Name the top 10 iconic style images of the past 50 years: Bianca Jagger in a plunging blazer on her wedding day to Mick—the epitome of modern sex appeal. Jackie O in a patterned headscarf; prim glamour at its most quixotically pragmatic. John Travolta in a three-piece pantsuit (not that Tony Manero would have called it that). Queen Elizabeth II in any one of her ice-blue outfits. Meryl Streep en safari in Out of Africa. Kate Moss in a trench coat. J. Lo in a green chiffon jungle-print Versace scarf that had somehow been worked into a dress. Well, bullseye because they’re all featured in the spring collections.
I can’t remember a season when so many proven favourites felt like fresh, exciting options. If that sounds paradoxical (how can the tried-and-true seem novel?), welcome to the ingenious twists and turns of fashion in 2020 and the designers who, with tiny incremental tweaks, have refurbished the classic into the classic nouveau.
Let’s start with Hedi Slimane’s CELINE, a 63-look tour of considerable 1970s force. It was everything you sort of recall from the era of glam rock, decadence, boho and hippies, but with a new refinement and an updated sensibility. Think high-waisted flares, sequinned dresses, sculpted jackets with lapels and shoulders so sharp, you wouldn’t want to turn your face too quickly for fear of lacerating your cheeks, deluxe denim and, wait for it, waistcoats.
This key new take-out item hasn’t had this much gas in its tank since Saturday Night Fever. It’s your day-to-night ally for spring. Wear a waistcoat as part of a Burberry three-piece tailored suit; without the blazer for a contoured-jumpsuit effect, as seen at Louis Vuitton; or over a skirt for some Fleetwood Mac R&R, à la Chloé.
You may well have a pantsuit already, but how about a Brunello Cucinelli double- breaster that has its fundamental easy androgyny infused with raspberry softness? For a youth booster, try the season’s shorts suit: boyish and silky at Tod’s, tweedy and flirtatious at Chanel, and microscopic and unashamedly sexual yet chic at Saint Laurent (how do the French do that?).
Maybe we’re all searching for blue-chip reassurance—and a guarantee of longevity. Flash-in-the-pan trends seem out of time: If you’re buying something to last, you need to know that not only will it be standing in five years, but that you’ll love it then as much as you do now. Separates have been re-engineered— waists, on pants and skirts, were raised, gathered or tied (erogenously speaking, it’s all about the waist and a discreet but unabashed flash of leg; see Altuzarra)—and blouses have gone supersonic. At Givenchy, Clare Waight Keller elevated the blouse to diva heights. One of her high-necked, scarf-patterned, balloon-sleeved silk iterations could be the catalyst for a closet shake-up. Pair it with a plain maxi for evenings, or the new culottes for a soft power play on the “un-suit”.
Female strength was a constant shape-shifter on the runways. Designers have embraced the ethos of the new normal, which is that there’s no longer one definitive template for power dressing. The same woman might wear a structured Miu Miu tuxedo dress one day and an ethereal lace Erdem floor sweeper the next. White was the great unifier this season—and you don’t have to be Malcolm Gladwell to arrive at a few social-psychological explanations for why. Suffice to say that while white can be high-maintenance if you need to escort it to the dry-cleaners after every wear, a strappy, sustainably sourced sundress with macramé inserts by Gabriela Hearst, an embroidered sheer-net dress with a tiered skirt from Dior, or one of Prada’s sleeveless, raw-edged silk tunics all feel at once modern and nostalgic, sleek and rustic.
The duality came through most strongly at Alexander McQueen, where Sarah Burton took the finest white Irish linen and beetled it. Don’t know what that means? You’re not alone. Beetling was all the rage a century ago when cloth was beaten by a machine with heavy wooden hammers until the fabric acquired a natural glaze—faux leather, before faux anything was fashionable. Burton then sliced the shiny linen into a “simple” fitted dress with huge leg-o’-mutton sleeves. This is where white got romantic, glamorous and, yes, pragmatic.
There was also something practically glamorous about the safari influence sweeping across the runways. It was everywhere, sometimes literal and full-blown, at other mo ments more subtle. Hermès reworked the multi-pocketed safari jacket in leather- trimmed burgundy. Kate Spade turned it into an appealing white skirt suit. Max Mara buffed safari functionalism into a belted white suit with ankle-skimming tapered pants. Dolce&Gabbana used khaki cottons to dial back the retro vibes on its ultra-contoured tailoring, a noteworthy lesson in how switching the colours and fabrics of your favourite silhouettes can instantly update them (and you).
Speaking of colours, we can’t leave aside spring’s many pastels, from lilac and eau de Nil (less tricky, but only just) to the many hues of light blue in seemingly every collection. Call it The Crown effect, but this go-to shade of Queen Elizabeth II—according to avid royal watchers, she wears it three times as often as any other colour—has surged in popularity on the runways. At Salvatore Ferragamo, Paul Andrew found a power combination by mixing it with bottle green. This blue, it seems, goes with just about every other colour, even those you think it wouldn’t, such as chocolate, lime and chartreuse, and not in a nerve-jangling, clashy way, but with a sophisticated harmony.
As for those powder-puff shades that used to be considered too saccharine? Bottega Veneta’s new wunderkind, Daniel Lee, drizzled the most powdery, puffiest wash of barely there blue throughout his collection, notably in the quilted intreccio shoes and bags. Baby blue now looked as icily sophisticated as it did when Grace Kelly wore a blue chiffon gown and matching scarf to catch a thief 65 years ago. Scarves, incidentally, were everywhere this spring: knotted over the head in the manner of the aforementioned Jackie, threaded through belt loops, fashioned into dresses and halternecks. It’s the easiest way for a commitment phobe to tune in to the season’s leafy botanical patterns.
It’s been 20 years since J. Lo wore that plunging wisp of green chiffon to the Grammys and figuratively broke the Internet, which she no doubt would have done if we knew what that meant then. Instead, there was so much conversation about that outfit—around what we quaintly called “the water cooler” back in the day—that Google felt compelled to create its image-search function in response to it. Now, that’s a dress with impact. And that’s how you get across a message about the beauty of longevity. That dress was back— slightly reconfigured, sans sleeves—on Donatella Versace’s spring runway. And so was J. Lo, proof that it’s not just clothes that get better with time.
PHOTOGRAPHY: DAN & CORINA LECCA; SHOWBIT