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Claude Cahun
Claude Cahun, Self Portrait 1927via

Charting five of culture’s most radical women

From M.I.A to a surrealist feminist photographer and the first black female aviator, designer Claire Barrow is set on celebrating high flying females

Designed by Jamie Reid and printed by Ditto Press, Claire Barrow’s High Flyers zine is a comic-book manifesto for her label’s aesthetic. Juxtaposing early female aviators (“[They] fought stereotypes of what women at work should be,” says Barrow) with the bathetic grind of the 9 to 5, it insists on the inner strength of the modern-day woman at work. After last season’s dystopian mythmaking, AW15 staked a battleground closer to home for the London-based designer. Drawing on the corporate complex of a city that is rapidly losing its edge, Barrow’s hand-crafted take on reality had necessary bite. But it wasn’t just powerful pilots that inspired the designer’s vision – read on to discover Barrow's ultimate stereotype busting women.


Claire Barrow’s AW15 show nodded to the women who flew away from the gender norms of their day: Amelia Earhart, Amy Johnson and, Barrow’s favourite, Bessie Coleman. Coleman was working as a manicurist when she caught the flying bug – refused entry from American flight schools because she was black and a woman, she travelled to Paris to earn her pilot license and returned to the USA as a high-flying inspiration.


Absolutely fabulous since first appearing on screens in the swinging 60s, Joanna Lumley’s combination of posh and passion makes her one of Barrow’s key heroines. Apart from convincing us that smoking is good for us and demonstrating how to remain 39 forever in her role as fashion editor Patsy Stone, Lumley’s tireless human rights activism – especially her support of Gurkhas – dares you to undermine poshness at your peril.


A photographic visionary who challenged the Surrealist boys club with her unique gender-bending agenda, Claude Cahun – real name Lucie Schwob – was a French photographer, writer and artist living and working in Paris in the 30s. Dubbed “one of the most curious spirits of our time” by André Breton, her continual self-reinvention in self-portrait form would go on to influence the many faces of female provocateurs from Cindy Sherman to Nan Goldin


The London-raised rapper has made waves through her visual aesthetic as well as her genre-slicing assaults on the ears over the past decade. Her audiovisual political statements continue to refuse to compromise to the expected tropes of female musicians today: from Born Free’s big budget shout out to womens rights in the Middle East, to Galang’s VHS-thetic graffiti artwork.


As avant-garde and fascinating as the modern art collection she amassed, Peggy Guggenheim was the wealthy heiress who championed some of the best known artists of the 20th century: Jackson Pollock, Wassily Kandinsky and Max Ernst to name a few. She also, as Barrow points out, had “sex with tonnes of men” – an artist’s muse on her own terms, today Peggy’s lifetime’s worth of artworks can be seen at her former home in Venice.

Check out the gallery below for Barrow’s AW15 collection: