Observations on the most important fashion of next season, and the histories behind them

Twice a year, we raid our wardrobes for our best designer duds, stack on the heels, and ceremoniously race around New York, London, Milan, and Paris – all in breathless anticipation of next season’s collections. While each fashion capital has its own distinct personality, the collective vision of designers seasonally gear towards a general direction; giving us the colours, silhouettes, and key pieces for the upcoming season. What we lovingly refer to as trends, while originally operating as a driving tool to urge the capitalist wheel of fashion, also inform the industry’s aesthetic, and serve as a reflection of the shared consciousness of both past and present.

It seems that in 2017, when this shared consciousness is growing bleaker, people are turning to fashion as a reprieve from such dark and ominous times. Similarly, designers are also turning to escapism for the upcoming spring. Whether it is the play on colours, the sensuality of sheer, the mysterious allure of the orient, the nostalgia of old world femininity, or the resurgence of British tailoring; the trends of spring 2018 paint a picture of the industry’s outlook of the future. One that is grounded in the past, yet deliberately directed away from reality.

Old World Femininity

Two years after the war, Christian Dior revolutionised the fashion world with his iconic New Look. The term started as a throwaway line from then Harper’s Bazaar Editor-in-Chief, Carmel Snow, whom after seeing his latest collection exclaimed that it had a “New Look”. Considering that the world had just come out of years of stifling austerity and fabric rations, Dior’s tiny cinched waists, indulgent full skirts, and sculpted bodices — have since defined the ideal woman’s figure for generations to come. The women of Dior’s New Look and the artists that were inspired by them, have created an iconography of femininity that resonates to this day. One of these artists is famed lifestyle photographer Slim Aarons, who also found reprieve after the war by photographing these muses in picturesque locations all over the world, from the Hamptons to the Southern coast of Italy. His stylish photographs immediately call back to the glamour of that era, and serve as a striking reference point for several designers this season.

I suppose that with today’s penchant for ripped jeans, and the lazy ease of athleisure, that designers yearn for the spectacle of old world femininity. Markus Lupfer presented some beautiful maximalist printed shirt dresses, cinched at the waists and featuring the very familiar pleated full skirts, turbans, and oversized sunglasses of the fifties and sixties. Alice Temperley transformed Lindley Hall into the French Riviera, presenting ultra-feminine bustier dresses with fluttering sorbet tulle skirts. Jacquemus also took us to the south of France, with oversized straw hats and brightly coloured cut-out maillots — a visual that could have been lifted from any one of Slim Aarons’ photographs. Finally, the strong sculpted shoulders and full skirts at Fendi – presented an ultra-luxe version of the tailored ladies skirt suit for 2018. While still jumping off from the original T-bar jacket of the New Look fame. All of which glorify that sultry hourglass shape, albeit adapted for a different generation of muses.

Neo-Oriental

I remember being in fashion school in Paris in 2013, a lone Asian girl amongst chic Parisians, when the last iteration of Orientalism took over the runways. The familiar brocades of the red silk Chinese cheongsams worn in the standard cultural presentations of my youth — were now being utilised by luxury powerhouses such as Prada, Emilio Pucci, and even Ralph Lauren. Back then, as my world was opening to the intricacies of the fashion business, my eyes were also being opened to the allure of the proverbial oriental otherness. I suppose the allure of this “otherness” is the same now in 2017 as it was then and even as far back as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. When Western traders explored the silk road, bringing back exotic decorative arts, sumptuous textiles, and an enchanting foreignness that has continued to be a constant source of inspiration in Western culture up to this day.

Five years later, and a new wave of orientalism has once again hit the runways of the fashion capi-tals, albeit one that has taken a less decorative route than its predecessor. For spring 2018, the orientalism trend is centred on the movement of fabrics, rather than their embellishment. Eastern fashion has historically been the anti-thesis of tailoring; focusing on the beauty of the fabric itself rather than the construction surrounding it. Isa Arfen for example, was inspired by the concept of wabi-sabi, or the concept of finding beauty and acceptance in broken things. Presenting a rather minimal spring offering with airy ramie muslin frocks, diaphanous shirt dresses, and Kabuki inspired outerwear. The often ornamental design duo behind Peter Pilotto, travelled to Okinawa and brought back some wonderful striped pastel prints inspired by ikebana, or the Japanese art of flower arrangement. 

