New York Fashion Week: Underwear, anywhere - flashers-in-the-pan or third-wave feminists?

Will women buy this round of underwear as outerwear, both literally and ideologically?

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Spring/summer 2016 has begun, hence I'm knee-deep in New York Fashion Week. Thus far, it's been flimsy. I'm not talking, necessarily, ideologically; more physically. Riccardo Tisci presented slithery slip-dresses strung about the body in lace and silk at his Givenchy show; Alexander Wang cut his in satin, clingy and long. Joseph Altuzarra trussed slit and creased dresses with precarious ribbon ties that threatened to unfurl.

Even the starched-to-perfection Victoria Beckham showed duchesse satin dresses hyper-crumpled like unravelled wastepaper balls. It all felt a bit underdressed. Or, maybe, undressed.

Victoria-Beckham.jpg
Victoria Beckham acknowledges audience applause with a rare smile after her Spring 2016 collection was modeled during Fashion Week in New York

That's an idea designers come back to time and time again – of stripping off your top layer, exposing that which is normally hidden. It's transgressive, I guess – at least, it used to be.

It was the late Malcolm McLaren who coined the phrase "underwear as outerwear" in the early Eighties. He was describing a collection he designed with his then business partner Vivienne Westwood, where a quilted satin bra was worn on the outside of a sweatshirt. Gaultier subsequently co-opted it, most famously for Madonna. And incidentally, she's playing Madison Square Garden tomorrow; so maybe that's why New York designers are under-thinking their outerwear for spring?

Madonna is, of course, characterised as the cliché of the empowered woman. At least, she was in a Gaultier corset, conical cups piercing a masculine pinstripe suit, the metaphorical triumph of woman over man, lingerie as liberation after first-wave feminist bra burning. All that.

Reckon those designers care a fig for any of this? I'm not so sure. I'm sure they see slip-dress dressing as new – or at least different. It feels like something we haven't seen since the 1990s, when John Galliano revived the 1920s technique of bias cutting and made it the dominant evening fashion statement of the decade. Stella McCartney's career was based on lace-trimmed lingerie-look stuff – a high-profile example of a school of dressing that had labels specialising in nothing but the stuff, like Colette Dinnigan and Tocca, whose popularity waned as the weather-vane of fashion shifted.

I'd like to give designers the benefit of the doubt, to think it reflects something wider in society, saying something about the recent rise of self-identifying feminists, seeking to challenge our preconceived notions about power dressing. Will women buy this round of underwear as outerwear – both literally, and ideologically? It remains to be seen if other design capitals will corroborate New York's lingerie looks. It may just be a flasher-in-the-pan moment.

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