Modesty reigned on the world's catwalks this month
By Charlie Gowans-Eglinton, senior fashion editor, The Telegraph
Saint Laurent AW18
The final stop on the fashion week flight-path, Paris, is the city in which trends that began to emerge in the cities before either crystallise or disappear. Goliath fashion houses like Dior, Saint Laurent, Valentino and Celine have the clout to set the style agenda for the coming season: and for AW18, the field was split into two camps, the modest and the sexy: fashion’s roundheads and cavaliers.
Leading the cavaliers was Saint Laurent. This is a brand known for an overtly sexy aesthetic, from that slinky and subversive Le Smoking suit back in 1966 to the modern pillars of stilettos, miniskirts and a palette of black on black on black. But fashion has changed drastically in the last few months, and while creative director Anthony Vaccarello’s palette might have suited the 'Time’s Up' all-black red carpet movement, his super-short and fitted design looked far from empowering.
With Hollywood red carpets becoming protest marches post the Weinstein scandal, and new allegations against photographers, stylists and and designers in the fashion industry being levied near-constantly, any show of sexiness can strike the wrong chord, as Jennifer Lawrence found out last month when the black Versace dress - with plunging neckline and thigh-high split - she chose for an outdoor photocall was deemed sexist in the context of her coat-wearing male co-stars.
Does overt sexiness still have a place in fashion? And can ‘sexy’ still be unshackling? Time’s Up, alongside the #MeToo social media campaign, may have a wider affect on women’s fashion.
Personally, I don’t cover up for religious or cultural reasons, but aesthetic ones. I’ve never liked my upper arms - and I’m not alone, if the recent invention of ‘arm tights’ is anything to go by: apparently, Spanx created arm-sculpters in answer to “overwhelming consumer demand”. So while we might not consciously dress modestly, we certainly gravitate towards those pieces that hide what we want hidden. As more designers embrace modest silhouettes - and they in turn percolate down to the high street - it means that women have more options to choose from than the above-knee and strapless dresses that used to dominate the shops - though should you want those, there are lots of good options, too. “I think designers are certainly reaching a point of extremes,” agrees Lisa Aiken, retail fashion director at Net-A-Porter, “but we, the customers, are simultaneously embracing both sides.”
Givenchy is known for a certain gothic sultriness, but even here there were signs of a shift. For her sophomore collection for the brand, Clare Waight Keller brought some of the softness that she was known for in her time at Chloe to Givenchy’s signature black leather and lace. Looser, more oversized silhouettes and slightly masculine tailoring still felt sexy without revealing too much.
Isabel Marant AW18
Even from the sexiest of brands there were some nods to the realities of women’s lives, albeit small ones. Chunky platform ankle boots at Saint Laurent and cowboy boots at Isabel Marant meant models marched rather than teetered, and strong 80s shoulders lent power to the skimpiest of dresses. Layered under micro-mini dresses made of holographic plastic, Balmain’s addition of opaque black tights read as a last minute concession to practicality and modernity. Flat shoes dominated as Karl Lagerfeld paired brogues with everything from boucle skirt suits to tulle evening dresses and opera gloves (read Lisa Armstrong’s review here) and Stella McCartney showed lace dresses with slip-on skate shoes.
In the roundhead corner, chaste-verging-on-puritanical approaches to colour and cut could be seen nowhere so much as Valentino. While high collars and ankle-length hems are pillars of this uber-feminine brand, they are usually imagined in ethereal tulle, silk or lace. The latest incarnations are made instead in thick, opaque crepes in single block colours bare of any embellishment. Falling in heavy folds to the floor, caped dresses took on the severe austerity of clerical robes. In blue and red, they could have passed for costumes in 2017’s The Handmaid’s Tale, while caped coats, with extra fabric adding volume, conjured up memories of fairy-tale innocents. At Giambattista Valli, a floor-length cardinal red dress layered over a white collar suggested papal robes.
Giambattista Valli AW18
This literal interpretation of modesty could be a cynical bid for middle-eastern shoppers - but it could also be Pierpaolo Piccioli et al’s slightly clumsy way of saying that you don’t have to get it all out to be sexy.
“For the more feminine and demure customer, we love the trend of scarves being draped over your hair and tied under your chin – it’s very reminiscent of the queen,” says Natalie Kingham, fashion and buying director at MatchesFashion.com. “There hasn’t been a strong trend in headgear for a while but it is a big focus for AW18, from hoods at Preen and Maison Martin Margiela to beautiful Swiss doll veils at Erdem, it’s one of the most directional trends of the season. Gucci who showcased a full spectrum of headwear from knitted balaclavas and Russian babushka headscarves to crystal headpieces and reworked hijabs.”
This can also be boiled down to profit: the more pieces you layer on to models on a catwalk, the more consumers will want to buy. It’s a business model that Gucci has followed to great effect over the last few years - those entry-level priced accessories helped them to raise sales 45% in the last quarter of 2017, contributing to owner Kering’s most profitable year on record.
Certainly fashion has begun to recognise the spending power of the wealthy - and growing - middle eastern market. Last year saw the launch of e-tailer TheModist.com, a “luxury style destination dedicated to dressing modestly.” Stocking brands like Ganni, Joseph and Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, the edit often overlaps with larger competitors like Net-A-Porter and Matches, but excludes the more revealing or overtly sexy pieces from those designers. Their largest market is the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - though as the USA and UK rank second and third, it’s roughly a 50-50 divide between the Middle Eastern woman and the Western woman.
“Modest dressing has become a trend across the board,” says Aiken; “our customers globally have fully embraced it and we predict it’s here to stay.” Rather than being seen as a ‘trend’, and underlining modesty has begun to creep into everyday wardrobe staples - mid-length skirts now account for more than half of all skirt sales on the site. “And the trend has taken over in terms of styling, whether it’s layering a turtleneck under a shirt or a slip dress over a t-shirt – we’re seeing everyday pieces worn in very modest ways.”
By way of Telegraph.co.uk (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/fashion/style/modesty-reigned-worlds-catwalks-month-now-sexy-staging-comeback/)