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For Spring, It's All About Glass Half-Full Fashion

Calling all loungewear devotees: now is the time to rise from that pandemic funk.

Spring is here and it’s imbued with optimism and joy. This is finally the moment when trends are declared defunct, and a time to go forth and go bold.

In case you missed it, trends are dead: over, finito, kaput, extinct. This is the gospel according to London designer Georgia Larsen of Dora Larsen, at least. “I think the concept of trends no longer appeals. Fashion has been going this way for a while, but the further into Covid-19 we get, the more dressing for yourself becomes paramount,” she says. “My design ethos is to elevate the ordinary.”

Trends – pah! – what would we be doing with those, anyway? A legitimate question from the people who have hibernated in sweats for the last twelve months. The response from the catwalk, naturally, hasn’t been quite so damning. In spite of myriad restrictions, designers worked against the odds to produce virtual presentations, fashion films and small shows open to a few key buyers and press. It was, in essence, no easy feat! 

In fact, those who showed spring-summer ’21 collections were charged with being the ultimate future-thinkers; put to task imagining what you and I might want to wear when we finally emerge from a lockdown chrysalis, like a phoenix out of the ashes of athleisure.

Partially, the naysayers are right. Fashion has moved on: eschewing trends – fads, tribes, cliques – for something altogether more nuanced. There’s newness, for sure, but it’s an easing in of fresh feeling, spring pieces rather than an entire wardrobe pivot. Now for the good news: Shelly  Corkery, fashion director at Brown Thomas, sums up spring as “a season of optimism, feminism and functionality”. There’s a focus on glee-inducing clothes, the gamut of personal style and rediscovering the joy of getting dressed. Remember that?

Interestingly, a lot of pieces coming to the fore right now are tried and tested in their appeal and ability to provide feel-good, spring vibrations. Namely, a throuple of bright colours, bold prints and fail-safe florals. It’s not surprising that fashion is reverting to uplifting classics in the midst of turbulence. (It always does, really: Dior’s jaunty New Look in the 1950s was a straight-up reaction to World War II gloom.) Infusing this season’s favourites, however, is an overarching feeling of wearability. 

Our desire for all things comfy was siphoned on the catwalk, where a back-to-basics mentality ruled. Celine showed athletic hoodies worn over day dresses; Valentino favoured oversized, mens’ shirts in hot pink; Gucci proposed shearling slippers as the cherry-on-top to any outfit, while JW Anderson’s buckled loafers are fast becoming collectables. Elevated pyjamas pervaded at Michael Kors, where two-piece co-ords screamed to be worn while bingeing Netflix.

When Sarah Gill, owner of luxury Dublin boutique Seagreen, eschewed travelling to buying appointments for selecting SS21 stock virtually, she says it required a healthy dose of imagination: “We had to buy for the future as well as being reactive to the present.” For Gill, it was a case of being guided by Seagreen’s ethos that wearability trumps any kind of trend. “We’ve all gone through the experience of buying occasion wear or key pieces that don’t make sense after a couple of wears.”

This time has birthed the adapters, too. That is those brands that, pre-Covid-19, may have specialised in occasionwear but have reacted with agility to maintain relevance; switching silken evening dresses for elevated essentials made from neoprene and jersey. Corkery cites Rotate Birger Christensen, the Danish label started by Instagram sensations Thora Valdimars and Jeanette Madsen, as one such venture. Trading in rich brocades and playful volumes, Rotate’s USP of cool-girl partywear has seen a reshuffle. One pandemic later, Rotate has done a complete 180 with the launch of Rotate Sunday – a collection of pared-back basics that heroes at-home apparel.

While the collections had to speak to our current situation, they set the scene for what’s next, too. Brands such as Halpern, Colville and The Elder Statesman traded in bold and bright colours – an uplift for the wardrobe and the soul, as well as being a much-needed antidote to athleisure. The bright, floral prints of the recent collaboration between American artist Ken Scott and fashion giant Gucci have become catnip for those whiling away the time until they can socialise again. While Molly Goddard, who showed tutus just for the thrill of it, has been christened the Marie Kondo of the catwalk, creating playful dresses that spark joy in the wearer.

