Not since George Clooney’s appearance on the cover of W in December 2013 as Polka Dot Man (well, not quite DC Comic’s supervillian) has polka dots been headline fashion news. How did things get so dotty is a little beyond our comprehension, but we think it has a lot to do with today’s weak preference for plain fabrics in solid colours. Of late, the fashion-consuming public seems to be enamoured of patterns, from floral to abstract shapes. We’re tempted to blame Givenchy’s Ricardo Tisci for it: thanks to him, stars (especially those that encircle the neckline) have led the way, peppering garments with repeated geometric shapes in the same vehemence once reserved for vintage illustrations.
The current fate of polka dots is sealed when Pharrell Williams introduced them to the Stan Smith, which, sadly, has lost much of its humbler looks since the pop singer re-styled the classic tennis shoe into sneakers that seem destined for the streets of Legoland. This is, to us, ironic as the Stan Smith’s appeal is in its inherent plain simplicity. Hipsters took to them as a stand against the over-designed excesses of designer kicks. Mr Williams’s initial dalliance with the Stan Smith saw him working bright colors into the shoe. Then he had them covered with micro-dots before spotting the current ones with those the size of doll-house saucers.
Clockwise from top left: Kenzo Nylon backpack, Pharrell Williams X adidas Originals Stan Smith, Hellolulu Ottilie backpack, Fred Perry Mini Classic Bag, Nike Roshe Run NM “City Pack” QS “NYC” and Comme des Garçons leather zip-top case
To us, polka dots are evocative of Mini Mouse’s dress and, inevitably, the oversized bow on her hair: clearly a cartoon celebrity in need of Smurfette’s stylist! They, too, remind us of Comme des Garçons, a label that has made repeated dots attractively modern. In all sizes (big, apparently, is better), they have been very much a part of the CDG graphic arsenal, and they appear in almost everything, such as those Croc-like slip-ons in collaboration with Native Shoes back in 2013 as well as those season-less Play cardigans worn by stars such as Justin Timberlake. That’s why, to us, Pharrel William’s new iteration for adidas Original’s Stan Smith (above, top right) is nothing new (the dots are embroidered on the leather upper, an idea first seen in Dior Homme shoes last season). It is really not beyond the ken of the average fashion follower that he took a page from the CDG playbook (perhaps to score extra points so that those shoes can be carried in Dover Street Market) rather than dream the pattern up.
Polka dots are to CDG what rectangles are to Mondrian. In fact, CDG loves them so much that black-filled circles, sometimes way larger than dinner plates, are used in their visual merchandising or as decorative motif for shop fronts or building facades. In 2010, when I.T Beijing Market (left), an offshoot of the brand’s retail business Dover Street Market, opened in Sanlitun of the Chinese capital, the blockish building’s façade was half-covered with oversized dots. In a neighborhood of ultra-sleek luxury brands such as the Euro-chic Miu Miu next door, I.T Beijing Market stood like a defiant upstart, striking as it is cheeky—a Damien Hirst in a sea of unadorned glass and severe concrete.
The thing about polka dots these days is that they have become rather gender-neutral. When once mostly women embrace them (the odd bow tie favoured by a few fellows did not mean they were popular with guys), today they are not conspicuously absent from men’s wear. Even blokes’ label Fred Perry has embraced them, introducing polka dots—noticeably large—with such regularity that they have become as recognisable as the brand’s laurel wreath (interestingly nearly as circular as a dot). Has the repeated dot then clearly become a sign of change for men’s attitude towards patterns? We’re not sure it’s clear enough.