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Easy fashion for hard times

(Part 1 of 3 parts)

When the economy is in a crunch, fashion tends to sober up. 
This need not be sad news, however, as history has proven how hard times have brought a frisson of creative debate and experimentation to make the fashion landscape more varied and interesting.  The current mood, in fact, has resulted in some of the best-cut, intelligently designed and most wearable clothes to come out in a long time — the best news for women who have lives outside cocktail parties and red-carpet affairs. 

Even John Galliano, known for his theatrics both in clothes and staging, presented a very prim collection inspired by Jacqueline Kennedy during the ’60s White House years.  There is a call for simplicity but the pared-down looks are far from boring.  Classics have been revisited with razor-sharp modernity through ingenious cuts, impeccable tailoring and layers of references that add multistoried drama to seemingly minimal ensembles. 

Go Architectural

Add chiraoscuro to those minimal outfits with a little architectural detail.  Jil Sander had the most spectacular collar on a jacket, which could very well be a prototype for a museum of modern art building. Martin Margiela also used hours of CAD draftwork for perfectly engineered lapels on a camel jacket.  The exaggerated lapels at Donna Karan and Costume National, on the other hand, looked malevolent enough to put Cruella de Vil to shame.

The RBD

Take the LBD, which is now the RBD or the Recession Black Dress.  In keeping with the times, this is not your Audrey Hepburn-Breakfast at Tiffany’s variety but rather more Simone Signoret in the ’50s French film Les Diaboliques, one of Nicolas Ghesquiere’s inspirations for his fall collection at Balenciaga.  The look is severe, with slashed-off shoulders and a precision slit in the skirt, omens of murderous acts to come.  The RBD also has a sinister look at Prada with pagoda sleeves befitting a scheming Wong Kar Wai siren.  Lanvin’s RBD is no less portentous in satin with a whole sleeve brutally dismembered to unleash the power of a feminine shoulder.

Long & Lean

Just as it has happened in recessions past, the hemlines are going down to introduce a long and lean silhouette.  Proof of this is that even Dolce & Gabbana of girly mini fame has gone maxi in a ’70s sportswear sort of way.  The same goes for Marc Jacobs with slim, high-waisted skirts matched with roomy tops and Confederate hats.  The only concession to sex is when the silhouette appears in fitted, slithering dresses in stretch fabrics which were artfully embellished with gold-leaf Rorschach appliqués at Marios  Schwab.

Hurrah For Pants

This mania for covering up is a boon for pants lovers, with many choices to keep the legs hidden next season:  From relaxed and chic, slouchy versions at Proenza Schouler and Adam Lippes to the Molly Ringwald revival of loose at the thigh, pegged at the calf versions at Louis Vuitton and loose, MC Hammer genie pajamas at Galliano.  For those hanging on to their skinnies, do it in ’80s glam-rock leather a la Givenchy or Balmain.

Focus On The Shoulder

The shoulder, in fact, is the hot zone for fall.  There is nothing so erotic as bare shoulders revealed by a precariously positioned neckline like Givenchy’s suggestively interlocking black ruffles.  Something as sweet as ruffles now have a new context, subverting all traditional connotations of froth and frivolity.  At Chloé, the neckline of an embroidered organza tunic insouciantly slides down one shoulder to banish all notions that the wearer is a blushing flower.  In red carpet or ballroom mode, the bare shoulder is the perfect counterpoint to huge, fluffy skirts at Alexander McQueen and architectural severity at Roksanda Ilincic.

The Return Of The Suit

Just like pants, the suit is also back with a vengeance.  It’s sharp, fitted and shiny at Jean Paul Gaultier, hourglass perfect at Louis Vuitton, and more edgy in leather at Yohji Yamamoto.   For a less traditional power take, why not break the suit the way Nicolas Ghesquiere mixes opposing patterns and textures or Olivier Theysken’s contrast of a rough wool jacket over satin pants at Nina Ricci?  At Yves Saint Laurent, Stefano Pilati’s tweed jacket was geometrically cut and flaring over flannel trousers.

Go Sleeveless

Perhaps a hangover from summer when the vest reigned supreme, an option for those averse to jackets and coats is to go sleeveless.  Francisco Costa’s sleeveless jacket at Calvin Klein was worn with a sheer blouse, both in black, to create the aura of the sleeve without the extra weight. He also had a double-paneled one with an illusion waistcoat.  Sleeveless coats about the length of the dress underneath were slick devices for color-blocked looks at Marni and Diane Von Furstenberg.

The White Shirt

The crisp white shirt proves a perennial classic and lifesaver during uncertain times of ANTW (Absolutely Nothing To Wear). The coming season’s version is big on volume and surface details.   Yves Saint Laurent’s roomy sleeves practically meld with the torso to tuck into an asymmetric high-waisted skirt while Proenza Schouler has an exaggerated bow to go with slouchy black satin pants.  Marc Jacobs’ bow is more geometric and cravat-style for a more modern look.  Comme Des Garçons uses two layers and straps it with a half-vest in black.

Layer It Lovingly

With clothes practically devoid of embellishment, layering provided subtle forms of decoration.  Dries Van Noten had a blue fur collar layered over a lilac jacket, a micro-floral print blouse in shades of orange, a green and yellow foliage print skirt, and woodland print trousers.  All minimal, almost boring pieces on their own but worn together, they created a tour-de-force layered look.  Undercover stayed with neutrals but created geometric planes and patterns, which made for a stunning layered outfit.   Rick Owens had an apocalyptic vision with layered ensembles inspired by the ’60s sculpture of Lee Bontecou.

Cut It

For some designers, if you must embellish the surface of a garment, only a cut will cut it.  Slashes were the least distracting way to decorate perfectly tailored frocks.  Giles had precision-slashed hourglass LBDs and gowns with color inserts.  Christopher Kane used stretched cord patterned like computer axonometric diagrams to simulate cuts on a dress.  The slash on the lower part of a stark black coat at Calvin Klein was quite dramatic, revealing a glittery silver dress underneath.  At Marios Schwab, models in black serpentine body-hugging Lycra wore their royal blue slashes proudly, from the hips down to their legs, like status tattoos in some tribal ritual.   

(To be continued)

 

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