Orlagh McCloskey, designer and co-founder of Rixo, has built a career harnessing the positive effects of bold colour and soulful prints, something that chimes perfectly with current consumer appetite. “The times we live in have only served to reaffirm my love of prints and bright shades. I’ve noticed a lot of designers are leaning on colour for their collections now more than ever,” McCloskey says. In fact, this season Rixo has found the customer craving for high-octane hues to be even more intense. “We brought forward colours that would usually be for high summer and they have been selling out since January,” she adds. Rixo’s Ariel collection, which focuses on mermaid motifs, colour blocking and deep blues, reminiscent of Matisse, is a favourite of McCloskey’s who waxes lyrical about a zingy dress in lemon yellow called the Simone. “It’s the first time we’ve done an all-yellow piece but I was just so drawn to the colour,” she says. 

In anticipation of summer, the dresses category at Brown Thomas has seen a generous uplift in the last four weeks, says Corkery. Whimsical dresses in maximal colours provided an ambitious, dress-for-the-vacation-you-wish-you-could-have outlet; something Liane Wiggins, head of womenswear buying at Matches Fashion, says has legs into summer. “Brands like Kika Vargas, Vita Kin and Batsheva embraced the idea of the indoor/ outdoor dress. Namely, a dress with a relaxed silhouette that’s got beautiful detailing; perfect for a staycation or a holiday at home.” Wiggins’ favourite runway moment? Gabriela Hearst’s far-flung show that proved the maxi-dress has mass appeal and that tie-dye is more than a lockdown hobby. As models sashayed down the runway in floor-sweeping marbled dresses, a crochet sweater knotted casually at the waist, everyone dreamed of sundowners.

Top-half dressing is where designers got a little inventive. I’m not solely referring to the 2020 break-out trend for wearing a dressy top and leggings on a Zoom call, rather how designers elevated the trend to new, escapist places. Capes, frills, XL shapes: whatever your need, there’s an array of fanciful options to suit. How big you go is down to personal taste. Gill rates the exaggerated sleeve as an accessible way to access some big upper half energy, but, she warns, there is a caveat. “The exaggerated, puff sleeve is a novelty,” Gill says. “But, I prefer when it’s approached in a gentle way, on a blouse or a sweat top.” A refined take on the power sleeve has longevity into next season and beyond, Gill advises.

It’s the trouser that gets the biggest reinvention for spring. Denim styles hone in on a particularly louche silhouette – consider a higher waist with a relaxed leg, like the styles served up at Victoria Beckham. Perhaps most shocking is fashion’s new and fervent disregard for the skinny leg, which has been ousted across trouser categories. (Admit it: you’re relieved.) The memo: wide legs are your new ride or die. Louis Vuitton, Schiaparelli and The Row are prime examples of how to nail the look, even if your own wide-legged reality is a little less spendy. 

Like every season, there is a wild card. As for fashion’s feverish obsession with the bralette (see: Dior, Boss and Alberta Ferretti), let’s take it with a grain of salt, and pretend it never happened. While the likes of Givenchy and Emporio Armani had the good manners to temper cropped tops with the addition of sheer overlays and discreet panelling, it’s a firm "we see you from this side of the fence".

Corkery’s top buy of the season is – surprisingly – a coat. A lightweight coat, mind you. To be precise: a striped button-through by Dries Van Noten that plays with exuberant shades of ochre, lime green and brightest blue. “For me, it sums up the optimism of the season,” she says. McCloskey echoes that thought, “People want to be hopeful right now. Buying beautiful clothes for summer as we wait out the (hopefully) last leg of lockdown is a form of positive manifestation.”

For Corkery, that awkward transition back into clothes for living will be made easier by the hope spring imbues. Prepare to be seduced by devastatingly romantic florals, boho-cool shapes and colours to send your retinas into overdrive. “I think people are dying to dress up,” Corkery says. The path to that is a little unclear, but still hopeful. “Maybe we won’t go straight to the stiletto; we’ll baby-step in the kitten heel, by way of the trainer.” Rest assured, those baby steps have chic potential! 

This article was taken from the March issue of Irish Tatler, which accompanies the Business Post on the second Sunday of the month. Follow the link below to subscribe for €1 for your first month. 

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