I can think of few terms as abused as ‘style icon’. Coined to describe a timeless representation of elegance and personality so effortlessly rolled into one, the phrase has come to be thrown haphazardly at any fashion blogger, teen model or half-naked vampire-film franchise star. Being famous, beautiful, successful is not enough anymore – with teams of stylists and publicists vying to make their protegées the ‘next big thing’, icon status is bestowed upon everyone from Emma Watson to Kim Kardashian. Often, this label is given to those who manage to dress in a much-emulated way: if at any given season (and ‘season’ is another of those words. These days a season lasts but a couple of months) ‘everyone’ is wearing the same jeans as Gigi Hadid, she will without a doubt be dubbed a fashion icon in the next glossy magazine feature.
But what is a true style icon? What does it take to become one? Authentic icon status was originally reserved for those who created movements, set trends, went against the grain. Those who made you think differently, not just dress differently. You know a real style icon because they stand the test of time, showing that as trends come and go, their appeal remains the same. Anything but flavour-of-the-month, real style icons can never be defined as ‘It Girls’ – even if they possess ‘It’ in droves – because years after ‘their’ season has gone, they will still inspire.
Another layer of icon status is that it’s impossible to attain, IMHO, without heart. You need to be conscious and aware of the world around you to live and breathe style – because what is style if not a reflection of our world? True icons are more than skin deep. Their allure is about more than unforgettable photos and a unique dress sense. They have courage and compassion. Jane Birkin and Brigitte Bardot (above) are two such women. They will be remembered for their sense of style, but also for their fiery dedication to change. Brigitte Bardot retired in 1973, at 39, to dedicate her life to animal welfare and has not stopped speaking up for animals since. Her charity organisation, Fondation Brigitte Bardot, fights the good fight every day.
And this week, when Jane Birkin asked luxury brand Hermés to remove her name from the famous Birkin bags after learning more about how they are made (see PETA’s shocking exposé here), she showed how big her heart really is. Showing compassion for reptiles, that are considered anything but cuddly and cute in our society, indicates a truly kind spirit. Which is the key to being an authentically iconic figure – be it for fashion or anything else at all.
Here at Vilda we hope that fashion lovers everywhere will follow the example of two real style icons by always speaking up against cruelty to animals in the industry – and there is so, so much work to be done! – and by dressing compassionately. We also hope that fashion brands will listen to the women that inspired many of their creations, and change their procedures to guarantee a more humane future for the fashion industry.