In a time of great sorrow, optimistic collections remind us fashion bathes our lives in hope, says Constance Harris
At Aengus Fanning's funeral last Friday week, Jimmy O'Brien, his first wife Mary's brother, came up to Anne -- my mother and Aengus's widow -- and told her that the Irish, handmade, hand-embroidered shawl she and Aengus had sent his wife Nuala when she, too, had been ill with cancer, had lifted her soul hugely. Anne was overjoyed to hear the gift had made some difference to Nuala's life.
After Jimmy left, Anne turned to me and said: "Should we ever forget that fashion is important, remember this day and what Jimmy just said."
Fashion is the great lifeforce reflector. It illuminates our bodies and lifts up our souls. It bathes our lives in glamour and hope. In the heyday of the last Depression, Hollywood costumiers pulled out all the stops to give people the most stunning clothes. If Hollywood was history then everyone in the Thirties wore silk-satin, bias-cut gowns, mirabou feather wraps, fur coats, sharply tailored suits and stunning hats and jewels.
Of course, few people did. But it was an unbounded effort to lift the masses' weighed-down hearts for the duration of those reels. As we grappled with the death of our editor Aengus in our offices last week, the decision was unanimous that I write about haute couture.
"Let's lift our hearts," was the chorus.
So I offer this week's fashion page for Aengus, who loved style and appreciated the work of the fashion pages in our paper for the colour, vibrancy and bounty of talent -- as well as female gorgeousness -- we offered.
The haute couture shows can be succinct identifiers of what trends are going to be strong and what is needed right now.
Armani mainline doesn't do it for me, often, but I adore Prive. For spring 2012, the Armani Prive woman clearly is moving fast and needs her clothes to reflect that. Trousers and especially jackets were sharp, in shoulder, revere and hem. Skirts and dresses were a loose, but definite, hourglass shape, sitting above the knee. Dresses and tops were often strapless bustiers.
Inspired by metamorphosis, both of the snake and the butterfly, the collection featured snake-inspired prints. Visual interest was also generated by the fabrics which often shimmered, or had a kind of reflective, wet look, like that of a snake's skin (designers Iris van Herpen and Yiqing Yin also did interesting things with cocoons and metamorphosis). A tight colour scheme of pewter and silver, mixed in with many shades of green, made this a strong, modern and sexy collection which mature women will love.
Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel was the polar opposite. He restricted his colours to just one -- blue -- and explored it in all its shades; from grey to electric to dark navy. Shapes and feel were very Sixties as opposed to Armani, who's so very late Seventies. The waist in Chanel's dresses was either dropped, or empire line, in A-line or straight body shapes. Short skirts, bell sleeves and raised necks were key focus points.
The first half of the show reflected a younger, more sporty, influence, whereas the second half featured the lovely, long, lean, classic Chanel silhouette in divine fine wools, tweed and silks. There were some stunning gowns in pleated, fine silk organza and georgette.
Ricardo Tisci for Givenchy presented just 22 ensembles in a palette of black, white and bronze. Tisci was influenced by Metropolis, the Twenties classic black-and-white film but I saw a lot of Alexander McQueen, too, in this collection; sculpted structure, gothic elegance, extreme expression of femininity. Dramatic, powerful stuff.
The world was less dark at Christian Dior, where the debate about who will take over from John Galliano rages on but, in the meantime, Galliano's former second-in-command Bill Gaytten continues to keep it all together. Here colour was flesh, some violet to purple, but mainly white and/or black.
Crocodile was used to provide texture, as was ostrich feather, sequins and embroidery. The silhouette was strongly early Sixties featuring cinched-in waists, figure-hugging to fabulously full-skirted dresses. It wasn't Dior as Galliano would do it -- mad and dangerous and amazing. But it was a woman-as-siren type of collection, one that women could see themselves wearing and looking movie-star beautiful in.
Versace showed just 16 dresses. Again Metropolis was an influence, as was the work of Thierry Mugler. It was a bit of an up and down collection -- the highs being sensational the lows being pretty cheap looking. But I can see her appealing to the younger, flashier crowd.
Giambattista Valli, who can always be relied upon to create beautiful dresses for beautiful women, presented a light, feminine collection that reminded me a little of the work of Hubert Givenchy for Audrey Hepburn in the film Charade.
Valli, too, stuck to a monochrome colour scheme -- black, cream, flashes of scarlet and purple -- and explored old-fashioned sex appeal, movement and strength through form.
In summation, the haute couture shows were bright and optimistic, looking to the past for insight, strength and direction, but recognising that, really, life is unfolding in a new direction and we don't exactly know what that is.
But, as Jimmy O'Brien said to my mother, it lifted the soul.
Sunday Indo Living