x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Looking back at a year of stylish extremes

When it comes time to play jaded and opine, "Oh, that's soooooooo 2009", what exactly will be sneering at?

When we look back and say, "ooooh, that's so 2009," what will we be talking about? The grungy urban fashionista update on Dr Martens boots by Marceaux Pascal, or Christian Louboutin's vampish Brigette-lace-mesh, 140cm-high platform ankle bootees? Or, as a top-to-toe look, what about Sass & Bide's Beast Rats printed leggings under a "lumberjill" shirt with a gobstopper necklace? Or, equally, Balenciaga's ultra-ladylike draped skirt and satin blouse, worn with spotty tights? These all currently constitute the height of cool, despite being world's apart in terms of look and vibe.

The dilemma is symptomatic of a phase we are passing through: fashion extremism. This has got a lot to do with the fact the major trend to emanate from the autumn/winter 2009/2010 international designer catwalks was- there is no one, all-encompassing, silhouette/colour/hemline-defining, something-to-please-Victoria Beckham trend. The obvious knock-on effect from the global recession seems to be everyone - especially in fashion - has to think a bit harder. Be more creative. Which makes coming to a conclusion that much harder. The result is supersized, downsized, upgraded, super-cheap, super-high (heels), mind-blowingly pricey (handbags) and downright weird (the mankini?), and not a lot in between.

This is why polar opposites exist in the same season and why we have reached the point where the only thing predictable is the unpredictable, especially in terms of what goes with what. Over the recent London Fashion Week I scrutinised stylists and fashionistas in the front row (you know who you are) who were working the "extreme" fashion trend. This can be as subtle as wearing blue nail varnish (dark teal is the new navy) or a flash of purple lipstick, or pulling off Dolce & Gabbana's experimental funky London debutante-meets-French-aristocrat look.

Those who hadn't just flown in on the red-eye from New York had flopped off the Eurostar from Premier Vision, the world's number-one international fabric and textile fair near Paris. This is where the likes of Galliano and Gaultier go shopping for their silk gazar. All talk during London was how incredible ("mind-blowing!") fabrics had been - weaves/double cloths and yarns were embroidered, embellished, printed or woven with a metallic sheen - for autumn/winter 2010/11, the season shown at the French textile fair.

"Creativity blossoms when resources are limited," said Cecilia Dean, the editor of the fashion forward magazine, Visionaire. In terms of shine and texture, fabrics have already begun to move into the spotlight. Given competition from cheaper Chinese manufacturing, this is the only way French and Italian fabric houses can offer something the mass market simply can't copy. Just imagine something 50 times more extraordinary and fun to wear than all these sequinned shifts currently pouring out of India and China?

The other message to come out of Premier Vision was imaginary value no longer cuts it. Consumers refuse to be fooled by exterior signs of quality. They still want something to dream about but won't be fobbed off by anything lacking in design just because it has a fancy brand or logo. I can sympathise with this, having just had my kitchen redesigned by a fancy interior guru who only uses cheap-as-chips Ikea fixtures finished with state-of-the-art, heart-stoppingly expensive sage Caesarstone quartz.

It's the same 2009 logic that explains why the inexpensive puffy Uniqlo sports jacket that shares the same breathable fabric and design nuance of the very pricey Moncler Rouge by Giambattista Valli has become a cult garment. Or why pesto popcorn is the new thing to serve as an aperitif at fancy eateries. I hear the global recession has done the unthinkable to Japan, turning it from a country where luxury products were once considered mass-market because of the volume of Louis Vuitton sold, into a nation of discount store shoppers. Just don't call the younger generation who embrace vintage and Seiyu (the Asian branch of Wal-Mart) bargain-hunters.

Off-catwalk there is another fashion extremist thing going on: the age divide, which front-row shows and style blogs such as Scott Schuman's Sartorialist are testimony to. The only thing cooler than a being a Fashion "lifer" like Anna Wintour is being one of the preposterously young cuties with a legitimate front-row seat (ie that isn't blagged off your editrix mother.) It's quite normal to see Ms Wintour sitting primly in her pew with helmet hairdo, neat tweed suit and sunglasses next to a Lily Allen-esque pink-haired 20-year-old rocking a Blondie T-shirt and paint-splashed jeans (by J Brand, of course).

Meanwhile fashion extremism on the catwalk has been rife, from Prada's metallic tablecloth skirts to Gucci's space age sportswear with a built-in parachute harness. If ever there was a time to take risks this is it. Perhaps that's what 2009 will be remembered for?