The Style Police: Ready and wearable
This season's cuddly jumpers, fluid maxi skirts and flat footwear are the first `real' fashions for `real' women this decade. Annalisa Barbieri says this user-friendly elegance wins over trendiness any day
Aside from The Independent, Annalisa Barbieri writes for the Economist's Intelligent Life magazine, and the New Statesman. A former contributing editor of the Independent on Sunday and fishing correspondent of the Independent, she is also patron of Rights of Women
Sunday 13 September 1998
Fashion in the Nineties has been at best confused and at worst completely deranged. We've been through grunge, techno, urban guerrilla, anti-fashion and cold, minimal conceptual fashion. Autumn/winter 98 is genuinely the first time high fashion and real life are totally in synch. Minimalism has eased in to a new, soft modern style. The aesthetic is American and, unsurprisingly, US designers Marc Jacobs, Mark Eisen, Narciso Rodriguez and Michael Kors are dressing the millennial woman in what she wants to wear.
Let's break down the new season and then check the Frumpometer. Primarily, autumn/winter clothes are new. The silhouette has changed more radically than it first appears but the blow has been cushioned by the constant themes like grey, luxe fabrics and even more easy shapes. This season has knocked the stuffing out of tailoring. This doesn't mean the death of the jacket. What it does mean is a look that will genuinely take you through work, rest, play and travel.
It's not essentially a new look. The Americans have always understood the importance of comfort, ease and simplicity in clothing. It is a tradition passed down from Claire McCardell, Zoran, and Halston to Eisen, Jacobs and Kors via Donna, Ralph and Calvin. It's the cashmere sweater thrown over a silk jersey maxi-skirt, a charcoal-grey flannel midi coat that's part jacket, part overcoat. It is the dynamism of a flat shoe as opposed to the heel. It is also quite conservative and inspired by ice-cool Fifth Avenue blondes. We're talking about Grace Kelly, not Sister George.
Ironically, the Mail's war on frump was accompanied by catwalk images of the most extreme slouchy maxi skirts and the big sweaters. These images were really crying wolf when there is nothing to fear from this season's clothes. Don't tell us women find a cashmere sweater and a maxi threatening. Naturally, some women wish to eat, sleep and whatever else in their high heels. When stilettos rose to six inches at Gucci two seasons ago, the same people who call flats frumpy were attacking the stillie as disempowering and debilitating. Come on, guys. It takes more than a pair of shoes to compromise your femininity.
This season owes more to the restraint of the pure American school than the radical Bladerunner crossed with the Palace of Versailles school of young British designers currently weaving their magic at the Paris couture houses. Style Police is actually against British fashion's obsession with the shock of the new. The allure of the purely elegant should be applauded.
We've got a problem in fashion now in that new doesn't necessarily mean good. So when, as with autumn/winter, we are presented with mouth-watering, mature clothes with a considered thought process behind them, the collections are either misunderstood or attacked. For once the designers have given us clothes every woman would mortgage their children to possess. They are not headline-grabbing photo opportunities where the model has a breast hanging out of a sleeve.
At last, here's a coherent, modern take on fashion for the millennium. Women don't want to dress like little girls. Even Geri Halliwell is auctioning the tarty stage costumes she wore in her incarnation as Ginger Spice. Like Geri, fashion has endured the identity crises of the early Nineties and finally grown up. So we've got soft sweaters that hug your body like your first lover, fluid maxi skirts in soft jersey, delicate little flat slipper shoes and easy dresses under crisp grey flannel midi jackets. The fabrics are softer than a caterpillar's thigh and the colours are as muted as a Scottish grouse moor on a misty autumn evening. If that sounds frumpy to you, you clearly have all the sensitivity of asbestos.
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