Downton Fab-y: ladies Mary, Sybil and Edith are still fashion's dames du jour

Still mourning the demise of TV’s greatest hour? Look to spring’s catwalks for a pick me up, says Jack Sunnucks

Jack Sunnucks
Monday 09 May 2016 17:36 BST
Louis Vuitton autumn-winter 2012, JW Anderson spring-summer 2016, Rodarte spring-summer 2016, Gucci spring-summer 2016 (Getty)
Louis Vuitton autumn-winter 2012, JW Anderson spring-summer 2016, Rodarte spring-summer 2016, Gucci spring-summer 2016 (Getty)

It’s been four months since Downton Abbey left our screens, but still our hearts ache for the spiteful aristos in their crumbly, drafty estate. As much as Lady Mary, Edith and Sybil’s frozen facial expressions set a trend for being dreadful to one’s family, friends and inferiors (i.e everyone), their fashions were a point of fascination too. The winter 2012 Louis Vuitton show – the one where models disembarked from a steam-train with mountains of pre-war luggage piled on porters in decided un-PC fashion – was the most extreme example, an ode to the ladies at the height of Downton-mania. That Vuitton show’s stylist, Katie Grand, splashed the then-trio across the cover of her glossy biannual magazine, Love, and dubbed Downton Abbey “a cultural juggernaut”. Not least of that was the costumes the show’s strong female protagonists sported, sparking feverish enthusiasm for embroideries and vintage-look jewellery.

Happily, for spring the fashion industry, ever ravenous for a historical reference, has a plethora of nostalgic balms for a heart empty as a country pile post rise of the dastardly middle classes. London star J.W Anderson showed enormous leg-of-mutton sleeves, perfect for peering over to give a snooty aside ala Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess of Grantham. Anderson anchored his architectural adventures to both 80’s squiggle print suits and flouncy, gothic dresses, as if his models had just attended a wake in an art gallery.

Less confrontational, but just as historically costumed was Simone Rocha’s show. The pink, semi transparent dresses she opened with suggest an innocent, pastoral scene, a picnic with staff in attendance. These are bound however with thick, knitted black sashes – good for subtly commemorating whichever character met a grisly end in the last episode. Rocha is master of the twenties dress length, that mid calf hem that is so often heralded as unflattering but is actually great for anyone who doesn’t want to wear above the knee.

Of course Downton’s real fan base has always been in the USA – something about the frigid emotions and big hats really gets them going. In New York, Rodarte gleefully threw together delicate black lace, high collars and chandelier earrings into a futuristic take on Emily Dickinson. Somehow the Victoriana looked fresh and un-costumey when applied to mini dresses and airily light gowns. Rodarte’s designers, sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy, are exquisite dressmakers, something this show proved once again.

One would be remiss not to mention Gucci, where the current vogue for nostalgia originated. For spring, Alessandro Michele showed a collection perfect for anyone who considers herself even a little bit of a Lady, replete with sequined trompe l’oeil ruffles, and prim little suits perfect for working at Lady Edith’s magazine. Michele even dreamt up dresses printed with charming, faded maps of far flung climes – perfect for finding one’s way in a post Downton world.

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