Colourful characters: Uplifting spring collections

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Neon brights, vibrant print and a carefree Seventies mood, the new collections are truly uplifting. So forget the dismal weather – this spring girls just want to have fun, says Susannah Frankel

Colour

For spring/summer 2011, autumn's sober colour palette – and indeed equally subdued silhouettes – has been over-turned in favour of a rainbow-bright spectrum that speaks of optimism and happy times ahead.

A case of fashion flying in the face of economic adversity, no doubt, thereby ensuring the world is a more radiantly beautiful place to be. Bright primaries alongside more typically challenging hues feature at Prada. Add to this a flash of fluoro at sister label, Miu Miu, and from head-to-toe at Christopher Kane, where neon leather finished to look like lace was rather brilliantly undercut by more stolid Argyle cashmere twin-sets, and the look is as intense as it is bold and blithe. Equally extraordinary was the sheer depth of colour at Raf Simons' Jil Sander where everything from the exotic plumage of rainforest birds to techno-bright sweets wrappers provides inspiration at a label generally best known for understated elegance, but for now quite dazzling in appearance. The work of Yves Saint Laurent provides inspiration too – the late fashion designer is perhaps the greatest colourist in history and the major retrospective held in Paris last year has wielded an influence. Colours suggestive of the riches of the East, meanwhile, appear at Louis Vuitton, Hussein Chalayan and duly restrained (very restrained) at Céline.

Print

Monkeys, bananas and exuberant florals... zebra, tiger and leopard-print... swans, stars, snakes, giraffes... fingerprints and peeping Tom eyes... stripes – fine and borrowed from menswear – or big and bold like deckchairs on the 1930s' French Riviera.... Whichever way one chooses to look at it, this is no season for the Plain Jane. Instead, be brave and bold and allow your wardrobe to explode into pattern, resting safe in the knowledge that you are in the finest fashion company. Prada, Givenchy, Miu Miu, Giles, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga... the list goes on. Unless in the cleverest of hands, busy does not always mean beautiful. There is nothing the dedicated follower loves more than a challenge, however, and there's an awful lot to choose from. Your preference may be for witty, pretty naivety or for more purely pastoral motifs. Graphic prints too are here, there and everywhere. Mix and match prints, wear one printed piece with plain coloured designs or pay lip service to this, the spring statement par excellence, via any number of printed accessories.

Seventies

From Jodie Foster as the pre-pubescent lead in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver at Marc Jacobs to a wild, proudly pagan princess at Alexander McQueen and from a chic, Parisian grande dame at Yves Saint Laurent to Fiorucci-inspired bright young things at D&G, the 1970s is the decade to see and be seen referencing this summer. The cultural implications of such a nostalgia-fest are not difficult to fathom – these are easy, optimistic clothes for women who like to move freely in their wardrobes and cheer the rest of the planet up while so-doing. Diaphanous looks – everywhere from Topshop Unique to MaxMara – are as relaxed as they are glamourous. Platform-soled wedges, high-waisted culottes, midi and maxi-skirts, arts and crafts detailing, waistcoats and slightly off, clashing colour also nod to this decade, as do floral prints, feathers and more than a few fragile butterflies. Flower Power meets chic boutique meets disco – Boogie Nights hair and make-up optional.

White

If black remains the fashion industry's non-colour of choice, white takes its place this spring if only in the fevered imaginations of the world's finest designers. It's a lovely idea to be sure, as Dolce & Gabbana's Milan showing of sweet lacy looks, which were white almost from start to finish, went to prove. Phoebe Philo's elegantly oversized collection for Céline is as pale and interesting as anyone could wish for. White features too at Comme des Garçons, Viktor & Rolf (where the white shirt is the leitmotif of the collection), Hussein Chalayan, Chloe and Dries Van Noten, where an oversized cream jacket, white chiffon shirt and roomy tie-waisted trousers are as coolly elegant as any woman could wish for. This is not the most pragmatic of colour choices, obviously, but since when did fashion have to be practical? A little touch of whimsy, of innocence over experience, is a sight for sore eyes even if the cleaning bill that entails makes them slightly less uplifting.

