With summer over as measured by degrees Celsius, it is time for our pedicured toes and tanned legs to retreat to boots and opaque black tights, and to pull out our coats and knitwear from the wardrobe – only this season in fashion, the winter wardrobe has become a magical portal to a Narnia-like land.
A departure from practical and more earthly tailored dressing is a somewhat unexpected turn of events in the narrative of Autumn/Winter minimalism and androgynous style that rejects the razzmatazz of fashion, leaving the fairytale frocks to haute couture.
Alexander McQueen’s creative director Sarah Burton conjured up a spellbinding collection which managed to draw on lots of different fairytale elements and tap into the distinctly dark and otherworldly McQueen DNA – seen best in the feathered gowns and bird-wing headpieces from his 2006 A/W show, which ended with a touch of techno-magic in the form of a Kate Moss hologram.
This year’s show had a more mythical, almost Tolkien feel, with forest land strewn across the catwalk and Game of Thrones inspired hairstyles. Burton’s dark hooded furs combined the innocence of Little Red Riding Hood with the big, bad wolf, whilst the sprinkling of lighter, folkish white dresses embroidered with stars and moons, harmonized the earthly with the intergalactic- a thread also running through the collections of JW Anderson, Matthew Williamson and Stella McCartney, whose star-patterned platform brogues elevated the models into the stratosphere.
Over in “Enchanted Sicily”, Dolce & Gabbana’s Autumn/Winter show recreated the world of the Brothers Grimm, featuring Cinderella-esque slippers as well as yet more hooded furs and capes. Joining Little Red Riding Hood were a whole host of other characters, all parading to the soundtrack of ‘The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ and ‘The Nutcracker’ – from the small felt owls and other woodland creatures appliquéd on the capes to the models in jewel-encrusted gauntlets and open visored headwear, who gallantly strode down the catwalk like fairytale heroines, unlocking imaginary castles with the gold and silver key-print dresses.
Fashion house Valentino also appeared to have fallen under the fairies’ spell, seen with magical lace-edged gowns decorated with birds, lions, flamingos and unicorns, which were woven in with the more fundamental wardrobe pieces comprising of structured coats and block colour shift dresses. This demonstrates how minimalist trends can be woven into this latest fantastical vogue, rooting the vision in a wearable, and ultimately saleable form.
The Fall collection for Valentino’s sister label, Red Valentino, was inspired specifically by the Disney tale of Snow White, and featured red bows, tote bags stamped with the disney princess’s visage and whimsical clutch bags reading “Once Upon a Time” and “The Fairest of Them All” – printed on metallic leather like a modern magic mirror.
But what has prompted all these designers to take a leaf out of the Grimm Brothers’ tales is mystifyingly unexplained in a fashion climate seemingly monopolised by minimalist style – from Celine’s sleek signature look to high street brand COS’s cult of women in uniformly pared-down, androgynous outfits.
It seems that despite the growing market for unisex wear and gender-neutral fashion, and the ‘Normcore’ movement (responsible for rebranding Mark Zuckerberg as a fashion icon), fashion remains for designers like the late McQueen and now his successor Sarah Burton, “a form of escapism”.
Having had my childhood fairy wings pulled down to earth only by the practicalities of daily life, this new whimsical direction has given me the fashion imperative to reopen the dressing up box and dust off my own collection of princess dresses. If they say dress for the job you want, not the job you have, then these latest collections say dress for the life you want, and the ‘happy ever after’ you’re after.