As the July couture shows wound down, I felt nostalgic for the days when watching fashion stalk down the runways thrilled me. Sadly, I have succumbed to the general malaise of American fashion editors over the past several seasons of being herded like cattle into overcrowded tents to watch commercially viable if uninspiring clothes clomp down American catwalks. The loss of Yves St Laurent earlier this year had me wondering if we would ever again see a designer who could change the course of fashion.
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Longing to recover my former enthusiasm for the latest looks, I poured over old coffee table books on the big names in women’s fashion from my formative years: Chanel, Valentino, and Yves St Laurent. I even watched documentaries on YSL, the label and the man. In watching 5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris, the documentary on YSL’s masterful creation of his finale couture show for Spring 2001, I found my lost passion for fashion. There was Catherine Deneuve at her couture fittings. There was the master himself sketching at his desk in his atelier, an impossible long ash dangerously teetering on the end of the very French cigarette dangling from his lips. Here was magic in the making: a mad scramble of sketching, cutting and draping muslin on live fit models, and tailoring garments to within 1/16 of an inch of actually allowing the wearer to breathe. Afterward, I would find myself fixated on one line from the film: â€œa very pretty skirt.â€ For days afterward, like Linus from the Peanuts cartoons becoming suddenly aware of his nose, I saw â€œvery pretty skirtsâ€ everywhere.
Recently, I started seeing spots everywhere – and not from staring at the sun too long. I kept thinking that I had suddenly become aware of polka dots and couldn’t figure out why. As I passed a woman in a black-on-white polka dot Valentino coat on Madison Avenue, I couldn’t recall: had I seen it in the window of the boutique, in a magazine, or on the runway?
I went back through my notes from the Spring Summer 2008 ready-to-wear collections and I found a note to myself that Carolina Herrera, for whom polka dots are such a staple that her packaging features them, had only used pale grey dots on chiffon for one look in her show. I had wondered at the time if the classic version of the dots was taking a season off. Then came Betsey Johnsonâ€˜s collection where the white-on-black variety featured prominently. Rising star, Andrew Gn, had also shown his take on the same color scheme. Later, in Paris, Valentino would show that very same coat I had seen in person as part of a polka dot vignette in the collection. Givenchy offered a very modern and exciting take on polka dots: pumping up the scale of the dots and playing with asymmetry, something we rarely see done to the perfect circle print.
I have liked polka dots for as long as I can remember and they pop up regularly in fashion – in the broad sense – but never really leave. They make me happy, they make me smile, and the women who wear them always seem to be in a good mood. I had forgotten completely about the possible re-emergence of this fashion staple this season until it really started to bloom on the streets of New York a few weeks ago. Since then, I have seen the white-on-black and black-on-white permutations on everything from strappy sandals to ankle socks to off-the-shoulder tops and sleeveless shifts. I still had this nagging feeling that I had seen these now ubiquitous dots somewhere before. Then, it suddenly dawned on me that the â€œvery pretty skirtâ€ from the 2001 YSL documentary was actually a muslin of a look that would later appear on Alek Wek in the runway show: in white-on-black polka dots!
Some details of women’s fashion will always be fun, playful, and utterly feminine – whether on couture or on ready-to-wear. This is particularly true of polka dots. Wear them with your tongue firmly planted in your cheek and you’ll be sure to brighten your own day and that of anyone who crosses your path!
C. Carolina Hererra
D. Betsey Johnson
E. Andrew Gn
F. Yves St Laurent Couture – Spring 2001
Runway Photos: style.com