Draped silky kimono sleeves, fluttering handkerchief hems, and a delicate burnout lotus pattern on some lovely pastel frocks were distinctly Peter Pilotto, yet also surprisingly restrained. Finally, Goga Ashkenazi at Vionnet, presented the familiar drapes of a Japanese Robe in ethereal minty hues, along with some carefully placed obi belts, and Yukata inspired evening wear. And while orientalism in fashion is a trend that will never quite lose its power, I suppose this is a version that I can indulge. Mainly because it presents a deeper understanding of Eastern dress — one that isn’t characterised by directionless decoration.

Modern British Tailoring

Tailoring is an undeniably British Institution, one that originally began as a byproduct of war but is now epitomised by the worldwide prestige of Savile Row. The defined shoulders, structured fit, stiff canvas, and wide chest of the British suit have become synonymous with Savile Row tailoring; and put the much-celebrated street on the world stage. In those days, a well-made bespoke suit was indicative of a person’s class and nobility. Savile Row was not just the most prestigious tailoring institution in the world, it also had the most impressive clientele; which included Winston Churchill, Napoleon III, and countless members of European Royalty. In recent years however, British tailoring has undergone various revivals. In the 1980s a new wave of tailors arrived on the scene and modernised the way the traditional Savile Row workshops operated. Eighties power-dressing and the boom of global consumerism transformed tailoring into a uniform for the twentieth century working class. Today, tailoring is not only reserved for the upper echelons of society; and with the democratisation of its clienteles comes the call for a more creative approach to suiting. For spring 2018, designers have reinvented the elements of a well tailored suit in ways that are both novel and extremely innovative.

Let’s start of with Eudon Choi, who was inspired by the modernist architecture of Eileen Gray’s E-1027 House, and translated this avant-garde inspiration into boxy oversized suit separates in bright check and gingham patterns. His dinner jacket was spliced and diced, with subtle vents accented with large white buttons; and his billowing plaid trousers were tapered at the heel. The trench coats were painted in bold blocks of colour, ruched, pulled, and curved on the shoulder – more proof that the classic trench has become the new daring of the tailoring world. Antonio Berardi, who has always been an expert at super slick tailoring, opened his spring 2018 show with a series of Prince of Wales check pant-suits and outerwear options, decorated with colour blocked patches in white, black, khaki, and blush. The effect was a visceral reinterpretation of suiting that oozed with Berardi’s Italian style. Over at the Southwark Cathedral, Toga literally turned the traditional pinstripe trouser suit inside out, exposing seams and silk linings, chopped up in crazy proportions, and combined with see-through PVC layers. Synthetic fabrics have really been put in the spotlight this season, most especially in plastic macs and trenches. Toga’s version of the plastic double-breasted mac was painted over with black in a gradient effect and worn over wide-leg denim trousers. This kooky reconstruction carried over to the shirting which pulled and contorted in every which way. Overhauling traditionally masculine work wear with refreshing originality.

On the other end of the spectrum, other designers took a different route and gave traditional British tailoring a feminine touch. Mulberry’s Johnny Coca transported his Paris presentation to an English Garden, creating a collection inspired by the quintessential English Rose. His selection of languid linen trouser suits were worn with voluminous floral headpieces worthy of the royal millinery. The light colour palette of pastel hues and delicate floral prints, presented a breezy approach to spring suiting, with a vast selection of truly stellar accessories. Finally, Erdem Moralıoğlu paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth II with his spring collection, taking the lavish brocades of Her royal wardrobe and transforming them into feminine coats and dresses in bright sorbet tones. Here, heritage checks takes a feminine turn, with outerwear that was frayed at the edges and cinched at the waist, and worn over some delightfully decorative Jacquard mules. A fitting tribute to Her Majesty, and a beautifully regal interpretation of one of Britain’s greatest exports in the fashion world — tailoring.

Mystical Sheer

Its hard to forget a first look that is so intentionally symbolic. This season, Preen by Thornton Bregazzi presented a deconstructed all white first look, brandishing the familiar embroidered scarlet A from The Scarlet Letter. Most of us know the narrative behind Hester Pynne’s tragic and eventual dismissal from puritan society; and regard The Scarlet Letter as one of the first commentaries on the repression of female sexuality. In the book, the female body is almost vilified, and women are expected to be both chaste and pliant. It is unfortunate then, that in the two hundred years since the book’s original publication, that women are still facing the same kind of prejudices against their own bodies. Body Positive movements like Free the nipple, and the Naked March seek to take back control or the self — and in its own way, in fashion this is evidenced by the scandalous appeal

of the Naked Dress. Originally popularised by Marilyn Monroe, and more recently by Rose McGowan and Rihanna, the allure of sheer dressing rests in its inherent contradiction. A play on transparency and layering, exploring how fabric can cover the body while also revealing it.

