August 22 2014

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Utility vs. Fantasy: Which Side Are You On?


Call it optimism or call it escapism, but Spring 2010 is the season of the ruffled party dress: usually short, often chiffon, and almost always nude (we refer to both the color and the prevalence of sheer fabrics). Marc Jacobs—who else?—kicked the trend into high gear with his parade of ballet nymphs in New York. The frill lasted all through London, Milan, and Paris, taking in along the way Christopher Kane, Fendi, and Jacobs’ former protégé Peter Copping at Nina Ricci. But toward the end of Paris, a counterinsurgency. At Celine, Phoebe Philo cleared the collective palate with a collection that she herself described as “a kind of contemporary minimalism.” Hannah MacGibbon was of a similar mind-set at Philo’s former stomping ground Chloé, and, thinking about it, the groundswell of “utility chic” could be traced back via Junya Watanabe‘s pantsuits to MaxMara‘s back-to-what-we-do-best styles to…well, didn’t Marc put those plain little raincoats over his ruffles? (And was it just coincidence that the patron saint of contemporary minimalism, Jil Sander, chose this moment to re-emerge with her +J line for Uniqlo?) So, suddenly, two camps: one that flirts with frivolousness but that also has the potential to create romance and desire, the other practical but possibly in danger of coming across as too plain. Click for a slideshow, then tell us, which side are you on, and perhaps more pertinently, which approach will make you open your wallet?

Photo: Marcio Madeira



  1. gingerred says:

    I could never take a “side” in this debate because part of what I love about fashion is performance and self-reinvention. So one day, I like utility, and the next day, I like fantasy. They each have their place. It is interesting, however, when you have a season showing such an even split between two looks, as did spring 2010. But how can someone choose between Phoebe or Marc?!!!! Swoon. They’re both utterly fab.

  2. NotMod says:

    Could these two sides thrive one without the other? For longer then a dozen seasons?

  3. fashionsavoir_faire says:

    Why choose between the two when you could mix them together? A ruffled blouse with a slick tailored pant creates an interesting and sophisticated look.

  4. scoutlook says:

    Sums up the two opposite sides of women – fashion should always address that…

  5. AAbram says:

    Absolutely dying over Celine! It looks simple, but pulled together brilliantly. Looks that are edgy but at the same time under the radar. Definitely the investment pieces that will get us through the recession. Well done in these tough times!

  6. artdeco5 says:

    When I look at a collection and a style emerges I try and look at that style and think how can I alter that to fit everyday. Using both trends are compatible. Why not add a little whimsy to a dull outfit such as Chloe’s version of utility wear. The best examples of utility verses fantasy which is Sophia Kokosalaki and Max Mara where they used the trends with style. Marc Jacobs went a little bit over the top with the circus theme and I love a bit of theatrics.

  7. jrseguin says:

    I agree, it will still be about mixing these ideals together rather than conforming to one or the other. XO JS

  8. MichelleC says:

    I also could never side in fashion. That’s not what its about at all. -Michelle C.

  9. arianamaniacs says:

    Clearly, everyone has days in which they want to wear one or the other, or rather the clothes are dictated by the situation. It is of course important that the fasion industry has both. However, I personally am more willing to open my wallet for items (in terms of paying more for clothes) on the frillier/more romantic side.

    Clothes which are plainly cut are seen everywhere and available readily in every price range. Romantic styles tend to have more complicated styling components and stand out more. They give you a different feeling than when just wearing plain clothes. Therefore I am more willing to pay more for frivolous clothing than plainer cut clothing.

  10. lisabel8384 says:

    Utility! It’s a personal preference, but I would think it eas(ier) to cover a garment up with frills and bows and stuck on embellishments than to have utter clarity of vision in a restrained colour palette and precision tailoring. The magic is in the simple pieces done well and with confidence. It’s fun to take sides sometimes… :) Having said that, I did love Valentino …..

  11. NotMod says:

    Much comes down to this, doesn’t it: the Beautiful is all that pays!

    Quite possibly, the more fabric, the more room for art & craft to explain themselves to just about anyone. Good reason why fairy tale princesses are never into minimalism – that would take way too much explaining at bed time. Still… even the last sweatshop headmaster seems to have got the message: frills are your frieds when a straight cut, getting the size or even the number of sleaves right shouldn’t stop your assembly line. Add enough suggar, and you’ve hit the spot for disposale instant bliss: be happy that the world goes round! Most body parts not required, let alone narrow specification for.

    And, somehow, some will never feal cheated. How conforting that must be…

    Of course, the universe turns upside down when it is Chanell – with a crash-course in malacology – that does the frills!

    Just a thought…

  12. lilyalex says:

    Definitely the ruffly one. We don’t need to be reminded of the bleak conditions we’re in. Fashion is an escape. -VYKE

  13. shopboy17 says:

    I don’t know which side i’m on because i could never take a side in this debate. But one thing i do know about this debate
    they both look so so so so cute,awesome,
    gorgeous,and elegant. They look super cute.

  14. LeRene says:

    Fashion focuses a lot on dichotomy; however, my problem is with menswear. Though there are designers, like Galliano, who will put the effort to add fantasy to menswear, I feel the problem with men’s fashion is that it is too much about utility and not enough about fantasy. I realize my comment is slightly off-topic, but I think that would be a more interesting avenue to explore.

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