Thursday 14 November 2019

Now and Forever


Azzedine Alaia: hooded dress with zips, 1987, MOSI
Azzedine Alaia: hooded dress with zips, 1987, MOSI

As a young fashion stylist and editor, I loathed the little black dress (LBD), especially when people would tout it to me as something to be celebrated and admired. To me, the LBD was repressed, conservative and boring, when there was so much joy, expression and innovation in fashion.

But I have to admit that my recent visit to Newbridge Silverware's Museum of Style Icons' (MOSI) new exhibition space and inaugural never-before-seen exhibition on the history of the LBD in the 20th Century, has been an absolute eye-opener on what the best designers made of this humble dress.

In the hands of design greats such as Azzedine Alaia, Yohji Yamamoto, Commes des Garcons, Yves Saint Laurent, Sophie Sitbon, Alexander McQueen and more that Newbridge Silverware's MOSI has collected, the LBD is truly a wonder.

What one first learns from this wonderful exhibition is that the LBD was first extracted, by Coco Chanel in the 1920s, from being a garment of "mourning, servitude and religion," explains Marie Brennan of MOSI.

Not only did Chanel identify the egalitarian nature of the LBD, she perceived black as the perfect colour to highlight beautiful skin and pearls. Thus a classic look (and iconic brand) was born: the Chanel look.

Next, most significantly, came Christian Dior, who used black to highlight his new silhouette and architectural attitude to clothing design. Dior's use of black became one of the most enduring: black is the perfect colour for conveying purity of design. Miuccia Prada did an entire black collection in the early 2000s, to clear out the "excesses of the millennium" and return us to clear form and strength.

This response to excess is why I think the LBD enjoyed a fabulous two decades from the 1980s to the 1990s. Following the fashion (and otherwise) excesses of the 1960s and 1970s, newly liberated women embraced aerobics. Gym bodies emerged, and, as a tribe, they adored the LBD for its clarity of form, as it highlighted their worked-out shapes, exemplified by the 1987 Alaia dress, right, which Grace Jones also adored. In the 1990s, the late Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy helped the LBD to become a symbol of urban chic.

The MOSI exhibition has shown me that the LBD was never lacking life-force: it was the women who wore boring versions who were.

The LBD is worth its salt, now and forever.

Photography by Peter Evers

Styling by Jan Brierton

Fashion edited by Constance Harris

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