Remember the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and Toto are somersaulted into the land of the Munchkins after a surprise cyclone uproots her house? Emerging from the black and white world of Kansas, Dorothy suddenly sees everything in sparkling technicolour. This was how it felt to watch the spring/summer 2011 shows. After a winter shrouded in dependable, hard-working basics in the subtlest shades of toffee, cream, beige, and grey, the burst of neon brights on the runways came as a shock to the system.
What happened to the restrained minimalism we learned to love over the winter months? What happened to the clever, understated pieces that proudly called themselves fashion’s dirtiest word: practical?
Designer Phoebe Philo welcomed the shift towards dependable clothes. ‘I’m into clothes that are practical,’ she says. ‘I like comfort and easy. I don’t need more complications. There are enough challenges.’ Wise words, but those of us who still associate beige with boring had to bite our tongues as friends gushed about their oh-so-sensible investment purchases.
‘Grown-up dressing is all well and good, but sometimes a girl is straining at the bit for some drama,’ says Lucy Knockton of fashion lifestyle consultancy Concierge de Mode. ‘Spring’s brights bring back that va-va-voom into your wardrobe that we all need after a long, cold winter. There’s only so much camel you can take. Bring on the fuschia!’
Designer Carolina Herrera, whose collection of floral appliqués with a Korean twist was inspired by 18th-century botanical prints, agrees. ‘We are coming out from a very long season of grey and black and I think women seek colour,’ Herrera says. ‘This season is about colour.’
Fuschia, tangerine, coral, and violet are the new beige. Indeed, a riot of colour held forth on the spring/summer catwalks. Christopher Kane showed formal jackets and box pleat skirts in acid green. At Prada, bright orange t-shirt dresses were paired with forest green fox furs. Marc Jacobs’s fringed metallic shot dresses and cheongsams for Louis Vuitton swished in vivid lilac, orange, yellow and turquoise. It’s certainly a season for sunglasses.
Fashion blogger Bryanboy is already a fan of the carnivalesque attitude to colour. ‘Raf Simons’ show for Jil Sander is one of my favourites this season,’ he says. ‘I love the bright colours. I love colourblocking, the volume. What a strong collection!’
The elegant, restrained neutrals could still be seen in New York, where Donna Karan and Alexander Wang used bright white, pale rose, olive, ivory and khaki. However, the neutrals contrasted with look-at-me brights, such as the poppy orange splashing on Narciso Rodriguez’s blush, white and black palette.
Paco Underhill, author of What Women Want, believes this smattering of shiny, attention-seeking hues is actually a clever ruse by designers to sell more neutrals. ‘That’s where the money is,’ he says, comparing the bright spots to an old-fashioned car dealership. ‘I have a convertible in the front window so I can sell sedans off the back lot.’
Oh, but what a pulse-racing, breathlessness-inducing selection of convertibles! Think of the lone, heart-pounding blood-red dress in the sea of whites and blues at Calvin Klein. If you’re not really a sedan person, then a fix of the brightest brights is like a liquid sunshine injection. In the current economy, it’s natural that we’re all craving a healthy dose of hedonism and to-hell-with-it purchasing.
‘It’s human nature, after so much financial doom and gloom, to want to break forth with a new tide of optimism,’ says Julia Rebaudo, a fashion writer for British Elle. ‘The new season’s collections are all about bright, playful colours and decadent 70s glamour. I especially loved the Topshop Unique collection – all those swirling abstract and floral prints worn with disco hair.’
It’s no coincidence that a sweetly naïve sense of optimism is a common thread running through these collections. At Sonia Rykiel, the girls wore retro sunglasses, huge smiles and fluffed up curls as they bounced down the runway to the sounds of the Stranglers singing Golden Brown. Amidst the tan, yellow, pink and orange striped wool dresses, knitted candy-stripe knickers and cartoonish wide-legged trousers, there was no space for cynicism.
Similarly at Cacharel, designer Cedric Charlier called his orange, pink and yellow racer-back vests and painterly printed tunic dresses a celebration of ‘euphoria with colour’. High-energy, wild splashes of neon brights and tangy, juice-bright hues looked as though they were made of pure sunshine. The future looks very bright indeed.