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The perfect combination of function and style: Felipe Oliveira Baptista (photo left, in the middle) and Burberry (photo right). Photo © IMAXtree.com
Functional, with style
by Silke Bücker
11/20/2013

Always on the go. Permanent interaction in the real and virtual worlds, forever online, ever less downtime – these are all attributes of the globalized, mobility-driven world we live in. A world where the oft-cited “to-go” mentality more than ever expects us to be as flexible as possible, which sends our need for niches for relaxation spiraling. Needless to say, fashion also reflects this zeitgeist, and it’s easy to see why: If everyday life constrains us so strongly while grotesquely promising us maximum freedom, then our clothes need to take these diverse requirements into account.

In the comfort zone

One requirement facing today’s fashion-makers is to find the perfect combination of function and style. As a result, not just can we sense sports influences in an above-average number of the designers’ visions for summer 2014, there’s also a new interpretation of elegance afoot, increasingly along with an emphasis on comfort. Take Felipe Oliveira Baptista: He persuasively shows how casually and expansively the essentially strict uniform style can be interpreted. Instead of typical khaki or navy blue, Lacoste’s head designer prefers fresh spring pastel greens and summery sky blues for his own collection. His opulent maxis garnish the female silhouette and reference their origins in military clothing solely by intimated breast pockets, collars on the blouses, and draped belts.

And it’s not just Baptista who evidently emphasizes the feel-good factor. For Hermès Christophe Lemaire opts for a casually elegant interpretation of femininity that takes the shape of suits with androgynous lines or leisure shirt-and-skirt combinations where the very choice of materials (brushed silk, linen and velour leathers) exudes a luxurious appeal.

Max Mara’s creations draw on classy loungewear for their inspiration: Semi-transparent layer-looks or slinky-satin slip-on dresses flutter along the line between homewear and outerwear, reflecting the fluid transitions between the different domains.

Christopher Bailey at Burberry pulls of a surprise for summer 2014 with a changed view of women: In recent seasons he’s preferred stiff, eccentric materials, not to mention Pop-like gleaming plastic for his sharp-cut trench-coats. And now the label’s very heart is tailored from especially soft cashmere, consciously casual and expansive. And in addition to trench coats, there are deconstructed cardigans and jackets with a divine soft touch, like the colors that Bailey chooses for his gentlewomen. His delicate lace and transparent fashions boast powdery ice-cream colors, whereby a dash of flecked gray and warm camel tones keeps them from becoming saccharine.

New tones quietly emerging

On the question of color: Has anything notably new happened in the wake of all the catwalks having truly been bathed in color, not that this made any real mark on everyday looks in the street?

Alongside the now almost obligatory use of seasonal pastels and nude nuances, epic black-and-whites, and color accents, slowly but surely were seeing a new palette emerge. The key collection here is once again Hermès. Head designer Lemaire serves up virtuoso color blends that are as good as impossible to name and yet seem so very familiar. He combines an oily pine-green with ochers dipped in orange, pistachio greens with royal blues or violet and petrol. And even presents fresh color blocks of white, vanilla and peach, orchestrating a fine dialog between a creamy eggshell white, golden sand, and off-white.

Fabric of tomorrow

The ever more complex use of fabrics seems to be just as promising as the subtle color hues. For example at Sacai, where designer Chitose Abe sets new standards with her interpretation of “Sport Couture”. Abe comes up with an unconventional mix of silks with flower prints and sporting sweat jersey or transparent chiffons with knitwear, gives unisex sweaters a small coy frilly collar or dreams up fairytale-like blouse dresses in sharp As – made of functional meshware and parachute silk no less. In short, Abe skilfully combines the insignia of an almost clichéd female wardrobe with eye-catching sportswear elements, championing a look that squares up to the needs of modern female consumers.

Once again it’s Miuccia Prada who proves that there are no limits to an unconventional mélange of materials today when it comes to presenting femininity in forever new and marvelously playful versions. Her key to success: fashion with an ironic twinkle, an almost political touch. Prada sent a swirl of colorful looks unrivalled in their idiosyncrasy parading down the catwalks, oscillating between couture and active wear. The cuts were based on 1970s T-shirt frocks, in part with integrated bras in a tromp-l’oeil vein – and decorated they were with sparkling rhinestones bordering on kitsch and a splash of applied flowery blossoms, and combined with football socks and trekking sandals. It is a collection destined to make a splash, most definitely meant as an ironic exaggeration of contemporary fashion ideas. And Prada would not be Prada if it did not garnish its fascinatingly abstruse orchestration with a feminist message: The portraits of women on the clothes and coats reference politically motivated street art in South America that attacks the oppression of the local female population.

Trailblazing experiments with materials

While over the last four decades Miuccia Prada has done much to move fashion forward, it is now a new generation of designers, most of them residing in London, who are daring to gaze out into the big wide world.

More experiment than pret-à-porter – at least in the extreme forms on show – is probably the best way to describe what the two up-and-coming Brit-talents J.W. Anderson and Simone Rocha presented as garments for next summer. Anderson is renowned for his unconventional gender studies and now he’s firmly focused on the line between stability and fragility, the oppositions of exposed promiscuity and rigid, almost sculptural shrouding. He thus combines nylon and pleated artificial leather with gossamer organza and untreated linen, transforming the materials into artful drapings, folds and 2D waffle-pattern piqués. In the process, he succeeds in preserving the necessary overall sense of softness so imperative if the results are to culminate in a set of clothes for women.

Simone Rocha’s collection hinges on a similar idea. She cloaks sweet lace in gleaming wet-look cellophane, imbuing the tender fabric with a certain stringency along with real strength and therefore metaphorically emphasizing the image of women today.

On balance, the use of shapes, colors and materials attests to the complex endeavor by a small but important group of creative minds similar to the avant-garde designers of 1980s to nurture meaning in fashion. Where Comme des Garçons throw in the towel and can apparently no longer find something new in fashion after almost 50 years, the newcomers are busy exploring new expressive ideas free of all commercial constraints. Their designs meld past and future, fiction and reality, and seek to express inner sensitivities and a personal view of the world. So there are good grounds for hoping that every new season may still hold a few surprises in store for us.

It’s emotions, not concepts:
The obvious – and not so obvious – statements made by contemporary fashion. Part 1 of the catwalk-analysis.

(15 November 2013)

Changed view of women: Burberry. Photo © IMAXtree.com
Soft colours for Christopher Baileys “gentle woman”. Photo © IMAXtree.com
Classy loungewear at Max Mara. Photo © IMAXtree.com
”Sport Couture” at Sacai. Photo © IMAXtree.com
Hermès takes us by virtuoso color blends … Photo © IMAXtree.com
…on a trip to the jungle. Photo © IMAXtree.com
Latin-American street art at Prada... Photo © IMAXtree.com
... an idiosyncrasy parade. Photo © IMAXtree.com
Between stability and fragility: J.W. Anderson. Photo © IMAXtree.com
Hart with heart… Photo © IMAXtree.com
Material experiments at Simone Rocha. Photo © IMAXtree.com