Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look' / Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Is it because we always want what we can't have?

The notion of “timeless” fashion is a contradiction in terms. The dictionary definition of the word states “that which is not affected by the passage of time or changes in fashion”. So, why, then, does the industry seek to achieve a state which negates its entire existence.

Because we always want what we can’t have, maybe?

That’s a bit of a philosophical starting-point, especially as it came from a trip I made earlier this week to Bicester Village, the Oxfordshire outlet village that has become something of a fashion mecca. I know of one newspaper fashion editor who calls ahead to the Celine store to ensure they have garments that justify a trip (it’s not me – but I’m doing it from now on). Others strip the rails of Prada, Saint Laurent and the newly opened Givenchy boutique clean on a regular basis.

What are they buying? Out-of-season stock, but a lot of the time, it’s the stuff that fashion dubs “timeless”. Things like a really great leather Prada handbag, or a well-cut black Givenchy tuxedo, or the perfect Celine trouser. They’re rolled out season after season, for one reason: people always want them. So why not get them at a discount?

 

An extreme example of that is the Chanel 2.55 – named after the month and year it was designed, it’s still a bestseller, despite prices that hover around £3,000. It’s a style that never goes on sale.

The fact that timelessness is so opposed to the very system of fashion may explain its appeal. If you’re dropping three grand on a bag, you don’t want to feel compelled to chuck it away after six months. Or maybe, after three – or even fewer. Fashion houses such as Dior or Chanel no longer rely on bulky biannual drops of clothing, but multiple deliveries throughout the year. Whenever I talk with CEOs of those companies, they talk about the attraction of the “new”.

However, to make something new, something else must be decreed “old” and discarded in favour of the fresh. Personally, I find something slightly abhorrent about that, especially given how well made high-fashion clothing is.

Luckily, fashion labels are getting the message. I can’t count the times I’ve been confronted with a new “house classic” – meaning they’re hoping to sell a lot of these handbags/shoes/clothes/whatever, for a long, long time. That’s canny. A timeless garment can hang on rails for years – a great return for the brand on the cost of designing it in the first place, and for the consumer buying it, too.

The latter is the important point. Timeless clothes feel like a modern way to dress. New isn’t necessarily good, and old isn’t necessarily bad. Because, in another of those neat paradoxes, a timeless wardrobe will never go out of fashion.

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