Giddy up! How high-end horse girls cantered into fashion
From Hermès’ sexed-up equestrianism to Collina Strada’s trot up the Met Gala red carpet, horseplay is rampant right now
We’ve reached the finish line of Cheltenham festival, that first big weekend of the spring when gravity-defying fascinators, picnic-blanket check jackets, and ultra-colourful cocktail dresses become the order of the day. It’s a major time for glossy style sidebars, as they unpack every look through their rosé-tinted glasses. While fashion at the horses might not be the one for you, though, there’s been a recent trend for fashion themed around horses.
At Paris Fashion Week, Hermès took horseplay to the playroom, whipping us all into shape with a fetishistic take on equestrian gear. Set in a riding arena (ooh-la-la!) designed by the house’s creative director Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, it saw tight, supple leather dresses and overstretched stockings layered with sleek riding jackets. “It’s an expression of what equestrian can mean today,” Vanhee-Cybulski told Vogue backstage. “It’s techno in spirit: speed, sexiness, sportiness.”
Àcheval’s AW22 digital presentation at NYFW, meanwhile, saw the label showcase its gaucho roots, the collection’s mood-boosting velvet suiting shot on horseback in Argentina. Ahead of the presentation at a private dinner, a dancer introduced the campaign with a live horse-inspired interpretative performance. Then, there was Elena Velez’s debut runway of the same week, featuring the ‘horse girl’ as one of her cast of imagined personalities, styled in midwestern, crinkled nightgowns, and Coach’s collection, with its twee-revival shirts and equine-buckled leather skirts.
For this season’s major moment, though, you’ll have to rewind your wonky fashion month body clock back to Haute Couture week, where Charlotte Casiraghi, granddaughter of Grace Kelly, cantered through Chanel’s SS22 show space atop her horse Kuskus. Wearing a black tweed jacket studded with sequins, the princess trotted around Xavier Veilhan’s show jumping-inspired set, elevating the idea of the fashion equestrian to dizzy new heights.
“Charlotte and her horse certainly made the headlines,” says Georgia Guerin of Horse & Hounds magazine. “I doubt the Chanel show would have made the front page of The Times without the help of her horse. It could have been complete chaos, but they took a calculated risk and it paid off.” While the Chanel runway horse was definitely a first, an equine equinox has been bubbling-up over the past couple of years. For years, the horse girl was cast as a maligned character, one aligned with a cushy upbringing in the home counties, unlimited financing from relatives, and envy-inducing hair. Influencers, though, have spun this around.
Bella Hadid, for instance, is no stranger to sharing a bit of ranch dressing, often caught sporting a Tommy gilet, Animo breeches or – though we don’t exactly see it ourselves – a horse-inspired pixie cut wig for Pop magazine. Edie Campbell, too, is horse-obsessed, dedicating her 2013 Model of the Year award to her Dolly, riding horseback for Lanvin, and competing in high-profile races. Kendall Jenner, meanwhile, is also part of the coterie: ”I’m a horse girl, literally. I grew up riding horses,” she once said at a Calvin Klein party, “so for my whole entire life I would beg my parents to please get me a pony.” Needless to say, she got one.
“I didn’t love the competitive traditional horse girl fashion, but I did love the post riding look of britches boots, a rhinestone ribbed tank top, and a Von Dutch hat with a studded belt” – Hillary Taymour
While most of us sadly have never actually landed ourselves a prize stallion that threatened to buckaroo the Christmas tree, we can sure as hell dress-up in dressage and pretend we did. Being a horse girl has become less about harassing your parents for your own harras, and more about stanning stallions, listening to Taylor Swift, wearing a lot of chaps, and probably having a bit of a thing for fish boys.
Collina Strada’s Hillary Taymour, a self-proclaimed horse girl who once dressed Kim Petras in a ‘Horset’ for the Met Gala (“she served something that was even better than I imagined”), agrees: it’s the looks, rather than the sport, that endures.
“I was always the rebellious horse girl, wearing pink flamed glitter belts under my uniform at competitions,” she reminisces. “Mom would bribe me with a new jacket if I won a class because my favourite thing would be to coordinate looks. My yellow shirt with rose embroidery to match my grey jacket and my grey horse.” The real hot style tip? Apres-ride: “I didn’t love the competitive traditional horse girl fashion, but I did love the post riding look of britches boots, a rhinestone ribbed tank top, and a Von Dutch hat with a studded belt.”
And if you are into equestrian fashion, in the last few years, there’s been a lot to choose from. Gucci’s SS20 presentation Of Course A Horse saw the animals shot in cool blue Cadillacs and seventies jets; a year later, its collaboration with Balenciaga featured paddock boots, velvet riding jackets, and, eye-wateringly, a $2,900 horse helmet featuring a medieval-meets-mohican crest. Celine, meanwhile, featured 17-year-old stallion Goya in its Fall 2021 campaign, while Dior opted for a snow-white baroque horse for its Spring Summer 2021 shoot.
Part of the appeal is the photogenia of the horses: they make for exceptional models. “Horses are beautiful to look at if you can get the right shot, and they can be magical, powerful, or casual, depending on what look you’re going for,” says Guerin. Taymour concurs: “Horses are all about energy. They can feel fear, love, and are one of the largest, most majestic animals we have domesticated,” she says. “Not to mention their beauty and power. They don’t call it horsepower for nothing!” Adam Driver noted this for his Burberry advert, which saw him ride down a beach, blurring centaur-style into the horse he’s riding. “Having my body match a horse,” he quipped in a statement, “was ambitious”.
It’s this human connection that makes models like Hadid and Jenner love them, and why we’ve reached an actual horse taking on the runway. And for us mere mortals, the animals and accompanying fashion let us embrace our inner suaveness, even if the only pony we ever got was preceded by “My Little’. Taymour’s take on the horse girl trend? It’s all about being properly bad britches: “Horse girls are chic, posh, but mostly just dirty. They ride in Hermès saddles through the mud without a second thought.” Guerin agrees: “The real life of an equestrian isn’t nearly as glamorous as you think – there are a lot of early starts, sweat, mud, and tears involved.”