Long

If the story of the first decade of the new millennium was the short, tight cocktail dress, preferably embellished to the maximum with beading, bows and embroidery, then the latest new look is long. The 1970s' midi-skirt that made a comeback last season is more prevalent still this one. More dramatic – and often more lovely for it – is the full-length skirt seen here at Jil Sander where violently coloured and elaborately cut bottom halves seemed all the more modern for the plain white T-shirt worn on top. At Givenchy a long, straight skirt was crafted in chiffon. Attached to narrowly tailored jackets, this does much for the long and lean of limb. Rick Owens, Haider Ackermann and Ann Demeulemeester are all aficionados where this particular silhouette is concerned. A dark and romantic appeal is guaranteed. Ditto: Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons, Tao and Junya Watanabe. The great Japanese designers have long been aware of the fact that there is elegance and subtle eroticism to be found here that is rather more interesting and less obvious than exposing the female form.

Feathers, fringing and tassels

While surface embellishment is, for the most part, conspicuous in its absence – who needs it, after all, what with all the colour, pattern and print on display? – the exception that proves the rule is more fringing than has been seen for some time. Feathers replaced the yeti fur trim that stole the Chanel show last season, fluttering across the surface of everything from delicate pastel-coloured and decidedly fluffy frocks to the famous bouclé wool suit. Woven raffia and straw spoke of woman as corn doll at Alexander McQueen, where natural fabrics – and, indeed, just nature – was embraced with raw edges on display for all to see. Add to this Mark Fast's dramatically tasselled knitwear, fringing with a Gothic flavour at Givenchy, beaded fringing, disco-dolly style at Louis Vuitton, a softer, more romantic take on the theme at John Galliano and Seventies-inspired fringing in glorious jewel colours at Gucci and also at Ralph Lauren, Versace and more.

Rock'n'roll

Red carpet glamour may have ruled the runways for the past decade but it's now as tired as many of the less-than-scintillating people who wear it. Instead, the symbiotic relationship between fashion and music is currently ripe for reappraisal. The general rule: fashion affords the music world's superstars maximum sartorial fabulousness; the music world amplifies the power of fashion, communicating its message to a whole new audience by return. The evidence: Joan Jet wigs, tattooed dresses finished with spider-web harnessing and tough leather jackets at Marios Schwab; full-on glamour Angie Bowie-style – think patent hobble skirts, sharp chiffon and killer heels – at Richard Nicoll. At Balenciaga, mods, rockers and more music-inspired tribes were re-invented by designer Nicolas Ghesquière to thoroughly modern and refreshingly youthful effect. Even the set at the Miu Miu show in Paris sprang from this particular dynamic – an X Factor soundtrack and unforgiving spot-lighting spoke of a world where every facet of a woman and her wardrobe is on display at all times. And what a wardrobe: jewel-coloured, printed satin dresses offset against oversized leather biker jackets inlaid with stylised stars and flowers.

Minimalism

If, over the past 12 months, Phoebe Philo's Céline has proved among the world's most influential labels, that looks set to continue as the minimal good looks that this designer has brought back into the spotlight continues to flourish. True, this aesthetic, often described as being aimed at real women, is in fact best worn by the preternaturally willowy. A more relaxed view can be found at Hannah MacGibbon's Chloé, where pristine white jersey and full, pleated skirts appear pure as the driven alongside the prevailing maximal mood. For all its eye-popping colour, meanwhile, the no-nonsense, masculine-inspired silhouette on display at Prada harks back to that label's uniform heart. The boxy tunic (in unwashed denim or stiff canvas) all present and correct at the aforementioned Céline and also prominent at Stella McCartney and Dries Van Noten is guaranteed to make it onto a high street near you soon, This, then, is the new kid on the block where this particular look is concerned.

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