Fashion Observed

Trend observations with a sociological eye from afar...

by Darryl S. Warren  

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At last the collections are pouring in for Resort 2012, and there is a veritable tug of war that is indicative of the complicated decisions that are imposed on a woman in daily life expressed in the mixed media the collections, i.e. the hardness versus the softness. And just as in the last major success in equality on the world’s stage in the 70s was mirrored in the variety offered in various collection, we are really seeing this in the extreme in what is coming out of design studios today.

On one hand society has declared that a modern woman is free and equal, and should participate fully in the strength that comes with a fair balance of power that, for thousands of years has been unfairly dominated by their male counterparts. Although there is a long way to go globally there is dialogue and, in western cultures, gained ground compared to what was happening mid-century. There is also awareness that there is more work to be done on both sides, but this time the dialogue is open and, with technological advances in communication, the message has a better platform for discussion, consensus and support.

And yet, despite the progress there has also been a spilt. In Malaysia there has been recent furor over on “Obedient Wives” group that looks to set back the hard-earned gains in support of more traditional and regressive options. The idea that women would choose to regress to a point of surrendering equal footing to a level of accepted subservience seems almost repulsive in a western frame of mind, especially as it flies in the face of everything the women’s movement has worked hard for decades to escape from.   But one has to keep in mind that true empowerment is the right to choose, and as baffling as this choice may seem to some women, this decision is a complicated statement of empowerment.

Fiction can sometimes better clarify the dichotomy that women face. In 2003, the movie “Mona Lisa Smile” touched on the subject of a woman’s right to choose, even if this meant to choose the more traditional lifestyle. Tackling of this perspective and the demonstration of Julia Roberts coming to terms with the ultimate logic of the decision process was actually a very feminist expression, for if the movement for equality is to empower women to have the right to make her own decisions and lead her own path, can it not mean she can choose domesticity?

It is this struggle with freedom versus tradition that is still being dealt with despite the years women have worked towards an equal footing in all areas traditionally dominated by men.  Not surprisingly, this along with the support of individualism manifested into the most divergent collections in the 70s and this change was noticed by editorial staff.

We have had a lot of variety since then, but this collection is starting to show, amongst the many trend threads, some major polarization amidst the layering, oversize abstract prints and skinny belts returning to the scene . On one hand, there is an abundance of florals. As the collections are unfolding the plethora of floral expression is overwhelming.  Thakoon, Anna Sui, Alexandre Herchcovitch, The Row, Acne, Oliver Theyskin’s Theory, Marc Jacobs, Diane Von Furstenburg, Doo.Ri, Louis Vuitton and Monique Lhullier were the more major players who had some florals in the mix.

Monique Lhullier’s collection was actually very feminine with scalloping and frothiness to some pieces, as did Badgley Mischka; the details in both were appealing to a softer side. Femininity was also expressed with a 70s arts and crafts edge (revived previously in the 90s) in the form of crocheted detail like that found at Anna Sui (the Boho queen is in her element here), Burberry and BCBG Max Azria, eyeleted fabric  detail from Benhaz Sarafpour ,and batik-like prints from Monique Lhullier.

The glam factor was also apparent. Of course, you can’t have sequins without Badgley Mischka. Diane Von Furstenburg and Donna Karan had some pieces with sparkle as well. Marc Jacobs made his sequence large and daisy-shaped while Monique Lhullier and sequins work that took on something delicate like the kind of handiwork done on Indian textiles. And if there weren’t sequins there certainly was shine from Balenciaga, Alexandre Herchcovitch, Narcisso Rodriguez, Reed Krakoff and Marc Jacobs.

Draping, the more feminine expression of fabric, was evident in some collections. This took on an arabesque form from Philip Lim’s harem-style pants, but also came in some column dresses by Carolina Herrera, some pieces from Helmut Lang and Diane Von Furstenburg, and a lot more overall from Donna Karan.  

On the other end of the spectrum was the hardness, and there was a lot of that. The strong cuts were expressed in separates at Phillip Lim (another designer lifting the lab-style coat from the 90s), Balenciaga (some of those razor shoulders were very similar to earlier Vivienne Westwood and were about as well received by fashion reporters), Calvin Klein (who went right back to 90s minimalism to the extreme),Reed Krakov,  Carolina Hererra, Pringle of Scotland, Helmut Lang, Hervé Leger, Ports 1961, Sachin + Babi, and Juan Carlos Obando.   There was a hard modern element in the execution in the same 90s silhouette that is back on radar. It’s clinical, clean and strong.

Another expression harking back to a time when women started to enjoy the freedoms of gender equality came up in geometric prints, many of them Deco-inspired. This was seen in collections from Michael Angel, Anna Sui (although more ethnically expressed as was those offered by Jim Kao), Carolina Hererra and BCBG Max Azria. Badgley Mischka had a few dropped waist dresses; one was almost flapperish but entirely of ostrich. Louis Vuitton’s collection, meanwhile evoked that 20s spirit overall (with a dash of mod, of course), even in the way the hats resembled cloches. Florals from The Row and Theory had a pre Depression-era quality to them.  Good times for the modern woman to shed the restraints of societal obligation.

Women seem to be put in the most unfair position of having to choose the kind of life when true equality may offer choosing degrees of both. The collections mirror not only the variety of choices, but the options that hopefully our society will come to terms with. And the sales, and of course the spring/summer collections that develop from those buying patterns as a result, will let us know what women decide. Depending on the economy, the purchase power of those who can speak through wardrobe purchase decisions will tell us whether that voice is democratic as well.

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