Behind this winter’s fashion trends

Article by Rachelle Unreich /
The Sydney Morning Herald /
June 2, 2019 /
Click here to view original /

It wasn’t a coincidence when, some winters ago, you were wearing a velvet cape shortly after Cersei Lannister donned hers on Game of Thrones. (Only yours was less likely to be sewn from the skin of traitors.) Hey, even fashion designers binge-watch TV. But pop culture is just one of the myriad of factors that might inspire a collection; politics, economics, history and collective consciousness also play a part. Herein: a look at winter’s fashion trends and the influences that possibly created them.

BOURGEOIS

The look: It’s that French I-don’t-give-a-damn-but-will-look-elegant-anyway mode of attire with buttoned-up blouses and pleated skirts that finish at the knee. It’s wearable without being too casual. It’s what you wear when you’re about to meet the parents. And Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Eugenie Kelly calls it one of the main trends to emerge from Paris’ autumn/winter fashion week. “The biggest driver was Hedi Slimane for Celine. Think French girl’s wardrobe circa 1979. Culottes, silk blouses and dresses, horse-bit belts, over-the-knee shearling boots, blazers, bomber jackets late ’70s/early ’80s style – and the piece de resistance – aviator sunnies.”

Here, Aje’s collection incorporates soft silks, luxe linens and hand-sewn embellishments. But for elegant silk shirts that have their own neck ties? Banded Together is a brand that’s hard to beat and its latest burnt red animal print is available in said shirt, a sleeveless ruffle-neck top and tiered maxi skirt. MacGraw at David Jones is also a good starting point with this look.

The origin: Kelly attributes this trend to a societal shift: “Given that everyone is obsessing over dressing like France’s upper middle class, it’s super ironic considering world politics is tipping further into socialism every day. At the same time this Celine collection was revealed on the runway back in March, the city was regularly being disrupted by the populist Mouvement des Gilets jaunes – the yellow jacket movement – where protesters wear high-visibility vests as a symbol of the working class to demonstrate against the high cost of living and tax reforms that disadvantage them.” It’s a sign of the fashion times, she adds. “Contemporary fashion has always been about embracing the old and giving it a new twist. As a comfortable upbringing isn’t a guarantee any more, is it any wonder designers are suddenly romanticising classic conservatism?”

Writer and feminist Van Badham thinks the trend reflects how women feel about themselves. “There are notes to a traditional femininity, but they’re within the context [of someone saying] ‘I am happy to broadcast the fact that I am female but I acknowledge the female aesthetic on my own terms.’ These are clothes you can think of as lovely, but not as a billboard that’s a projection of what other people think … If we look at clothes as a series of options as to how we can express ourselves, that’s really empowering.”

COLOUR POPS

The look: Locally, citrus orange punctuates some of Carla Zampatti’s collection, whereas coral and bright yellow feature prominently at Rebecca Vallance. OnceWas has several key pieces in emerald, including a knit top and a midi drape skirt, while Karen Millen has both orange and jewel tones in her collection.

The origin: Nancy Deihl, director of New York University’s Costume Studies program, doesn’t discard the notion that the current burst of bright colours might have originated with the success of the Marvel superhero movies: “There seems to be a lot of play with primary colours, such as large swaths of red, that suggest a cartoony look.” Van Badham believes they could be a further expression of female power. “You see those sort of citrus colours that are not traditionally colours that men wear – a fabulous orange or a brilliant vermillion or a hot buttery lemon – but they’re bright and they’re arresting. It’s that interesting paradox: they’re very gendered decisions – these aren’t clothes that are taking on a masculine frame – but they’re also clothes that reject a traditional male gaze. That’s what I find interesting about them.”

Melbourne University’s Lauren Rosewarne, a social scientist who specialises in gender, pop culture and media, says that in recent years “notably on the red carpet, we saw darker colours. This was often attributed to factors like the election of Trump and the rise of #MeToo. An embrace of colour might be seen as a statement of hope.

“The counter argument to this is that catwalk content is often planned years in advance. If we think about recent events in the US relating to proposed restrictions on women’s freedoms – and the conservative outcome of Australia’s recent election – I suspect hope and optimism is wishful thinking, as opposed to reflecting what’s actually happening in the zeitgeist”.

Fashion academic Karen Webster thinks that the chosen hues reflect a broader societal theme, given what is going on in the wider landscape. “Brights are definitely part of channeling our childhood, where we had no fear, so they give us a sense of fun. When it feels like there’s a lot going on in the world, there is this trend towards escapism.”

CLASHING PRINTS

The look: Mismatched prints that intentionally clash are in vogue. Lee Mathews’ Teddy Spliced trench and matching skirt have contrasting plaid prints on them, creating the illusion that two separate garments have been sewn together. David Jones has heavily invested in this trend, with designers including Kenzo, Rixo, C & M, Camilla and Marc, Cooper, Kate Sylvester and Romance Was Born all featuring a contemporary clash in their designs. Megan Park’s Naina pussybow dress is an oversized smock that combines a patchwork of florals, stripes and colour blocks.

