Is the move toward ladylike apparel returning to a weak fragility of the feminine mystique or is it deeper? With Raf Simons confirmed to creative direct Dior this year, one of the most cerebral and innovative designers is joining the haute couture ranks of the ultra-feminine. Even though the 1950s is having a moment, the woman stuck in the cage of domesticity is obviously not part of the fashion picture. The romance of this trend remains but since it’s led by such powerful fashion minds, ones who no doubt have an affinity for beauty and brains, the return to the nifty fifties seems more smart than sweet.
Just ask Miuccia. For Spring/Summer 2012, she took us back to 50s car culture with hot rods and smokin’ hot outfits, with flames to match. The Steven Meisel-scoped campaign and accompanied video have us salivating for more of the jewel encrusted voluminous jackets, glossy patents, and plisé pleats (yes, please!). The obvious 50s hallmarks make this collection beautiful, but the interesting part are the cheeky car prints. Representing the freedom of the open road and liberation from confinement, the cars appeared on leather everything, from bags to skirts to heels. Reminiscent of Christian Dior bags from Spring 2001, the entire Prada collection poked fun at the excess of style in the mid-century and new millennium. Desirably diabolical, these clothes are smarter than they look.
Space crazy Marni, island hopping Proenza Schouler, and vegetarian Dolce & Gabbana also showed off how nifty the fifties can really be. This season’s strongest silhouettes come in the form of the peplum and the crop top. Extremely apparent in almost every show this season, the ladylike trend is abundantly clear. It’s not just a seasonal trend, however, this look has been rising and rising meteorically for a couple years now.
The 1950s haute couture influence was obvious in Spring 2012 and the most refreshing form that the ladylike resurgence has taken since the game changing Fall 2010 Louis Vuitton and Prada collections. All three designers tackled the same inspiration with their own unique point of views. Jason Wu’s SS12 collection was New York take on the glamour and exuberance of French haute couture volume through peplum-laden dresses and skirts. The billowing dresses, though, were anything but heavy and were a modern and youthful take on 50s ball gowns. In the scheme of the 21st century, a young designer in New York’s take on this type of glamour makes for a strong and independent woman, one who isn’t afraid to say yes to femininity. Especially when that femininity breaks its own conventions, acidic lime evening gowns are anything but close-minded.
Similarly, Raf kept to strong glamour, but in a completely separate way. At Jil Sander, the finale of his couture trilogy kept it clinical. Rolled bob-like hairdos and white wicker accessories were strong showings of a distinct futurism founded through the past. A riff on a markedly 50s look and the classic Jil Sander white shirt, the collection exemplified intelligence, design, and the rise of ladylike dressing. Even though this was an exercise inspired by a limiting time for women, the mixture of athletic veiled beanies and minimalist androgynous shirt-dresses offered a 21st century spin on mid-century elegance that appeared more acute-nurse than a cute housewife.
Moreover, the couturier influence has gotten to the most minimal of designers. At Céline, Pheobe Philo’s commitment to menswear influences got softer for Spring. The nipped in waists and voluminous peplum-basques on almost every look upholds the very pervasive nature of the move to ladylike fashions.
Even in places of forward moving design, the foundations of the feminine 50s invade. Understanding the current move toward mid-century influences in fashion illustrates our need for glamour, for an exuberant, embellished, and expressive amount of style that frees us from total restraint and limitation. The minimal, androgynous, and rebellious forms it comes in change up the formula. From a separate sphere of femininity in the actual 1950s, this look now lives in the sphere of independence, work, and strength through a revolutionary spirit. The New Look revamped for a new lifestyle; femininity for the feminist. This is the refreshing ability to choose the 1950s glamour, not because it’s “pretty,” but because it expresses something more. Tough as belted Céline leather.
By Iris & Daniel