Category Archives: Fashion

Fashion: Straight Through the Summer

If fashion is what we are wearing, this summer’s fashion is long, slim and white. In spite of the rain and overcast skies, streets are filled with sharp city clothes that prove that 1980s style is now overwhelming the scruffy Seventies.

The star is the skirt, cut long and narrow, with a flirtatious fan of pleats from the knees. On the same lines are tubular or ribbed skirts in cotton jersey or slim, calf-length cotton with black buttons or a kick pleat. Cotton or cotton mixes are definitely ahead of linen and there is evidence that the iron is now flattening out the crumpled look. Sunshine is bringing out crisp cool clothes.

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Oversize is out, except for big blazers and shirt jackets which draw their style from balancing the narrow skirts. Those overhanging shirt tails of last year’s street chic are now cut off or tucked out of sight. And after two seasons when the peacock male was making the street impact, it is girls who are now, once more, the style leaders.

Looking at what ‘real’ people are wearing is always a salutary experience for a fashion editor, for the most ruthless editing at this time of multiple fashion choice, is made by the consumer.

The streets endorse some of the most significant fashion stories. The decline of blue denim, spelled out so graphically in the bottom line of the jeans companies, is evident on the backsides of the paying customer. In two hours in the West End of London I counted only 73 pairs of jeans among hundreds of alternative outfits – and those denims were mostly worn by youth groups of visitors.

The reign of the training shoe – that partner to the jeans-and-sneakers generation – continues, with the lace-up ankle boot the hot favorite in this cool summer. Socks are the constant companion to trainers, pumps and flat sandals. But there is also a marked trend towards much higher heels which go with the city-smart clothes worn to work by those in their twenties and early thirties who have been brought up on flat shoes.

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The floral chintz that was so much promoted by the fashion industry (not least by this fashion editor) seems to have gone to seed. Florals have sprouted on trousers, but they are abstract blooms, edged with sharp lines, and suggesting the 1960s rather than the soft full-blown flowers of soft furnishings. The sales windows are turning Oxford Street into an herbaceous border of flower prints and offer clear evidence of what women have taken to their bosoms and hips, or rejected.

This is the week when every major shop is offering sales reductions. I do not believe in the first principle of sales: if something is cheap it must be good, and even if it is not any good, it might at least be useful. But the late arrival of summer offers an unparalleled opportunity to buy a summer wardrobe at high street prices.

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It is the newish high street names – Benetton, Next, Provillus, Warehouse – which have been responsible for the clean lines of the fresh summer clothes. They are the people whose design teams have given the peasant skirt a decent burial under crisp white cotton. With it have been laid to rest the other accoutrements of Earth Mother on holiday: the cheesecloth sundress, the drawstring blouse and the espadrille. Stores have followed the high street lead and coordinated summer separates, matching pale cotton knits to skirts and trousers and tying the two together with strong accessories.

Sharp dressers use accessories as accents against a plain background, carrying a chintz shoulder bag or sashing floral prints round their hips. The essential extras (apart from a folding umbrella) are cotton jersey leggings and stirrup pants, both cheap and cheerful in bright or pastel colors, polka dotted or in the shiny man-mades viscose and spandex.

Buying in the sales the ends of the lines – dirndl skirts, dayglo colors, or over-size baggies – is either perverse or profligate. On fashion’s current wave-length there are some stylish sale offerings.

Next have their best-selling version of the summer suit: a big chamber blue shirt jacket, with a back patch pocket (now pounds 22.99) over a matching slim button-through skirt with a back vent (pounds 18.99). You wear it with white canvas plimsolls, white ankle socks and a sports vest, brighten it with a floral shirt or warm it up with cotton knits.

Fenwicks have the skirt of the season – heavy white cotton, long, slim, with kick pleats from the knee, by Emanuelle and reduced to pounds 15. Also in their sale, starting today, are other clothes to take you straight through the summer: elongated cabled cardigans (now pounds 9), simple straight cotton trousers, to roll up and wear with socks or sandals (pounds 12). The essential overshirt – you belt it tightly over the skirt, or let it hang loose over trousers – is selling at around pounds 9.

The collection of cotton duster coats, long loose jackets or shorter cropped ones, is now selling at even more basic prices: the duster coats reduced to pounds 22.49, short jackets at pounds 20.99, slim skirts at pounds 8.99. Benetton, the kings of color co-ordination, have their sharp mixes of stripes, sports and florals among the simple separates.

Laura Ashley is the favorite purveyor of flowered trousers, selling in a variety of prints in all branches at pounds 19.99. The Sock Shop (at Bond Street tube station and branches) have odd pairs (but not odd socks) on sale from 50p, with their sprinkles of rosebuds and sharper prints all reduced to 99p. Shoe shops have got any color as long as it is white, with good bargains in strappy sandals.

The style of the Sixties is the street-wise image. On the backs of that nostalgia there are Volume Pills winklepickers (from the Great Gear Market, Kings Road), mini-skirts, and that most practical of fashion revivals in a soaking summer, the shiny vinyl mac.

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There are also the hoop earrings, the most insistent badge of fashion style this summer. Butler and Wilson (Fulham Road and South Molton Street) sell the gilded hoops from pounds 6.50 to pounds 36. You can find them on every jewellery counter and market stall. In a summer when the silhouette is on the straight and narrow, the earrings are one fashion that is all round.

