Boyish and preppy with a Peter Jensen playsuit and knee-high football socks one day, demure and feminine with a cream flowing J.S.Lee segmented dress and an extravagant headpiece the next. Granny-style cardi and printed mid-length skirt for the morning, tight-fit geometric mini for the evening: if current trends are highlighting a single idea, it is that both consumers and professionals are no longer willing to settle on a single style, gender, identity or personality. Arguably inspired by the immediacy, versatility and transformable quality of new media, we require our fashion to showcase the same adaptability as emerging technologies, allowing us to utilize clothing as an evolving mood-board, rather than something static, pre-conceived and pre-defined.
Playing around with this theme in the most enchanting way, many designers once again looked to summers past when creating their SS11 collections. Moving away from the surgically calculated and heavily made-up, towards the playful, comfortable and relaxed. Images of a carefree youth determined to drink every last droplet of their seasonal freedom, of pale sun shielded bodies hugged protectively by a sea of warm sand, and of smiles that reach utterly precious levels of both originality and naivety, are evoked on the SS11 catwalks.
But while the season staples of parachute silks and light-weight knits provide the kind of playful yet sophisticated layering that chilly summer evenings require, it’s really the faded prints of high-waist bikinis and the classic vintage forms of the “traditional” one-pieces that stand out, as they sweetly revive memories of Holidays in Europe, iconic fifties pin-ups and, more than anything, the inimitable 50’s French Riviera.
Taking inspiration from the glamour and sophistication of that particular place and era, designers like Hermes, Chanel and Ralph Lauren have repeatedly strived to redefine the concept of “concealed beauty” in their summer and, particularly, resort-wear collections, but more remarkable perhaps than the classics this season are the more directional labels who perfectly captured the spirit and needs of the younger generation, who wish for flexibility and an original combination of childish and mature that avoids labelling as either.
Designers like Beyond the Valley who played with concepts of vulnerable sophistication to create printed ensembles that are equally retro and contemporary, or more established experimentalists like Bernhard Willhelm who included a series of high-cut free flowing and comfy-looking silk and cotton dresses perfect for the beach. Jonathan Saunders who in his “resort 2011” contrasted vibrant flower prints to black and white backgrounds, and Amaya Arzuaga who took a futuristic turn on the classical retro jumpsuit and beach mini, with high neck sheer materials and voluminous fabric forms that cover, without distorting, the natural body curves.
Having been away for way too long, headwear has been making a strong reappearance as well: from Silken Favours’ playful turbans to Maria Bonita’s cloches, Paul Stafford’s architectural extravaganza and Noel Stewart’s XL “straw-art”, designers are allowing us to explore the notion of covering up.