As the autumn collections emerge, Stephanie Smith celebrates the contrary confidence of contemporary style as it shows us new ways of dressing and living.
It’s a topsy-turvy old world, challenging, surprising, sometimes confusing. Fashion and design reflect this as they try to interpret and make sense of changing times, and maybe even point us all towards new directions and solutions.
Examine the new trends for autumn/winter 2016, and it is striking how demure so many are, with high necklines, midi and maxi lengths, long sleeves and body-shielding silhouettes.
Yet this is not a shrinking, apologetic, prudish approach. On the contrary, lines are bold and celebratory, offering drama, beauty and provoking thought. This is pure confidence.
On the other hand, there is confidence too in displaying parts of the body. Witness the trend for body-conscious designs, cut out or put together in panels to expose bare torsos, shoulders and backs, while long split skirts and sleeves reveal yet more skin, and necklines plunge from clavicle to waist.
But this is not an immodest or exhibitionist way of dressing. It is athletic and sporty, sophisticated, assured and making no apologies whatsoever.
The point is that you don’t have to choose either/or, because you can choose both.
Fashion is also reflecting and interpreting the changing ways in which we live our lives, as our increasing reliance on the internet sees us blending work and play and night and day.
The elevated sportswear trend has seen trousers inspired by track bottoms, and hoodies becoming part of a luxe go-anywhere wardrobe. Paris Vetements is a collective of designers whose street-inspired looks are holding sway over fashion. Wear hoodies with full skirts and big earrings and look out for oversize print dresses, over-long sleeves and unfinished edges. The oversize couture puffa was seen at DKNY, Stella McCartney and Balenciaga.
Decorative detail is taking over and bringing untold opulence, from brocades and embroidery to all-over sequins in pinks and reds, or in a darker mood, petrol and ink. There is nothing tacky about any of these looks – they are considered and astonishingly beautiful. Just look at Dolce & Gabbana’s exquisite riot of red and pink sequin dresses decorated with jewels and accented with occasional bursts of silver and blue. Burberry, Michael Kors and Mary Katrantzou showed shimmering brocades reminiscent of hammered metals.
Tweed and wool check are autumn classics but get an overhaul by being worn with florals, sportswear and sequins, plus lace tights, for an English Eccentrics appeal. The Prince of Wales check, houndstooth, plaid, tartan and gingham all feature.
Winter florals take a black backdrop and make it pop with astonishing, almost surreal beauty in a mesmerising mix of multi-coloured flowers. Layer them as at Balenciaga, add candy stripes, add shine.
Animal print in luxe fabrics come in leopard, cheetah, jaguar and unspecified spot patterns. Mix them in, or choose one key piece.
As well as the high neckline, and the focus on white collar, cuffs and ruffles, there is romance in the shape of the sweetheart neckline to layer or simply wear bare. Balenciaga brought a sportswear spin here too, adding bomber jackets slung over the shoulder.
Velvet is a key fabric, crushed, coloured and worn head to toe if you like. Purple is a stand-out shade of the season, but then so are bold red and a sea of blues.
The military theme for autumn sees both khaki greatcoats and shorter officer’s jackets with frogging. We note too the return of the mac, albeit with an all-over twist in terms of fabric. Burberry’s iconic trenches come in glossy snake print, while Prada’s feature patchworks of brocades.
One-shoulder party dresses, a la Eighties, are very much back, although there are some elegant maxi versions too for a slightly more sophisticated and mature look.
Finally, fur trim and shearling pieces are everywhere. Layer it up like you’re off to Mongolia. Who knows how cold it might get?