Fashion & Style: `In among the sparkle-scattered sweetness, designers are drawing on a less ostentatious source: the American sportswear tradition'

New season, new look? Not any more. If in times gone by the whole point of the twice-yearly collections was for one mood to be unceremoniously booted out by the next, preferably polar-opposite concern, that is the case no longer. In particular, fashion's love affair with vintage clothing and the rampant eclecticism that goes with it shows no real sign of abating. And with the bourgeois European silhouette and all its jolie madame embellishment continuing to dominate, it's almost as if minimalism never happened. Almost.

Because in among the candy-coloured, sparkle-scattered sweetness of it all, there is a more restrained mindset at play inspired by a less predictable vocabulary, although a time-honoured one nonetheless. Designers including Hussein Chalayan, Jil Sander, Helmut Lang and Emma Cook find inspiration from a rather less ostentatious source, that of the American sportswear tradition and its patron saint, Claire McCardell, in particular.

"Claire McCardell can rightly be called the founder of modern post-war fashion even though the name never became world currency as Dior's did," writes Colin McDowell in Fashion Today (Phaidon, pounds 24.95). That is hardly surprising. McCardell's most famous contribution to fashion was the 1942 "popover" dress, an entirely modest, utilitarian affair in the sort of cotton that was formerly the preserve of men's shirting. The popover dress boasted its own oven glove attached, and retailed in America for the princely sum of $6.95. Haute couture, it most certainly was not. Dior's finest moment? The entirely immodest and profligate New Look, a style that was entirely based on extravagance, on fashion whimsy over and above pragmatism.

If the response to this latter style was suitably hysterical, however - it is the stuff of fashion legend that women clamoured for copies the world over - it might well be argued that McCardell's more discreet contribution had the most far-reaching effect. "Unlike him [Dior], she [McCardell] was not backed by a billionaire industrialist," McDowell continues, "lacked the high advertising budget devoted to spreading the name of her house and, in common with most design houses at the time, had no publicity agent." Neither were McCardell's clothes anything like as attention-seeking as Dior's. Instead, they favoured functionality over frippery and were designed to help the wearer be active and independent. This was the first time that the concept of dressing to indulge the opposite sex was turned on its head, and women loved it.

"Fashion," McCardell's contemporary Elizabeth Hawes decreed in 1938, "is so shrouded in mystery, so far away and so foreign, so complicated and so boring when you understand its ways, that it has become a complete anachronism in modern life." Strong words, and ones that continue to strike a chord as yet another over-priced, beaded and embroidered Victorian- lingerie inspired slip dress/Belle De Jour pencil skirt/fashionable frump pussy-bow blouse comes down the catwalk as if it were the only one ever in the world.

In 1955, Time magazine remarked that while Parisian designs "complement the designer", McCardell's "complement the wearer". And while fashion, today a truly international beast, can no longer be compartmentalised in so parochial a fashion, the two very different approaches to dress continue to co-exist.

"The hardest thing to do in design for me is reduce ideas down," says Hussein Chalayan. "It's much harder to strip down than to add on. I do find it ridiculous to have lots of stuff going on on clothes." Jil Sander agrees, proclaiming: "Truly, it's more difficult to be subtle but it's the same old story, the fancier the richer, the richer, the more representative. Glossy representation is equated with a maximal aesthetic, an idea that comes directly from a fairy-tale as if we had never learnt anything from modernity."

In an age where even the average handbag comes weighed down by added tokens, this is a much-needed breath of fresh air.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there