Returning to Preen, who took the inspiration and presented a series of wonderfully floaty sheer dresses in varying transparencies; from asymmetric ruched lamé dresses sensually clinging to the body, to the gently ruffled silk organza numbers. Ashish presented a somber vision. Filled with glit-tering sheer diamante pieces in a specially commissioned embroidered lace fabric from New Delhi. His witchy coven of models walked down his black runway in hypnotising see-through column dresses in signature Ashish Diamante. Newcomer Tuğcan Dökmen quite literally wrapped the Lan-caster Rooms in clear plastic, and presented a marvellously mythical collection that was as sheer as it could get. Utilising different shades of overlaying tulle to create dazzling colour combinations and even dreamier dresses – exposing the body in endless variations. At Rodarte, we see the delicate strength of countless Victorian references, ruffled high-necked collars, and sheer floor length lace dresses — gratuitously decorated with everything from golden bows to baby’s breath. Osman transformed tulle into a vision of sultry loungewear. See through tulle tops, and robes with con-trasting feathered trim, were absolute decadence. An ode to the massive wave of indulgent textured fringing that has graced plenty a runway this season. It was like a collection that could be worn by a malevolent divorcee in a noir film. Nude turtlenecks with bejewelled embroideries create for wonderfully sheer wardrobe that breathes both class and sensuality. All great reasons to invest in a partially sheer wardrobe for next season. And while fashion is certainly taking leaps into the future, it seems that women’s bodies will always be controversial. At least we can rest assured that come springtime, we will have countless ways to scandalise — sartorially of course.

Jewel toned Colour-block

Colour is a language. A language that has informed both fashion and art since time immemorial. In the 1940s, a branch of abstract expressionists championed by artists such as Mark Rothko, Clifford Still, and Bartnett Newman – moved the art world away from the figurative and into the expressive world of colour. The colour field movement transformed how artists viewed the canvas, by combining foreground and background into one field. Characterised by the use of bold and contrasting colours, the Colour Field artists forever changed how we view colour. In fashion, the concept of colour blocking was first introduced with Yves Saint Laurent’s iconic Mondrian Dress, inspired by Piet Mondrian’s equally iconic work of art. This dress served as the inspiration for countless designers to come, forever imprinting Mondrian’s De Stijl philosophy into modern pop culture. The post-war mentality of the 1960s was the perfect backdrop for colour blocking to come to fruition. Designers like Mary Quant and Andre Courrèges popularised sixties mod style with colour blocking at the forefront of the aesthetic. An aesthetic that has become representative of the decade up until today.

For spring 2018, colour blocking takes a modern turn with designers opting for tonal jewel and ice-cream colour combinations. Roksanda takes wonderful gathered silk tunics and handkerchief hemmed dresses in contrasting blush and fuchsia hues. Dreamy colour-blocked outerwear was accessorised with contrasting leather purses and mules for a collection that was both punchy and romantic. Solace London’s first runway show in New York focused simply on colour and textile — combining delectable patent leather trousers and outerwear with sumptuous jewel toned knitwear and ruched silk dresses. Their opulent colour palette included lush camel tones, burnt sienna, and a dusty millennial pink that appeared in beautiful lurex body-con dresses, and high volume ruffled tops and skirts. Rejina Pyo presented a blush and burgundy colour combination on a serpentine mid-length gathered dress, and an oversized balloon sleeved shirt and skirt combo in striking red and blue. Her beautiful spring presentation included several lo-fi looks that were not only impeccably constructed, but also came in a spectrum of brilliant hues. Current industry obsession, Sies Marjan, takes colour blocking to new heights, with a collection that blends contemporary streetwear with a quirky preppiness all in a bright rainbow colour palette. Pastel knitwear, effortless draped column dresses, and breezy metallic tailored numbers, served as a wonderful canvas for Sander Lak’s natural eye for colour. Overall, colour blocking is a refreshing trend for 2018 that expresses not just the joys of the past — but also a much needed hopeful disposition for the future.

Words by Hannah Tan 

Hannah has been working in the fashion industry for over five years. She graduated at the top of her class in ESMOD Paris with a Masters Degree in Fashion Business; and has experiences in everything from feature writing to editorial. Having worked for leading fashion publications such as Vogue and TWENTY6Magazine, she has become a force in the London fashion scene. A mainstay at London Fashion Week, Hannah not only has heaps of insider fashion knowledge, but a genuine understanding of the essentials of style.