London is a city brimming with sartorial inspiration wherever you look, from street style to art and architecture. London-based designer Susie Stone picks her top cultural highlights in the capital this month, how they reflect what is going on in the fashion world and the style tips to take from them – so you can hop smoothly from exhibition to High Street wardrobe…
The Radical Eye, Tate Modern
The talk of the town is Sir Elton John’s private Modernist photography collection being displayed at the Tate Modern. For a man who reportedly once spent over £200,000 on flowers and is known for his decadent collection of jazzy sunglasses, this extravagance seems rather more subdued and intriguing. The Modernist era played with the new medium of photography and how it could represent the world. In fashion, Cecil Beaton, Man Ray and Irving Penn had a huge impact on how style was portrayed and their work graced the pages of Vogue.
Photography also produced a new platform for women to express themselves; Dorothea Lange and Helen Levitt worked at a time when after two World Wars women were suddenly part of the creative conversation. This focus on the modern working woman is still being explored in fashion today.
Many of the SS17 collections understood that a contemporary woman needs a practical wardrobe to move between work, socialising and family life. Both Chloe and Stella McCartney showed collections in Paris that could walk straight from the runway into your wardrobe and Marni was all about utility (bumbags are back in – hoorah!). For a more affordable slice of this trend look to Cos (above), which is offering a very good interpretation of simple silhouettes but with a quirky Modernist take that can go from day to evening with ease.
1920s JAZZ AGE: Fashion & Photographs, Fashion & Textile Museum
Looking back to the 1920s, Jazz Age at The Fashion & Textile Museum examines the fashion of this decade. There was a backlash against the Edwardian era of corsets and heavy full skirts – instead dresses were loose, worn without bras and made in a dazzling array of fabrics, sequins and prints.
As with the Radical Eye show, there was a real sense that fashion was reflecting women being more active; playing sport, creating art, working… They needed clothes that fit around their lifestyle and reflected new freedoms.
Stars like Louise Brooks embodied this new creative spirit and her personal style is still relevant today - think Kimono jackets and loose fitting dresses in luxe fabrics. The Roksanda show at London Fashion Week echoed these themes, with gorgeous and wearable sheath dresses in jewel tones. Valentino also showed this loose silhouette with flowing silk separates worn with practical across-body bags. This blend of glamour and comfort was epitomised by the 1920s era and the style lessons learned are still valid – a comfortable woman is a beautiful woman.
Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, V&A
What can be more important to comfort than good underwear? Well Undressed at the V&A is just the place to explore that idea. Whether you translate into fashion the barely-there look of the silver sheer Liza Bruce slip dress Kate Moss famously wore in the 90s (admittedly not a style many can pull off) or how often Alexander McQueen referenced corsetry in his work, underwear has influenced outerwear for decades. Jean Paul Gaultier has always made a very literal interpretation of this (Madonna = Cone Bra) but even in the use of fabrics you can see it everywhere; from the silk slips with marabou feathers at Prada’s last show to the sheer layers shown at Dior.
So how do we transform these ideas into our wardrobe? Well the slip dress has been the unexpected hit of the season. Ghost always offers a great version of this classic and Topshop has some lovely basic pieces you can layer over a polo neck and tights if you’re not ready to go the full ‘Kate Moss’ over the festive period. For those looking for something a little more elegant (and, well, comfortable) the pyjama suit is a trend that is set to stay and means you can look chic while essentially wearing your PJs - is there any better feeling? Whistles currently has a great selection including some delicious silk kimono jackets….
The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery
If you’re worried about how appropriate that may be, fear not. The Vulgar at the Barbican is here to challenge your ideas of taste…
An exhibition which explores the concept of what it means to be vulgar is fascinating, as its perspective is changing all the time. Garments from the 20th century that once seemed vulgar and shocking now appear rather tame; the sheer draping of a Madame Grès gown or the mini dresses of Courrèges are positively quaint in the context of modern fashion. This exhibition also celebrates how designers challenge the very notion of style – from Viktor & Rolf to John Galliano (his time at Dior really was a golden moment for couture), these designers are playful and thought-provoking.
The same feelings have been evoked in the past few seasons by Michele Alessandro at Gucci, who since his appointment as creative director has produced a cacophony of colour, print and design for the Italian label. He gives you permission to play with fashion – if you want to wear a rainbow tassled cape, why not?
When fashion takes itself too seriously, the odd bit of vulgarity seems rather appealing... On the high street you can look to fabric for a bit of this irreverence: PVC is having a BIG moment whether worn as a shiny rain coat or cute mini skirt. Velvet is also a staple of the festive season, which Zara is offering on a number of garments including a slouchy copper velvet smoking suit that I am particularly fond of (above).
Above all, the creative mood in London right now is to be comfortable and have fun. Wear a loose silk dress, buy some palazzo pants, invest in slouchy tailoring; keep the fabrics luxurious and the colour palette sophisticated. Oh and a little bit of festive vulgarity never hurt anyone.
Welcome style advice for the season ahead, and slightly more glamorous than a Christmas onesie...