The origin: It’s possible that this type of garment originates with necessity. As milliner Richard Nylon explains: “Unless you have fabrics developed, fashion designers rely on suppliers for fabrics. A particular fabric might become the fabric du jour, which is what happened with athleisure when mesh was everywhere.

“But sometimes, fashion is influenced by the fabric that’s available, even going back to the 18th century … You wonder how did everyone know to do [the same trend]? They don’t get on the phone and say, ‘I’m doing full skirts this season.’ On the runway, fashion critics will see a trend and that will be taken up by the next layer down and the next one, until it becomes a major trend.”

Yahav Ron, of high-end designer resale store Paris 99, also thinks that clashing prints is a case of innovation-by-circumstance. “What you see coming out of London is young, emerging designers who are working in a way of budgetary constraints and have to find and gather what they can get their hands on, essentially. [In the past,] Alexander McQueen would go to the markets and grab cheap lace and then make something fabulous out of it.”

But Van Badham sees echoes of what’s going on in the world, too – and declaring something about the wearer. “These clashing patterns are visually striking and they’re look-at-me clothes, a centre of attention statement that highlights bravery and courage. That’s a huge shift. That’s not passive feminine at all; it’s an active female. [It’s saying] ‘I will command the centre of your attention but I’m not doing it by putting my skin on display or highlighting my breasts or ass’.”

SCULPTURAL SHOULDER

The look: Remember the big shoulders of the ’80s? They’re back. But it’s not just shoulder pads doing the work. The updated version sees exaggerated shoulders via puffy sleeves. It takes a feminine look and makes it more futuristic than frou-frou. Saint Laurent’s autumn/winter show took shoulders to such extended widths that writers compared the models to American football linebackers.

The origin: “My initial impression of a lot of the sculptural suits – from Givenchy to Dries Van Noten – is that they suggest an almost film noir look,” says Nancy Deihl. “They’re very dramatic and powerful, evoking a femme fatale in pants. The strong shoulders reference the 1940s, when the silhouette was first in fashion, but also the 1980s, when shoulders reached new heights – or more accurately, new widths. Both are periods that we associate with an assertion of female power: think of the ‘can do’ woman of the World War II era and the newly minted MBAs of the ’80s … so much of this grown-up, forceful aesthetic is a reaction to too much informality, too much cling.”

Richard Nylon agrees that there’s a message about power – and glamour. “Think of Joan Collins. It’s about making an entrance and being noticed. Even in menswear, there’s always been a trend towards padded shoulders when power is seen as being something desirable.”

And this paper’s national fashion editor, Melissa Singer, believes it’s happening now because of, well, what else is happening now. “Fashion is inherently cyclical and it does take cues from what’s happening politically. After Donald Trump was elected, we saw military-style fashion – fashion as armour – and that was seen as an indicator that people were looking to clothing to shield themselves from the uncertainty that the world was facing and also taking a position on personal freedom,

“We’re seeing some of that playing out now with the abortion debate and it will be interesting to see how it has an impact on fashion. We’ve already seen in the past few days Gucci’s cruise collection including pieces with ‘My body my choice’ on them. It’s the ‘We should all be feminists’ moment of this round of international fashion shows.”

NEUTRALS

The look: A stark contrast to the zaniness of bright colours is this trend, at the other end of the spectrum: clothes in beige, nude, off-white. Aje, Viktoria & Woods, Zimmermann and Zara are all working with shades such as oat, sand, champagne and beige.

The origin: Lauren Rosewarne says that, “My hunch would be that this is a response to the ostentatious Instagram looks – in fashion and in make-up. Neutrals are often a pared back presentation designed to blend into the crowd rather than stand out or make a statement and can be interpreted as indicative of calls towards authenticity.”

RETRO RETURN

The look: Melissa Singer sees several decades being covered across wardrobes at the moment: the ’70s (with teddy coats and hair clips, referencing Gwyneth Paltrow in The Royal Tenenbaums), the ’80s (via animal prints, the brocade/tapestry look and boots that have a slightly looser fit around the calf, circa Madonna in Desperately Seeing Susan) and the ’90s (welcome back, slip skirt).

The origin: “We are looking back at things that give us a sense of nostalgia, back to a time when you felt good about yourself,” says Karen Webster. “It’s trying to relive that in a world where there’s a lot of the unknown … The world is falling apart around us, and we’re often hearing bad news. What do we want to spend our image dollars on? Something that cheers us up.” This might be an extension of the mindfulness movement that has hit fashion hard, she says. “We’ve moved beyond sustainable to responsible. We’re feeling far more responsible about the choices we make and we’re either doing that by buying less, buying better or not buying at all – thank you Marie Kondo. A part of the whole referencing of bygone eras is that people are going to op shops as well. I am concerned about how our industry will compete.”

As for teddy bear coats, which look like you’re going to a fancy dress party evoking a soft toy, Singer says: “Don’t ask me to explain why the teddy bear coat is in fashion. I can’t.” Regardless, she owns one anyway and Chadstone has them dotted over various stores, especially in Zara, Seed Heritage and Sheike.