The first sign that Fall would be a mid-century season came at the tail end of the New York shows, when Marc Jacobs resurrected old-fashioned fox-fur stoles complete with heads attached. By the time Milan was over, the 1940s had become a bona fide trend, with everyone from Gucci's Frida Giannini to Tomas Maier at Bottega Veneta showing nipped-waist jackets and below-the-knee skirts. In Paris, skirts flared to New Look proportions at Rochas and Lanvin, and at Louis Vuitton, Jacobs sent models out in men's overcoats and silk slips that could've been nicked from Anna Magnani's steamer trunks.
I'll admit it, I wasn't thrilled about these developments. As seductive as Miuccia Prada's film noir of a show was, the stiffened leather skirts and the swags of sable fur at the wrists of coats and jackets didn't seem tailored to my modern life. Imagine negotiating a crowded subway in all that fabric. Harder still, try sitting in front of a computer all day in a cinched-tight jacket. Bigger picture, a girl could get whiplash watching designers storm from decade to decade; hadn't they just finished telling us it was all about the sixties for Spring?
The New Look was revolutionary back in 1947, when Christian Dior introduced it at his first show. Dior effectively wiped away the austerity of the war years with his Bar jackets, voluminous mid-calf skirts, and dinner frocks made from twenty-five sumptuous yards of taffeta—themselves callbacks of sorts to the corset and crinoline memories of his Belle Epoque youth. But more than sixty-five years later, I was doubtful that the new New Look could be anything other than retro. Still, I was curious to see what my colleagues in fashion, particularly retailers, had to say.
In ’47, there were objectors like me. Dayton, Ohio, had an Anti-Long-Skirt Association. And yet the glamour of Dior's New Look was persuasive, and it didn't take long for Seventh Avenue to start pumping out the copies. Now, once more, the house of Dior is leading fashion, and Glamour with a capital G is back in style. Of the season's elegant, postwar mood, Neiman Marcus' Ken Downing said, "I feel very strongly that it's Raf Simons' influence, from his last collections at Jil Sander to his first collections for Dior." Simons was installed at the French house shortly before his Haute Couture debut there last July, and as my colleague Tim Blanks put it at the time, the exacting Belgian approached his new LVMH assignment with both "reverence and iconoclasm."
The iconoclasm part is important. I'm not the only one who thinks hewing too literally to the forties could be deadly. Downing reports he has strong reservations about the large wool skirts he saw on some Fall runways. "Those stayed in the showrooms. Customers are not interested in fabrics that are stiff, thick, and heavy. Dry fabrics, boiled wool—the customer doesn't want it, even if she lives in the Northeast." He added that particularly voluminous skirts will be adjusted by brands' commercialization groups, so they won't be as big and full in the stores.
Those concerns aside, Neiman Marcus has invested in the trend, and Downing doesn't see it going the way of Spring 2013's short-lived sixties moment. "We're going to see the full skirt happen in a major way for Spring ," he said. "The contemporary market will make it maneuverable in a manageable way." Another prediction: "gingham." Considering how much we saw of it at Prada—Miuccia Prada being the most influential designer around—he's probably right.
Kirna Zabete's Beth Buccini and Sarah Easley see the challenges of the season's longer skirts, too. "Flats are 100 percent not an option. You can't be short. Oh, and cross your legs while seated," Buccini laughed. That said, though, Easley was quick to add, "We love a direction that makes you look into your closet and makes you think, I really need to update. This trend makes other things suddenly look slutty." The duo bought Dior for their Soho store for the first time this Spring, and their customers have clearly been polishing up their acts. "It has just been on fire," Easley said of the label.
If Fall's longer lengths are receiving mixed reviews, the wasp-waisted jackets seen on the runways of Dolce & Gabbana, Nina Ricci, and Oscar de la Renta, among others, are an easier sell. Women quickly latched onto peplums when Phoebe Philo introduced them at Céline for Spring 2012, remember. "Every woman likes to have an emphasis on the waist," The Webster's Laure Heriard Dubreuil told me. "It works really well in Miami [where The Webster is located]; the South Americans and Latin Americans are very feminine, and these are such ladylike silhouettes." Ladylike, but not old-fashioned, she pointed out. "At Proenza, I saw the forties and fifties, but in a modern way," she said. "The looks were sexy, with open backs. At Lanvin, Alber played with jewelry, which killed the first-degree forties/fifties look, because he was having fun with it."
Ikram Goldman, who owns Chicago's Ikram boutique, instantly fell in love with the wine-colored short-sleeve top and full skirt Ava Smith wore at Marco Zanini's Rochas show. "It's 110 percent a 1940s look," she said, "but I was in that showroom, I felt the fabrics, I loved the fabrics." Goldman reminded me that there's no new fashion; we've seen the same thing reworked over and over again. Much of the eighties—the big shoulders, the hourglass silhouettes, the entire oeuvre of Thierry Mugler—was a reimagining of the forties. This time around, designers have the advantage of a few decades of fabric innovation. "Although the looks are repeated from the forties to today, I feel designers have gotten smarter about how to rework them," Goldman said. "A peplum looks stiff, but doesn't feel stiff. It's not made out of horsehair, but cotton. Women are obsessed with glamour again. For so long, we were doing grunge or hippie. There's a newness to the forties trend." In a sense, even Junya Watanabe's corseted leather jackets and Joseph Altuzarra's hip-padded dresses were reinterpretations of the forties—albeit with a hefty dose of modern kink.
I'm still not convinced about a swirling, full skirt. It just seems frivolous. But Raf's navy denim wool Bar jacket and matching baggy pants—those look a lot like me.