x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

This season's party frocks are designed to last

Is mid-November too early to be obsessing over party frocks aimed at the holiday season?

Is mid-November too early to be obsessing over party frocks aimed at the holiday season? Certainly not if you're a boutique or department-store owner.

Retailers have had a pretty miserable year by all accounts. Overall sales are down, a fact part triggered by the global recession. Plus, there's been a shift towards selling more casualwear, which financially generates the lowest mark-up (i.e. there's only so much profit you can make on leggings).

No wonder people are getting so worked up about new deliveries of eveningwear, which promises to be as reassuringly expensive as it is glamorous. Glamour remember, sells.

Historically, customers splash out on party frocks, more so if such pieces create an impact and are deemed classic (read: they won't go out of fashion). This season's offerings do both, and not just in the designer price bracket.

A month or so ago I was treated to a sneak preview of evening looks from Topshop and its sibling brands, Miss Selfridge and DP (Dorothy Perkins).

What struck me most, besides the extraordinary diversity of styles - short, long, white, red, fluffy, leather, satin - and the upmarket/high-fashion finish of the dresses (which presumably accounted for the increase of price?), is what lay behind their inspiration; not so much in terms of trends, as icons.

No wonder certain pieces had been given "working" titles such as "Bianca" or "Mia". One white tuxedo trouser suit was clearly a tribute to Bianca Jagger. Another Sixties-look baby-doll dress appeared to be an homage to Mia Farrow. Other names brought to mind were Jane (Birkin), Kate (Moss) and Grace (both Kelly and Jones).

This party season is going to be about the iconista: a case of not what, but whose style you are rocking, from Monroe to Jackie O.

Encouraged by increasingly dressier outfits worn by celebrities to awards shows such as the MTV Europe Music Awards in Madrid, and small-screen American exports such as Gossip Girl and Mad Men - which triggered an interest in Retro chic - instead of dressing down in jeans, a fancy top and killer heels (which remember we were all doing not so long ago), women are re-acquainting themselves with the art of getting dolled up.

Lady Gaga and Rihanna, meanwhile, continue to make getting "dressed up", something resembling what used to be called "fancy dress", not just fashionable but rather "normal".

So much so, young women who have formerly been brought up on a clothing diet of trainers and jogging bottoms, are opting to wear prom-style frocks with tutu skirts, along with long gloves, beehive hairdo, false eyelashes - even if they don't have a party to go to.

This month's British Vogue features Harry Potter actress and Burberry model, Emma Watson, 20, rocking a cropped elfin hairdo and a series of lacey white mini-dresses, almost identical to the one worn by sixties icon Mia Farrow to Truman Capote's legendary masked ball of 1966, when her arm candy was new husband, Frank Sinatra.

The morphing of Watson into a young Farrow confirms her place in the fashion firmament - and sets the tone for Christmas party wear.

Meanwhile, the cover of December Vanity Fair - always a good indication of the zeitgeist - declares "Cher is back".

Yes, Cher, the quintessential Hollywood party animal wears fishnet tights and a leotard, similar to items that feature in most designer and high-street collections, along with sheer black lace frocks, leather trousers and bodysuits (check out the Daisy Lowe for Peacocks range.)

Forget the sixties- but what about Stevie Nicks? I hear you say. This is the decade bleeping on the fashion radar for spring 2011, after all! And what an era for party dresses. Julie Christie immediately springs to my mind, for obvious reasons.

Is it any wonder the Halston Heritage range with its asymmetric jersey gowns containing almost too much DNA to separate them from their original Spandex prototypes (worn by Bianca Jagger and Liza Minelli to Studio 54) have become must-haves?

The standout dress from the Lanvin for H&M range (out November 23) is a red off-the-shoulder dress that's a dead ringer to the one Bianca Jagger wore to ride the white horse into Studio 54. And lots of frilled one-shoulder dresses in jewel colours, the sort Jerry Hall wore on Roxy Music album covers...its very iconista.

In fact, you might want to do what Queen Rania has done and bypass Fall/Winter 2010/11 entirely, jumping directly to Cruise 2011. The flowing white kaftan with black tribal markings by Temperley London she has been wearing (soon to arrive in store in the Dubai Mall), is in the vein of Talitha Getty, the party muse/style icon who is said to eclipse all others.

However, I'm sure all iconista party dresses will last just as well as the women who inspired them. So what's not to like? No wonder boutique and department store owners are happy.