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Woman of the Hour: Rachel Antonoff

rachel

Rachel Antonoff exhibits fresh, feminist designs at NYFW. Courtesy of Flickr.

By Erin Cabrey

Published in The Fordham Ram on March 9, 2016

Fashion designer and Fordham alum Rachel Antonoff’s fiercely feminist New York Fashion Week show, complete with a gender-reversed musical production, swapped the typical runway formula in favor of a girl power infused performance that transcended trendy couture.

Fashion Meets Feminism: Fashion Week shows seem to follow the same template: skinny, exotic models with skyscraper legs and clad in outfits that no mere civilian would dare try to pull off, who strut down a sleek runway to a flawlessly-mixed techno beat. That isn’t, nor has it ever been, the style of Rachel Antonoff. Her NYFW show, that unveiled her Fall/Winter 2016 collection, was anything but ordinary. With a secretary theme, Antonoff’s models performed a gender-swapped version of “A Secretary is Not a Toy” from “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” a typically male-dominated show. The models weren’t the average fare either. They were a diverse selection of Broadway dancers. The lead was played by Ali Stroker, Antonoff’s childhood friend whose role in the revival of “Spring Awakening” marked the first time a Broadway show featured an actor in a wheelchair. To top it off, Antonoff’s brother, Jack, who is the lead singer of Bleachers and the guitarist for Fun., played the object of the female workers’ objectification. He was clad in a Rachel Antonoff graphic tee which read “Equal Pay Now” in the brand’s signature cursive font.

The designs were whimsical, fun and, most importantly, something that people could actually wear. A prominent motif was lipstick, with dresses featuring swipes of all different shades and collars embellished with lipstick tubes. Other designs featured checkered pants and 70s-inspired denim skirts. One t-shirt, my personal favorite, featured the phrase “I’ll be right on that, Rose,” paying homage to Christina Applegate’s Sue Ellen Crandell in the movie Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. Playful, candy-colored and just a little bit raunchy, this Rachel Antonoff presentation is perhaps leading us into a new feminist fashion frontier.

Rachel’s Resume: Rachel Antonoff is no stranger to the Fordham community. She was a member of the FCLC Class of 2003. In fact, a little digging led me to a front page article in the April 24, 2003 edition of The Observer in which she and her brother were both interviewed regarding the loss of their cousin, a Marine in the Iraq War. A grainy photo depicted Antonoff with her cousin and brother, who she cited as her best friend and muse.

Antonoff was born and raised in suburban New Jersey. During high school, she commuted to the Upper West Side to study theater at the Professional Children’s School, where Scarlett Johansson once studied. Antonoff graduated with a degree in Communications and worked as a writer for various publications including Nylon and Teen Vogue. She co-founded the short-lived clothing line Mooka Kinney in 2007 before her self-titled label in Spring 2009. Since then her designs have been featured in magazines like Vogue, ELLE and InStyle. Her collections have been modeled by actresses like Aubrey Plaza, Mae Whitman and Jenny Slate, and her looks have been rocked by everyone from Hailee Steinfeld to Lena Dunham.

Antonoff also works with The Ally Coalition, an organization she co-founded with the members of Fun. The organization works within the entertainment industry to support LGBTQ equality. In December, she hosted the second annual TAC Talent Show, which featured an array of performances by celebrities, like Sara Bareilles and Fred Armisen, to benefit and support homeless LGBTQ youth in New York City.

The Every Girl: Antonoff’s unique voice and vision sets her work apart from the rest. She uses her designs to make waves and strong statements. Recent graphics include tees saying “Feminist” and “You Don’t Own Me” in the classic Rachel Antonoff font. But her most prominent work was the Female Reproduction Sweater from her Fall 2015 collection. Her website shows the look modeled by her mother, and it’s been worn by celebrities like Rowan Blanchard and Jamie Lee Curtis. Fallopian tubes never looked so cool.

This New York Fashion Week was dominated by buzz around Kanye West’s latest Yeezy designs but, while those looks might not look quite as good on people who aren’t members of the Kardashian clan, Rachel Antonoff’s pieces are for everyone. “I think she’s kind of an ‘every’ girl. I really like that my mom, my grandmother and my 13-year-old cousin can wear my clothes,” she told Elle. “But definitely, she’s silly—she doesn’t take herself or her fashion too seriously. She’s not afraid to get her clothes dirty.”

Now, it seems, her work has extended beyond just women. Her designs are modeled by men, babies and even dogs, making Antonoff’s vision one of the fashion industry’s freshest. It’s inclusive and real. Its purpose isn’t to make women value beauty standards and high fashion looks that are both unattainable and unrealistic. Its purpose isn’t to construct an image, but to reflect one. Rachel Antonoff is our designer.

