Feature A look at the fashion that defined the Noughties and how today's designers have broken free from fashion houses to create clothes priced to reflect the world's woeful financial state.
Design of a decade
As the first decade of the 21st century draws to a close, Tracy Nesdoly takes a look at the fashion that defined the Noughties and how today's designers have broken free from fashion houses to create clothes priced to reflect the world's woeful financial state.
As the first decade of the 21st century draws to a close, Tracy Nesdoly takes a look at the fashion that defined the Noughties and how today's designers have broken free from fashion houses to create clothes priced to reflect the world's woeful financial state i t seems that it was only a second ago that we were sipping champagne and worrying that some Y2K thing was going to destroy banking or stop the clocks or crash our computer or something. Alas, the first decade of the new and improved millennium has flashed by in the blink of an eye (dolled up with motorised, vibrating mascara - that's progress for you) and it is, in the world of fashion, already the spring of 2010.
Fashion loves the decades - the 1920s saw the birth of the flapper; in the 1930s accessories came into their own because no one could afford anything else. The 1940s were about a strong shoulder to weather the traumas of war. Well, you get the idea. And what has this bold new era done for us, and what will we remember with nostalgia or pull from our closets proudly in the years, or decades even, to come?
This millennium began with trepidation. Besides fears of a massive, world-crippling computer bug, there was September 11 and the ensuing fallout from the attacks. And 10 years later, it has ended with incredible financial collapses. Creativity likes a little stress, it seems. "We are in such a period of innovation right now, it's really exciting," says Todd Lynn, designer and a fashion editors' favourite, not to mention a glowing star of London Fashion Week. "What is really interesting are the innovations in fabrics, in construction - incredible pieces that are difficult to copy, that are works of art really." Besides his own line of fierce, strict but utterly sexy clothes, think of Rodarte's cobwebby confections or Balenciaga's embellishments.
Cameron Silver is perhaps the world's best expert on what a decade means, fashion-wise. He is the owner of Decades, a vintage store with branches in Los Angeles and London and that is the go-to shop when a movie star wants to make a red carpet statement. He agrees that the second half of the first decade has heralded something new and interesting, coming into its own in terms of an identifiable look.
"I would say the first half of the first decade of the 21st century was the Decades decade - it was so vintage-derived, designers really made reference to and recycled a lot of the iconic themes of the past. It began as a confused decade for so many designers." Part of the reason may have been that most big-ticket designers did not receive the backing to create their own lines but rather went to work for fashion houses with huge archives and huge boots to fill.
"It is only now, in the second half of the decade that we are finally seeing trends that are not derivative but which are emerging as distinctive in their own right," says Silver. Of note, and what he calls one of the motifs we'll remember, is the "post-waif" - the woman dressed by Rick Owens in layers and washed leather, a "non-sexy sexiness, androgynous, confident, strong." Another herald of the age is Alber Elbaz for Lanvin, who manages what Silver calls "democratic fashion", by which he means easy clothing that can look amazing on any woman. "Alber is able to do basic extremely well, and can do a sort of un-done done look that is very interesting and timeless."
The second half of the decade has also seen the emergence of young, innovative designers who are making clothes for a price slightly below high fashion. Think of Alexander Wang or Philip Lim. "What we hope to see now is incredible creativity that answers the bottom line; that's where real talent lies," says Silver. "It's easy to design a US$12,000 (Dh44,000) jacket and make it wonderful; a little harder at under US$1,000 (Dh3,675)."
Nicole Robertson, the fashion and buying director for Boutique 1, says she approached her recent buying trips with trepidation but has found not one but 15 new collections to die for, all of them putting a chic edge where it's needed. And the fact that there are 15 new, noteworthy collections to watch is also a part of the Noughties ethos that Silver describes - niche companies are the watchword.
Looking back, Robertson sees the Noughties as a decade that started with a huge hip-hop influence that has never been truly shrugged off. This has been the decade of velour tracksuits (thank you, Juicy Couture), denim, leather, jersey, low-rise trousers, shorts and playsuits - clothes for the street. Even Alber Elbaz came out of the blocks at Lanvin with beautiful, ladylike dresses, but with raw, unfinished seams, and even now there is a certain deshabille quality to the line. When designer Derek Lam launched his first collection in 2003 (he's now the ready-to-wear designer at Tod's), he said his muse was an imaginary girl who stayed out all night, then put herself together to rush off for Sunday lunch with her grandmother. His interpretation of this was beautiful, easy sheaths and coats with a bow "where a button might have fallen off".
"I think this is the message," says Lynn. "Fashion is not so done up." Call it the Kate Moss-ification of fashion sensibility. Moss virtually invented the notion of "high-low", teaming her vintage finds with Topshop and high-end designer pieces. Robertson says her own customers buy Balmain and James Perse T-shirts at the same time. "It's not about having the most expensive thing. It's about have the coolest thing, that looks good on you.
"Even Oscar de la Renta has this more un-done look," says Robertson. "I saw a picture the other day of Alexa Chung in an Oscar jacket with a denim one underneath, and shorts. It was amazing and I never thought I'd ever see Oscar worked that way." For Silver, there's a fresh breeze blowing into the second decade. "'It' fashion is over," he says. "Fashion now is anti-'It'. And the looks now are timeless, consistent. They let you create the look - take a piece and mix it with vintage or something very casual. Fashion will let you do your own storytelling."