What is power dressing?

Key looks for autumn/winter 2009 according to Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs, Prada, Balmain and Balenciaga

Susannah Frankel
Saturday 24 October 2009 00:00
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Power dressing. For anyone old enough to remember the 1980s in all its Dynasty/Duran Duran-inspired glory, this entails shoulder pads that are the envy of an American football team, colour so brash it necessitates the wearing of sunglasses and viscose-knit dresses so eye-wateringly tight they come with their very own knickers attached. But while all these elements of the Decade That Subtlety Forgot have been re-visited for autumn/winter 2009, the notion of projecting power through dress today is, of course, a little more complicated than that.

Those enamoured with the Eighties revival will not be disappointed by Balmain designer Christophe Decarnin's re-working of signatures from that era to high-end effect. Marc Jacobs, too, is pushing a proudly triangular silhouette and a palette worthy of vintage Versace. Leggings continue to be the trouser shape to be seen wearing – along, of course, with harem pants, another Eighties favourite. There is at least a certain irony to fashion's continuing love affair with the decade; this is not boom-time, after all.

With status high on the agenda, referencing the mid-20th-century glory days of haute couture is also de rigueur this season. Alexander McQueen's darkly provocative subversion of Dior's houndstooth check resonates. Standing 7ft tall in platform-soled boots, and wearing elaborately conceived tailoring and make-up straight out of Terry Gilliam's Brazil, McQueen's models represent a fractured, fierce view of a feminine ideal that is, quite intentionally, almost impossible to live up to. Wear it if you dare.

Then there's "stealth wealth" – the assertion of power via apparently classic clothing. Little black dresses, trench coats and borrowing from menswear all loom large, with designers putting their individual stamp on to time-honoured staples. Alber Elbaz, fashion's technician par excellence, knows how to project a discreet luxury and emotional content that is unprecedented. Consider also Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquière's take on the draped jersey dress. This is not Diane Von Furstenberg (or at least, only in her dreams). Instead, the print, partly inspired by the Cristobal Balenciaga archive, is nothing short of visionary and the strong, high shoulder is more reminiscent of the Forties silhouette – another era that spoke of sartorial perfection in hard times.

Fashion's avant-garde is again to the fore. While Rei Kawakubo's collection for Comme des Garçons may focus on innocence and softly veiled femininity, it remains confrontationally unconventional. Wear something challenging – and rest safe in the knowledge that power exudes from every stitch of your style.

Finally, there's no place for light-as-a-feather footwear in a power-driven world. The heroine of the day marches through life in boots, be they thigh-, knee-, calf- or ankle-high, vertiginous or flat, biker or army style. Prada's waders look fetching with tweeds – and only a fool would mess with a woman wearing them.

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