She helps us feel confident enough to sport a lipstick frock or a science fair-inspired tee and reminds women to take pride in who we are. Rachel Antonoff encourages us to wear our ovaries on our sleeves. Literally.

Woman of the Hour: Serena Williams

By Erin Cabrey

Published in The Fordham Ram on February 10, 2016

Serena Williams

Serena Williams’ journey to success goes beyond the typical rags-to-riches story. AP. 

Serena Williams is defying labels. In the new Mini USA campaign introduced during Sunday’s Super Bowl, the tennis phenom recalls the many unfair tags she’s been given throughout her career and urges women to define themselves on their own terms.

Changing the Game: On Sunday, when over 100 million Americans tuned into the Super Bowl, they were treated to a wider array of sports than just football. Tennis star Serena Williams headlined the Mini USA commercial, which also featured fellow athletes Abby Wambach and Tony Hawk. This TV spot reached beyond the traditional bounds of advertising to deliver an important social message to viewers. In the extended ad for the campaign, Serena lists the many labels commonly applied to her, including “too strong,” “too sexy,” “too focused on tennis” and “mean.” She states that overcoming these labels has been “really easy, because I define myself.” Though the main purpose is to squash labels typically applied to the Mini, the depth found in the campaign’s stories, such as Serena’s, portrays something much more important than the comedic or visually-grabbing fare usually featured during the football broadcast.

Serena’s discussion of labels, specifically in reference to her body, is something the 34 year-old has always been candid about. While many people have slammed her body for being overly muscular, Serena has refused to let these critiques bring her down or distract her from her goals. During her championship run at Wimbledon last summer, Serena told The New York Times, “I realized that you really have to learn to accept who you are and love who you are. I’m really happy with my body type, and I’m really proud of it.”

As Sports Illustrated’s 2015 Sportsperson of the Year and the first woman to hold the title in 32 years, Serena has used her standing as the country’s most successful female athlete to change the conversation about race and gender in sports and to become a role model for people across the world.

Serena’s Story: Serena’s athletic career has been unorthodox from the beginning. Instead of attending an elite tennis academy, she and her sister Venus were coached by their father in Compton, California. She turned pro in 1995, before even graduating high school, and quickly climbed her way to the top of the rankings. In 1999, she won the U.S. Open Championships, her first grand slam title, at the age of 17. From 2002 to 2003, Serena won all four grand slam tournaments in a row, completing what was known as “The Serena Slam,” a feat she achieved once again in 2015.

Serena continues to break records, make history and hold the title of one of the country’s most revered athletes. She has accumulated four Olympic gold medals and a total of 21 grand slam titles (placing third on the women’s all-time list), holding the record for the highest-earning female athlete in terms of prize money.

Last year was monumental for Serena’s career. In April, she returned to the Indian Wells Masters in California after a 14-year boycott of the tournament due to racial slurs she and Venus were subjected to in 2001. When she returned to the court, she was met with a rousing standing ovation that brought tears to the eyes of everyone in the stadium, as well as mine at home.

In July, she completed her second “Serena Slam” by winning Wimbledon. At the U.S. Open, Serena made history beyond the bounds of her own career. For the first time ever, the women’s final sold out before the men’s in anticipation of her completing the calendar slam. In addition, her quarterfinal match against Venus was the second-highest rated tennis match in ESPN history.

Advantage Serena: I attended the U.S. Open the day before the Williams vs. Williams match last year, and the sisters’ highly anticipated clash accounted for the majority of the buzz throughout the grounds. Spectators flooded the practice courts just to get a peek at Serena practicing, and I somehow managed to squeeze my way to the front of the pack, landing just feet away from the legend herself as she volleyed with her coach.

People desperate for a glimpse of her were actually tapping me on the shoulder and handing me their cameras to take pictures and videos. In a tennis center filled with every elite player hailing from every corner of the world, they were all drawn to Serena Williams, a woman from Compton, California, who practiced with her dog watching eagerly from the sidelines.

In a sea of Lacoste polo shirts, Serena Williams is wearing a Puma catsuit. “As a black tennis player, I looked different. I sounded different. I dressed differently. I served differently,” she said. “But when I stepped onto the court, I could compete with anyone,” she told Time last year. As one of the most dominant forces in such an international game, she has flipped the script on a predominantly white institution, historically labeled a gentlemen’s sport.

