Inspirational women chosen by the Cultural Comms team. #InternationalWomensDay
Chrissie Rucker OBE (selected by Charlotte Heath-Bullock)
Not many will claim to be inspired by a woman who once fired them, but Chrissie Rucker, The White Company’s elegant founder, is someone to whom I have always looked up. Her softly spoken and self-deprecating manner belies a steely business acumen whilst her vision and passion have been the backbone of The White Company’s global success. When I worked for her in the early noughties I was a junior account handler and did not have experience on my side. 20 years on I am privileged to have a second opportunity to work alongside her through everywoman and relish the opportunity to learn from her entrepreneurial spirit and inspiring mentorship.
Katharine Gun (selected by Nina Plowman)
I came across Katharine Gun recently, thanks to the film ‘Official Secrets’ starring Keira Knightley. It tells a real-life story of a UK British intelligence officer who risked everything when she whistleblew on the American and British underhand means to influence security council members to support the US invasion of Iraq. Gun breached the Official Secrets Act when she leaked the memo.
Although she was working for GCHQ, Gun could be any one of us – just an ordinary woman in her 30s going about her daily routine at work, but she did something extraordinary. She disagreed with a decision “based on lies” and was compelled to stand by her beliefs. As we all know the Iraq war had long-lasting, global implications.
I admire her courage for speaking up and her determination for standing her ground. She risked her freedom and must have been terrified.
Jessica Mitford (selected by Alex Webster)
Born the daughter of an English Lord, died an American investigative journalist and civil rights campaigner, Jessica Mitford blazed a trail from the English countryside to California via eloping to the Spanish Civil War. Her stint fighting for the Spanish republicans may sound extreme but when you’re a socialist and two of your sisters are friends with Hitler, it starts to add up. One time member of the Communist Party, (she resigned in 1958 as Stalin’s ruthless regime became exposed) Decca – as she was known – is most recognised as a writer that probed into the American psyche, exposing exploitative practices. She was also a passionate campaigner for civil rights both on a local and national scale.
Jessica had four children, a baby girl who died when she was one years old, another daughter, and two sons one of which died aged 11 after being hit by a bus. Her first husband was killed in World War II and later in life Jessica tackled and overcame alcoholism. These personal tragedies were rarely mentioned and her fighting spirit, humour and wit were legendary.
Frida Kahlo (selected by Kelly Kerruish)
I came across the story of Frida Kahlo for the first time when I visited the V&A’s retrospective of her work in 2018. Here I learned about a remarkable woman who perservered and created vibrant, iconic artwork despite living through immense physical pain for most of her life and enduring heartbreak from the one man she loved.
When she was just 18 years old, Frida Kahlo — who was studying medicine— suffered a terrible accident in which the bus she was riding in crashed with a streetcar. While others on the bus died as a result, Kahlo smashed her legs and broke her spinal column. It was only then – bedridden – that Kahlo began to paint, and within two years had completed the first of many artworks.
Over the 47 years of her life she was to become known for creating a brilliant body of work that encompassed many defiant, colourful self-portraits and which showcased her deep love of her Mexican heritage. In an era where we are all obsessed with beauty, appearances and the ‘right’ image here was a woman who fearlessly and unapologetically captured everything she was. She had facial hair, one leg smaller than the other, a fractured spine, and a unibrow, but instead of trying to hide these so called ‘flaws’, she celebrated them with vibrant clothing, elaborate headpieces and a majestic demeanour. For me this is why she continues to shine and teach us to this day.
Frida Kahlo had affairs, loved fashion, tequila and cigarettes, but mostly she saw life in pain and never the need to be flawless. We could all be a bit more Frida.
Serena Williams (selected by Georgie Farley)
Serena Williams is one of the greatest tennis players of our time, and her sporting achievements are exceptional. She’s won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, the most by any man or woman in the Open Era, and holds the highest number of Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles combined among active players.
But what she has accomplished over the course of her career is far more important than simply titles and broken records. She’s a passionate advocate for equal pay for men and women in sports, talks openly about racial equality and what it means to be a black woman in tennis, and has discussed body image at length, acknowledging her responsibility to serve as a positive role model when it comes to such issues. Moreover, she champions the importance of women raising each other up. “My goal is to inspire every woman out there….the success of one woman should be the inspiration for the next”.
Laverne Cox (selected by Rhéma Moses)
Laverne Cox has been a tireless advocate of LGBTQ+ rights and a shining beacon of transgender representation worldwide. She made history in 2014 when she became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy in any acting category for her role in the hit Netflix series, ‘Orange is the New Black’. Since then, Cox has used her voice to bring awareness to issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community. She was also the first trans woman to ever be featured on the cover of 2014’s Time Magazine. She has truly paved the way for marginalised people everywhere.
Katherine Johnson (selected by Giorgia Martelli)
Katherine was a Nasa mathematician who helped in the moon landing of Apollo 11 in 1969. She is an inspiration for me as she was not only an expert in her field, but she was a pioneer in breaking down gender, racial and social barriers. In a world full of inequalities, we need to look back at what past generations did and keep working for a better future.
In 2016 Katherine commented: “I didn’t allow their side-eyes and annoyed looks to intimidate or stop me. I also would persist even if I thought I was being ignored. If I encountered something I didn’t understand, I’d just ask”.
Es Devlin OBE (selected by Alex Stovold)
I’ve admired Es for many years now after first experiencing her work during Beyoncé’s Formation World Tour in 2016. Es is a London based artist and stage designer practicing across the worlds of art, opera, music and technology. You may have seen her luminous fluorescent red “Please Feed The Lion” sculpture which projected AI-generated poetry to crowds in Trafalgar Square for the 2018 London Design Festival.
I truly admire her ability to perfectly combine physical sets with projections, innovative lighting effects, sound and VR with awe-inspiring results. Es really embodies the phrase “go big or go home” – a true maximalist and innovator in her field.
Es has received 3 Olivier Awards, is a fellow of the University of the Arts London and has just been announced as the Artistic Director for 2020 London Design Biennale. Last month, Es was named by GQ as one of the 50 most influential people in Britain. #LifeGoalz
Next week Dezeen is launching the Face to Face podcast series featuring conversations with Es Devlin, Norman Foster and Thomas Heatherwick – it’ll definitely be worth a listen.
Marie Colvin and Annie Mac also deserve a mention.
Livia Firth (selected by Jess McNally)
If we can all commit to wearing something a minimum of 30 times, then we can buy it.
Livia Firth is the Co-founder and Creative Director of Eco-Age and Founder of the Green Carpet Challenge (GCC), a project that aims to raise the profile of sustainability and social welfare by encouraging celebrities to wear ethical designs at high profile events and putting a spotlight on sustainable style.
Livia went to Bangladesh in 2009 and for the first time, saw the impact of what ‘fast-fashion’ was having thousands of miles away -something highlighted through her pivotal role as executive producer of 2015 documentary “The True Cost”. She described the visit as “like having someone throw a bucket of iced water on you. When you get back you can’t pretend it is ‘business as usual’”.
Each year across the world, 1.5 billion garments are sewn by an estimated 40 million people, working in 250,000 factories. These are predominantly made in countries described by the UN as the world’s least developed.