Given how much the posterior pervaded our lives last year, it is a relief that this autumn/winter season, quite a few designers are short on the skimpy. It is not sufficiently clear if it is a Kim K backlash, but it is possible that once the backside appears on the front side of a magazine (see Paper, winter 2014), modesty could be very much missed. Are we then seeing a return to clothes that, well, serve to clothe?
This season, the Japanese designers are leading the way, although it is pertinent to acknowledge that they have never left the path. Junya Watanabe, Junichi Abe of Kolor, and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons—to these purveyors of dress, clothes can be sexy, even a substantial amount of clothes, not the lack of them. The Japanese clearly love cloth, and are adept at manipulating a piece of fabric to cover the body in often unexpected ways. Despite the baffling construction that is worked into a dress, the result is mostly practical silhouettes that can be adapted for the everyday.
We’re partial to the wide, knee-grazing skirts that appeared on the catwalk of the above-mentioned designers. With the continued popularity of severely cut off denim jeans and micro-anything, these skirts could be considered prissy, or, worse, a reminder of the (supposedly) sexually-repressed Victorians. Yet, there’s something elegant, refined, and uninhibited about their shape and length that could provide emancipation from the pressures of expressing sexuality through scantiness. The relationship sexiness has with bare skin can be redefined through the skirt.
The fact that the Japanese’s stay on the side of modesty draws no attention attests to the insidiousness of barely-there dressing. The Italians, however, have always had a sophisticated view. In the Baz Luhrmann-directed video for the Metropolitan Museum’s Spring 2012 Costume Institute exhibition, Schiaparelli & Prada: Impossible Conversations, Muccia Prada said, “Instinctively, I refuse the usual conviction that you have to be beautiful from the waist up… so many things are happening from the waist down…” Yet, Ms Prada has never played up the role of the skirt by drastically reducing its length or deliberately minimising its opacity. The Prada skirts, 100 of them so magnificently displayed at the 2004 travelling exhibition Waist Down, validate the old belief that short is not always sexy.
It would also take Gucci to push forward the idea of prim-as-desirable. Designer Alessandro Michele (before his appointment last year, a relative unknown) has been lauded for making the brand “cool again”. It is odd—but, perhaps, a relief for the show-no-ass lass—that it would take new Gucci’s geeky looks rather than the entrenched sexy-to-the-max aesthetic, first delineated by Tom Ford, to revive the house. Whether looking like a librarian or school teacher, perhaps, in the end, women just want clothes that allow them to get on with their lives, rather than be too sexy for their skirt.