In the early days of fall, when the rumblings signaling the collapse of the American banking system were still barely audible, the feathered headpiece trend among the fashion forward was in full swing. Spawned by the Parisian couture shows in July, fueled by street vendors in New York’s SoHo district, and championed by Kenley Collins of Project Runway fame, the smaller-than-a-cocktail-hat accessory soon appeared on well-dressed heads everywhere. However, the emerging trend disappeared almost instantly with the first major dips in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Could it be that the fashion elite were suddenly afraid of being compared to Marie Antoinette’s coterie of â€œfeatherheadsâ€, those extravagant courtiers whose feathered headpieces fluttered as the Ancien Regime collapsed around them? Has frivolity fled fashion as our economy enters recession?
Dark times call for dark fashion – and I don’t mean the Goth-inspired looks from the runways that tweens everywhere are emulating in the aftermath of the long-awaited teen vampire romance Twilight. I mean that the very same woman who normally pushes the fashion envelope is now trooping around the city in a plain dark unadorned coat looking as drab as a soldier in Mao’s army. But if you look closely, you may notice that she doesn’t seem as depressed as you would expect someone suffering from fashion withdrawal to be. Why is that you ask? Because, my friends, luxury has gone underground. You see a woman wearing a plain black turtleneck under a plain black cloth coat, both of which she swears are H&M or Zara or Banana Republic or (gasp) Gap. Hmmmâ€¦ to the true runway addict doesn’t that turtleneck look suspiciously like the six ply cashmere one from Loro Piana? And when she took her coat off, didn’t you see a â€œJâ€ on the label – as in â€œJil Sanderâ€?
Luxury addicts in major cities are eschewing designer logos, the signature prints and fabrics of the season, and opulent embellishment in favor of quiet personal luxury. In the brutally cold winter after September 11th, starved for luxury yet not wanting to appear an extravagantly conspicuous consumer, I splurged on a 10 ply cashmere hoodie from Marc Jacobs. To the rest of the world, it appeared to be just another non-descript functional piece of clothing for layering. To me, it fed all my personal needs for luxury in my daily life without screaming to the world its provenance – or its extravagant cost.
In a previous column, I promised to review the extravagant Milanese collections we all love – and I will in the hopefully more joyous days leading up to New Year’s. For now, I would like take you on a brief tour of your options in understated Milanese fashion. Don’t let the lean silhouettes and scarcity of adornment fool you, these designs are ultraluxurious – if only to the wearer.
First up, Jil Sander. For Spring Summer 2009, Raf Simmons designed a collection that was true to the Jil Sander aesthetic of a stark black-and-white color palette and clean geometric lines. Put on any one of these dresses and you’ll instantly feel the confidence of great design and still look absolutely correct in these lean times.
For Spring Summer 09, Gianfranco Ferre‘s designers explored the basic geometry of the circle, the triangle, and the square, offering a collection that is fundamentally simple yet utterly exquisite. If all the black and white starts to get to you, feel free to spice it up with some gray, and some really beautiful design.
Costume National‘s collection may have been inspired by conceptual architecture, but the beauty of the clothes is firmly grounded in reality. One look at the beautiful fabrics and the clean lines and you’ll be sold. You can appear to be socially conscious to the outside world and still feed your very personal needs for luxurious fabrics and beautifully constructed clothes.
If you feel you absolutely must dress plainly until â€œHappy days are here againâ€, then at least treat yourself to some personal luxury. You may think you’re the only one who knows, but, if you pay attention when you walk down the street, that woman in the nondescript – yet somehow luxurious – outfit may give you a knowing glance. I know I will.
1. Kristen Dunst as Marie Antoinette
2. Kenley Collins, Project Runway
3. Jil Sander Fall 2008 RTW
4. Jil Sander Spring 2009 RTW
5. Gianfranco Ferre Spring 2009 RTW
6. Gianfranco Ferre Spring 2009 RTW
7. Costume National Spring 2009 RTW