Ready to Wear: Even on the red carpet knee-length and understated looks modern

By Susannah Frankel

Men. Don't you just love them. I was having breakfast with a friend (male) over the bank holiday weekend who chose, upon arrival and rushing in where angels fear to tread, to opine:

"Aren't you a bit over-dressed?"

Realising, in a split second, (or at least when a cold wind blew through the location in question) that this was the wrong thing to say, he attempted to recover himself.

"It's just that..." (gesticulating anxiously, apparently suggesting flounciness) "... that laciness - what's it called?"

The word he was searching for was, in fact, nothing more mystifying than "chiffon". I was wearing a black crepe dress with a small but far from obtrusive strip of chiffon at the neckline and edging the sleeves. Apart from that, the garment in question was entirely simple – no fishtail, festooning, sparkle, whatever. This was not something that might justifiably be described as a showgirl moment.

Any embarrassment over and done with – it's amazing what eggs Benedict can do for a girl, even a girl who just been subjected to an outrageous slur on her fashion capabilities – the conversation was nothing if not testimony to the erosion of any strict dress codes over the years.

Today – and this can only be a good thing – everything from tuxedo jackets to sequinned leggings may be worn any time, anywhere. In a similar vein, black tie no longer constitutes wearing a floor-length gown, although a woman can if she wants to. Even on the red carpet, knee-length and understated appears more modern, however.

There are various reasons behind this turn of events which has been evolving steadily for years – since the 1960s, in fact – but fashion's current love affair with attaching what might previously have been thought of as elaborate trim to humble garments is perhaps most obviously attributable to one man in particular: Alber Elbaz at Lanvin (collection, pictured right.)

M Elbaz's raison d'etre is to invest his clothes with emotion – not to mention an unusual degree of consideration for any wearer. This viewpoint is predominantly played out by appropriating couture staples – crystal, pearls, ribbon and, of course, chiffon – to pieces that are far from obviously occasionwear, a word with archaic connotations. Elbaz attaches jewelled buttons to a black cashmere cardigan, diamante brooches and fluttering silk ties to rain coats and a whisper of gauzy silk to a T-shirt dress making such combinations seem as effortless and correct as, well, as soft-boiled eggs and hollandaise sauce spilling sunnily over a toasted muffin, neatly enough.

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