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New York Fashion Week: thoughts on a nostalgic season

Louis Vuitton’s Fall 2011 show was a spectacle of film noir and fetishism that involved starched collars, stockings, and black leather all melded together with buttoned up formality and undeniable raunch.

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By Leanna Pankratz (Contributor) – Email

Date Posted: October 5, 2011
Print Edition: September 28, 2011

Was it Coco Chanel who said that “fashion fades, and only style remains the same”?

One could certainly imagine the grand dame of style herself—exhaling from an inevitable cigarette—uttering those words. She would be wearing, of course, trademark black and white, in clean simple lines. Coco Chanel or not, she was right. There is most definitely something to be said for the idea of eternal style. Who doesn’t remember childhood afternoons spent rifling through boxes of your grandma’s old clothes? I distinctly remember trying on elaborate hats, long ropes of pearls, and (stop reading, PETA!) silky furs. Standing in front of the bedroom mirror, I would become a Hepburn, Dietrich or Monroe. At the risk of sounding sentimental, I have to say that my love affair with fashion began with clothes from the past. There was something so brilliantly escapist about those clothes. They possessed a magic that allowed my ten-year-old Abbotsfordian self to be, at least for a minute, something timeless.

It seems that designers, too, have caught on to the inimitable thrill of dressing up evident in the fall fashion magazines and store-racks. Themes for this season consist of nostalgia and an almost universal return to the days gone by. With remarkable authenticity, couture houses have evoked the mood of various fashion eras, all with a distinctively modern twist that takes period dressing from the 30’s boudoir to the modern bar or boardroom.

Louis Vuitton’s Fall 2011 show was a spectacle of film noir and fetishism that involved starched collars, stockings, and black leather all melded together with buttoned up formality and undeniable raunch. Calvin Klein’s line consisted of a return to mod and other 60s elements such as rust-coloured blazers, miniskirts, beehive hairdos, and pillbox hats. Gucci’s fall collection evoked 40s femme-fatale images that included long trench coats, black fedoras and red lips.

The Ralph Lauren Fall 2011 show, however, exemplified beyond all else the nostalgic air of the season. Drawing its inspiration from chinoiserie, 1920s socialites, and Art-Deco architecture, the line unlocked a luxurious, city-siren mood. Deep reds, glossy blacks, and rich greens were prevalent, as were high-slitted skirts, open backs and opulent beading. The show held a theme of high drama mixed with Louise Brooks-like lavishness, and prompted Vogue’s Andre Leon Talley to hail the collection as “simple masterpiece. [Lauren] is unstoppable in his sense of taking the classics and giving them new twists and new drama.”

Now doesn’t that sound like a swell party?

Words to the style-wise: as much fun as dressing up is, life is not a costume drama. We no longer abide in the age of the corset, and all out period-dressing can appear stilted, and frankly, a little too out there. I mean, who really wants to strut through Superstore in full flapper garb? It is the spirit, the tone, and mood of those times, though, that carry through even the most edgy and futuristic creations (latex evening gown, anyone?). It’s all part of mixing the then and the now. The timeless allure of the 1950s pencil skirt or the ladylike qualities of Victorian lace can translate into our age and add just the right amount of escapism to the everyday.

So what does the future hold? New York Fashion Week has come and gone, and the Milan shows are well underway. The spring/summer 2012 collections being exhibited most definitely run in the same vein as fall – an unabashedly authentic tribute to the good old days. Rodarte’s Mulleavy sisters relied heavily on Gatsby-esque white linens and simple cuts – perfect for Long Island lawn parties. Tommy Hilfiger is back with a repertoire of timeless preppy essentials – all in bright, 1980s Nantucket hues. Dior’s spring/summer line treads the line between erotic and innocent, with frothy, bedroom inspired negligee dresses and 1950s lace bustiers (harking back to Bettie Page calendars). It seems everyone is jumping on the nostalgia train (with a vintage Vuitton trunk, no doubt), and in my opinion, it’s too exciting to miss.

Nostalgia always carries an element of wistfulness – the longing for a golden age we may or may not have experienced. In our days of economic turmoil, political skepticism, and downright nastiness, who wouldn’t grasp blindly to times when things, at least superficially, seemed to be set in stone? When men sipped gin in three-piece suits, and ladies wore pearls to the dinner table – or perhaps when motorcycle mods hit the streets against a backdrop of Rock and Warhol. From Victorianism to Disco, the past has always held a certain allure. While we can’t tangibly reproduce an idealistic time, we can certainly escape through what we wear. Style verdict? The past is here to stay.

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