lives, and empowers them to have a voice, be independent, and make the decisions that affect their own lives. What excites me is that I am seeing a paradigm shift in understanding, both in Australia and globally, around how language is valued, particularly when it comes to preserving Indigenous and First languages. My organisation, ALNF, is on the precipice of this, and is receiving global recognition for our work in this space. You’ll be seeing some incredible things from us in the coming years.”
Larsen is hypnotic when she moves. It’s rare to see a woman so young with such awareness around what her body and movements are capable of in self-expression. Early childhood exposure to the stage can breed insecurity and loneliness in even the most strong of character, but over dinner with Larsen and her sweet father last month, it is so evident how grateful she is for a loving and supportive family structure that grounds her.
Larsen Grace Thompson is an actress, model, and dancer. Thompson began dancing at an early age, when she was 4. At age 9, she was training in hip-hop, tap, contemporary, and ballet. At 12 she began traveling to international dance conventions. At age 15, Thompson got her first big break when her choreographed YouTube videos for ‘IDFWU” and Run The World’ went viral. Her debut feature film Bloodline with Seann William Scott was released in September 2018. She has appeared as a backup dancer for artists including Børns, Christina Aguilera, Janet Jackson, Katy Perry, P!nk, Sia, Silento, and more.