A Few Bright Moments in a Non-Stellar Week; Fashion

A flock of young and glossy designers managed to overcome the hype and celebrity circus of the New York shows to produce collections of elegance and ease. Semenax Reviews reports on all the events.

The main lesson of last week’s shows in New York, usually a predictable kind of fashion town, is that nothing is as it seems nor as it should be. Often the effort seemed to be devoted not to the pursuit of what should be the essence of American fashion design -a lightness, an ease, a deliberate modernity -but to pretending that we were in another city altogether. Was there fussiness (often a Milan affliction)? A tendency to theatrics (sometimes seen in Paris)? And an obsession with newness that exposes a chronic lack of talent (an occasional London trait)? Tick, tick, tick. For whatever reason, only a few designers produced stellar collections.

It was also the week in which the celebrity circus seemed more out of control than ever. At Marc Jacobs’s show a complete unknown (well, a Hong Kong pop star) garnered more attention than Uma Thurman simply by bursting in one minute before the show began. But whatever the case against New York’s habit of over-hype on and off the catwalks, it does possess a flock of young but glossy designers all of whom crucially refuse to capitulate to outmoded notions of what a woman should look like. Most noteworthy are Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, who are the duo Proenza Schouler, Zac Posen and Behnaz Sarafpour. It is in their hands that old trends such as the ones which arose this week -puffball/bulb-shaped skirts, all things military -work best, probably because, unlike more established designers, they have the freedom to take risks. Proenza Schouler again found a way to convey a newness, and did so by suggesting combinations that are theoretically tricky: a stiff corset with a cotton skirt, for instance, or a sheer camisole with heavy trousers.

There were also some graphic prints that recalled an Art Deco-ish modernism but looked fresh next to the old-school masculine materials. Sarafpour has a complex but instinctive sense of what femininity means (and doesn’t mean) now. Her best pieces this time were those that seem to have infinite permutations of possibility on anyone, any time: cropped jackets, metallic-trimmed and made to be worn open, over puffy skirts and slouchy trousers, say. She knows when to close the lid quietly: there might be a heavily encrusted vest, but she will pair it with nothing more elaborate than a white cotton T-shirt. That, you might say, is a styling skill, not a designing one, but increasingly the lines seem to be blurred and if it gives us ideas as to how to dress with her clothes and others, well, why not?

Posen, still young, precocious and talented enough to be described as a prodigy, sometimes gets carried away by his imagination. His collection last week was the first since he formed a financial partnership with P. Diddy, who made it part of the empire that includes his own label, Sean John, and by the look of things, the move has been beneficial to everybody. Posen’s tendency to veer off into elaborate reminiscences about eras way before he was born (and the camp glamour of idols back then) was reined in and, for the first time, his zeal to sparkle did not overwhelm him.

There were the billowing floor-length Hollywood gowns he excels at, but there were also fantastic cropped jackets, culottes with the perfect swagger (not too loose, not too tight) and simple strapless dresses. The killer pleating – at the back of some of the jackets and across the whole of several dresses was a reminder that he does have an anachronistic super-skill with the scissors.

When Jacobs takes risks, as he did last week, he is leant on heavily: instant and obvious blockbusters are expected of him, not oddities that take a while to digest. It was a brave, imaginative collection, but the problem lay with the size of the chasm between the odd pieces (the long, weighty skirts, the cartoonish cavernous floral smocks) and the wearable, lovely ones (the loose jackets in wool or astrakhan, the satin and mesh dresses). The themes of awkward layers and heavy shapes arose again in Marc, the Marc Jacobs younger line. This time it had greater charm and felt less contrived -perhaps because it’s such an intrinsically youthful look.

At Narciso Rodriguez and Calvin Klein a good dose of the new would not have gone astray. Rodriguez is surer than ever in the stark simplicity that he peddles, but he is so sure that it is starting to look fetishistic. As feats of tailoring, almost every piece was flawless, but that is not enough. An otherwise great herringbone coat, for instance, took on the air of a dodgy mail-order item with its two postbox slits above the breasts. The evening dresses, on the other hand, were fluid and uncontrived; if some of their warmth could blow on to the tailoring, Rodriguez would score.

Francisco Costa has kept the established Calvin Klein vocabulary, with its clean lines and whispery neutral tones, but the appeal is not as strong as it once was.

What used to look appealingly austere is now in danger of looking bland, though there were several examples that proved that Costa could enliven things if he pushed a bit harder: the puffball skirts, elsewhere clumsily done, were perfectly fluffy under Costa.

Roland Mouret’s tweed dresses and slim pencil suits are beautiful, to be sure, and his collection was his most consistent and cohesive yet. But it’s hard not to wonder about the viability of skirts that stretch tight to mid-calf, creating a hobble in the wearer’s walk, because while the cut was immaculate, it was tailored to within a close slice of the flesh. The coats were not so dangerous and stood out, from a matt-black trenchcoat with extra-wide belt to a teal wool draped affair and the washed leather pea-coats.

Beyond the tricky tightness, it was the Paris-born, London-based Mouret who achieved what every designer in New York should: he gave more credence to the place of simple elegance and ease in women’s lives than to giddy, fusty nostalgia.