To talk of shape when discussing fashion seems rather obvious. But sometimes the obvious is interesting. The fact that a garment is structured – composed of pieces, seams, darts and tucks – is taken for granted, in the same way that one might expect a novel to have paragraphs, dialogue and a narrative. But within that expected framework, there are an almost infinite number of variations. Will the skirts be full, A-line or pencil tight? Will bodices be fitted or loose? How will collars, cuffs and hems add to the overall appearance?
Some designers are more interested in shape than others. Corrie Nielsen’s ‘Florilegium’ collection is a case in point. The tailored mimicry of petals, stamens and other parts of plants provide much of the beauty. Nielsen’s “couture-like”, “sculptural” and “architectural” shapes are often mentioned in reviews and articles, indicating her prowess when it comes to cut and drape.
Shape is a skeleton composed of thread and fabric. It provides a backdrop for beads or paint-splodge florals. Of course, it is built to fit around another skeleton – that of the human frame. It is designed to flatter, accentuate or skim over shoulders, chest, hips, legs. The body is the armature beneath the clothing. A transition is made from static to movement when a dress or coat is given a living form to fill it. Most garments are constructed on a mannequin – a facsimile figure – before being fitted to a model. But as one size does not fit all, it is often interesting, when observing a catwalk collection, to muse on how these pieces might look on different shapes, sizes and ages of women.
Some use form more creatively than others. Fyodor Golan presented a porcelain corset moulded to the model’s torso in their SS13 ‘Blue Tattoo’ collection. Material was often ruffled into wave-like crests or sewn into a lattice-work of blue. Their designs had both structural and narrative shape, with the clothes intimating a tale of loss and survival in the desert. It was a very different location evoked to that of Nielsen’s Kew Gardens' flowerbeds and greenhouses, but both presented loose stories composed of colour, pattern and shape.
Designers, like authors or poets, can have distinct 'voices' - not written, but woven and stitched. Some change their register from year to year, whilst others build on a core set of features. Burberry Prorsum’s trench coats set the pitch of their show each season. This season's miniature capes just covering the shoulders and corset-cuts are a delicious variation on a well-known theme. Similarly, Roksanda Ilincic’s slightly voluminous sleeves and colourful collars in blue and mustard are distinctive, but still characteristically elegant.
To look at shape is not to ignore the texture, shades or embellishments that go into making a garment. It is just to appreciate the craftsmanship of scissors and sewing machines. Such skills are demonstrated in various SS13 collections: Christopher Kane’s dresses and jackets with their loops and folds of fabric like paper concertinas; Erdem’s use of layered opaque and translucent fabrics; Holly Fulton’s rose motifs climbing over flared skirts and collarbones; Osman’s exaggerated collars and peplums; Bora Aksu’s balance between flared and fitted and Mary Katrantzou’s boxy sleeves and shifts (although of course it is the postage stamp prints that claimed attention). Some designers experiment with structure more than others. The results may not always be - to use an industry buzzword - easily ‘wearable’, but they are often theatrical in the way that they startle and awe an audience.
This outfit is a homage to the voluminous shapes of Corrie Nielsen, the sweet-wrapper shine of Burberry and the pastels of Bora Aksu, Erdem and Christopher Kane. This is a rather wintery incarnation of such spring-summer 2013 inspiration though, with the recent week-long bout of snow necessitating the addition of vintage gloves, a vintage Jaeger jumper and second hand furry hat. Dress from charity shop.