She has shown that labels regarding race, gender and economic standing only matter if you let them. Serena Williams proves there are no boundaries that humility, integrity, bravery and a blistering serve cannot overcome, a sentiment that is guaranteed to inspire women long after she hangs up her racket.

Woman of the Hour: Brie Larson

Brie Larson

Brie Larson happily poses with her Golden Globe. Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP.

By Erin Cabrey

Published in The Fordham Ram on January 26, 2016

Brie Larson’s role in the critically acclaimed drama Room has catapulted her from relative obscurity to the cusp of bona fide stardom. Once a tween movie darling, the 26-year-old has proven herself to be one of Hollywood’s finest young talents, already winning a Golden Globe for “Best Actress in a Drama” and holding the spot of frontrunner for the “Best Actress” Oscar.

Small Room, Big Star: In preparation for Room, Larson avoided sunlight and achieved just 12 percent body fat for her role as Ma, a woman kidnapped by a sexual predator at the age of 17 and forced to live in a garden shed for seven years with her young son fathered by her ruthless captor. Though this physical transformation is quite impressive, it is the emotional and psychological dedication to the role that made her performance so honest and compelling, while also solidifying her as a rising force in film. Larson filled three journals at ages 10, 14 and 17, with youthful musings to help her get into the mind of Ma, who was largely robbed of much of her young adult life. To help understand Ma’s emotional and mental state, Larson spoke with victims of sexual abuse and trauma counselors, which was evident in the film’s second act as Ma comes to terms with the abuse she’s experienced while inside the shed. She also formed an incredibly tight bond with her on-screen son, played by the adorable Jacob Tremblay, who could be seen standing on a chair cheering for Larson after her Golden Globe win.

Since collecting a slew of awards from various film festivals and critics associations and subsequently gracing magazine covers from W to The Hollywood Reporter, Larson is poised to be Hollywood’s favorite actress. Though she has frequently received comparisons to Jennifer Lawrence (whose career trajectory is remarkably similar), Larson uniquely influences the changing tides of women in film, proving that even those outside JLaw territory can still score dynamic roles.

The Brie Breakdown: Larson is no stranger to Hollywood, having played supporting roles in a slew of teen films and comedy hits, though for many years she existed as an actress with a familiar face but an unknown name. She was junior drag racer Courtney Enders in the Disney Channel Original Movie Right On Track back in 2003, as well as an eighth-grade queen bee who drove her squad around to complete an epic scavenger hunt in 2004’s tween classic Sleepover. She was also a “Six Chick” in 13 Going on 30, one of Michael Cera’s ex-girlfriends in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Jonah Hill’s love interest in 21 Jump Street and most recently, Amy Schumer’s sister in Trainwreck.

It was her raw performance in the critically acclaimed 2013 indie Short Term 12, where she had her first leading role as Grace, a supervisor at a short-term foster care facility, that caught the attention of critics, producers and directors. The Wall Street Journal claimed Larson “create[d] a marvelously complex heroine” in her character of Grace, a woman who urged kids at the facility to share their feelings while largely suppressing her own. This sentiment of strong, multi-layered roles is something Larson has focused heavily on when reading scripts, especially after her Short Term 12 role led to an influx of offers for a variety of parts.

“A big producer offered me the part of the pretty girl that waits at home for the guy, and I couldn’t do it. That’s not a story I ever want to tell,” Larson told Vulture. She continues this approach off camera as well, refusing to let Prada choose which dress she wore to the Met Gala and hanging out with other strong Hollywood influences, like Shailene Woodley, Amy Schumer and Emma Stone.

Room for More: Raw, honest, and captivating roles such as Larson’s are becoming less of a rarity for women in film today. As Kate Winslet noted when she received her Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Steve Jobs, it has been an incredible year for women in film, as roles have been more commanding and eloquent than ever before. These are headlined by Saoirse Ronan as an Irish immigrant choosing between her past and her future in Brooklyn, Jennifer Lawrence building a Miracle Mop empire in Joy, Amy Schumer clumsily navigating falling in love in Trainwreck, and Daisy Ridley taking control of the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

This year’s expanse of female film roles clearly proves how useless it is to sideline women to parts as love interests or work subordinates. Actresses are at their best when they portray independent women with strength and integrity, a concept that is far from new but is just now beginning to be fully acknowledged in film. Brie Larson is at the helm of a movement urging women to choose roles that truly resonate, thus encouraging writers and producers to create characters which reflect of the caliber of women as not just actresses, but people as a whole. With Larson leading the talented group of actresses seeking strong roles that portray women in a genuine light, she serves as a beacon of hope that a female revolution, which could perhaps even transcend the entertainment industry, is in fact upon us.