Ladylike dressing is back. So we're told, and insofar as the trend has been emphatically affirmed in several Spring collections, such is the case. Well, good. It's nice to see a little fastidiousness back on the runway, after all the studied slouchiness, all the leather and studs, all the condom-tight skinny jeans and minidresses. But sometimes you have to ask yourself: Really? The thing about the non-ladylike trends that have taken hold the last few seasons is that they've come with an implied sense of freedom—freedom to move, freedom to misbehave, freedom to think. Sometimes the look debased itself (too many slatternly clothes), and often the references were cheap (a leather jacket doesn't make a person an anarchist). The feeling, though, was one of emancipation; this was empowerment enunciated by the stomp-stomp-stomp of platform wedges and combat boots.
Which is why so many of the new "ladylike" collections come off as a rebuke. Straighten up! Button that blouse! Cross your legs! You can practically feel some headmistress of the Zeitgeist rapping your knuckles. Too many designers are not so much making clothes for grown-ups as admonishing their customers to grow up. The effect, ironically, is infantilizing.
And that's why today's Peter Pilotto show felt so fresh. Alongside only a very few other designers, Peter Pilotto and his label mate, Christopher De Vos, have figured out that looking like a lady doesn't have to mean dressing like a priss. One example: The duo took the ultimate dowdy hemline, mid-calf, and the ultimate frumpy shape, pleated, and created featherweight skirts that were cut away in flapping, uneven panels. There was a sense of movement, velocity. And paired with the collection's burlap-textured tweed vests, in expedition-gear shapes, there was even a sense of toughness.
The expedition element wasn't incidental: Pilotto explained after the show that one of his and De Vos' two key inspirations was a book of photographs of rock climbers. The reference made itself felt in various ways, overt and oblique: silk jacquard that looked like a technical nylon, a print inspired by rock climbers' carabiners and neon hoists, blouson tops in printed parachute silk, sewn-on scarves draped like rope, graphic knit cotton turtleneck dresses and tops. Meanwhile, Pilotto's other key reference was seventies-era Yves Saint Laurent, and the outdoorsy theme was interpreted through the prism of YSL's timeless panache.
Two silhouettes were emphasized. One involved the mid-calf skirts, with tidy blouses on top. The other was a column, executed in silk jersey floor-length dresses, some with built-in jewelry collars, and tunic-shaped tops with narrow, flared trousers. Per usual, Pilotto and De Vos devoted a great deal of attention to print, albeit in an unusual way. Seeking to push beyond the digital printing they've been known for, the designers developed unusual silk-screen prints that read as three-dimensional, such that even the most gossamer garments had a sense of dimension. That was elaborated through a lot of real, as opposed to perceived, textures—those jacquards and tweeds, and pointillist lace that played against the prints made from them. There was a lot going on in this collection, but all the garments had a sense of ease. Or, to put it another way—you could imagine wearing these clothes and feeling free.