What do we want to wear now? Personally, I’m torn. Currently a wardrobe full of lovely outfits sits sorrowfully in my room, a kind of sartorial sarcophagus for all the suits, jackets and summer dresses that have effectively been mothballed since last spring. I want desperately to wear them, but the reality is such that dressing up to work from home just makes me feel like a clown. Instead, I want to wear clothes that comfort, nurture and caress me. I want to wear outfits that make me feel happy in my skin – while my blazers have remained largely redundant throughout the course of the pandemic, my sweater collection has kept swelling with ever more cosseting blends of wool. I’m less given to experimentation (another way of saying that I wear the same outfit for a week), and as my daily wardrobe has become more streamlined and tonal, I have found myself reaching for garments that envelop and stretch rather than those that nip and cling.
The season’s women’s style issue has gone back to basics by looking at the things that feel most relevant for now: the practical clothes – such as shirts (“Why the shirt remains a hero piece in every woman’s wardrobe”) – that have emerged as items suitable for almost any environment; the investment classics (“Easy pieces: new-season fashion – served with a twist”) that might furnish a newly decluttered wardrobe, designed to look impeccable and, more importantly, feel good; and the more fantastical. In “In the mood for love – fashion gets sexy again”, Alice Cavanagh explores the newer labels channelling a more seductive attitude. Lockdown, it seems, has found many people feeling fruity, and whether we’re bingeing on bonkbuster dramas such as Bridgerton or thinking of seductive eveningwear, the prospect of an evening out in Paris holds a particular allure.
In a year in which markets have been extremely volatile, accessories in general have had a fairly ropey time, with sales declining by around a fifth and many brands struggling to survive. In “The state of the It bag”, Lauren Indvik, the Financial Times fashion editor, looks at the impact of the pandemic on the sale of the It bag. It’s a business that has typically been amplified via social media, street-style coverage and celebrity endorsement, but this past year has seen a significant reset in the handbag trade. Perhaps not surprisingly, sales of classic bags by heritage brands have remained exceptionally robust. Yet, the phenomenal success of the so-called “Bushwick Birkin” by Telfar suggests also that consumers will now reward designers who align with their world views.
There’s a sense of change for Alber Elbaz also, who after a five-year hiatus from high fashion has returned with his Richemont-backed AZ Factory. Alexandra Marshall goes to his new studio in Paris to discuss the designer’s thinking behind his new direct-to-consumer label, the innovative research that has gone into his fabrications, and his commitment to dress people of all sizes (“Inside Alber Elbaz’s Factory of Dreams”). Despite the absence, he’s still as funny, maudlin, introspective and quirky as he ever was. I’m delighted to see him back in business – without him, fashion was a far duller world.
So much of fashion is a mood; and this season, still caught in the tidewaters of pandemic, there is a kind of odd nostalgia in the air. Spring should be a period of renewal and optimism, but with so few certainties about the future, it has sometimes felt safer and more reassuring to retreat into the past. It’s a feeling perfectly captured by Sophie Wedgwood, the 2019 recipient of the Magnum Photos Emerging Photographer Award, who shot her debut fashion story, “Spring’s most seductive fashion trends”, with that strange melancholy in her mind. Inspired by postwar Italian neorealism, Sophie’s gentle portraits of women lost in thought amid London’s most iconic landmarks is an ode to romance, ruffles – and some truly awesome shoes. Note the Hermès clog, which I’ve been fantasising about since spying them on the spring/summer catwalk. Practical, durable and – if you ask me – rather sexy, they are my must-have, lust-have purchase of the year.