Style: The Look of the Decade

lookofthedecade.jpgIt seems as though the millennium began just a second ago. Alas the entire first decade of the new and improved millennium has flashed by in the blink of an eye (dolled up with motorized, vibrating mascara — that’s progress for you) and we are already well into spring and summer of 2010, in the world of fashion anyway.

And what has this bold new era done for us, and what will we remember with nostalgia or pull from our closets proudly in the years, decades even, to come?
This millennium started with trepidation – besides fears of Y2K, predicted to be a massive, world-crippling computer bug- there was 9/11 and an ensuing crash of world economies, and it has ended so too, with incredible financial collapses.

Creativity likes a little stress it seems.

“We are in such a period of innovation right now, it’s really exciting,” says Todd Lynn, a Canadian designer currently rocking London where he is regularly seen as a glowing star of London Fashion Week. “What is really interesting now are the innovations in fabrics, in construction – incredible pieces that are difficult to copy, that are works of art really.” Besides his own line of fierce, strict but utterly sexy clothes, which are grabbed up by the likes of Courtney Love and the hot wives of rock stars (think of Rodarte’s cobwebby confections or Balenciaga’s embellishments).

Or the web-like dresses of Canadian-born Mark Fast. Like Rodarte, the skill and engineering involved in creating the clothes is as close to real couture many of us will ever see up close. But trendy and affordable shops are taking up the challenge and offering a brand new kind of knit — a kind of loose and lacey look which somehow remind us of granny-crochet and yet is utterly sexy.

Cameron Silver is perhaps the world’s best expert on what a decade means, fashion-wise. He’s the owner of Decades, a vintage mecca in Los Angeles and London and the go-to shop when a movie star wants to make a red carpet statement. He agrees the second half of the first decade has heralded something new and interesting, coming into its own in terms of identifiable look.

“I would say the first half of the first decade of the 21st century was the Decades decade – it was so vintage derived, designers really referenced and recycled a lot of the iconic themes of the past. It began as a confused decade for so many designers,” says Silver. Part of the issue may be that most big-ticket designers did not receive the backing to create their own lines but rather helmed fashion houses with huge archives and huge boots to fill.

“It is only now, in the second half of the decade that we are finally seeing trends that are not derivative of history but are emerging as distinctive in their own right,” says Silver. Of note, and what he calls one of the motifs we’ll remember, is the “post-waif” – the woman dressed by Rick Owens in swathes and layers and washed leather, a “non-sexy sexiness, androgynous, confident, strong.”

Linda Perisa, owner of 119 Corbo, has been selling Rick Owens and his kissing cousin Haider Ackermann for years, and agrees that they provide a brand new look for women. They hit several notes- great workmanship in terms of draping and cut; an artsy glamour that can go from day to night; but also another unspoken quality that women are unlikely to want to give up: comfort. “Their clothing moves with you,” says Perisa. “I’m seeing even top executives opting for these designers and others like them instead of choosing something more strict and binding.”

Perisa says this is a decade, or a half decade that will define the decade, of dressing up but in a more uninhibited way. Not so much power-suit as power-look.

Maybe that can be attributed to the Sex and the City effect. Amy Verner, fashion writer for the Globe and Mail, suggests the icon of the decade is Sarah Jessica Parker and her alter-ego, Carrie Bradshaw of the TV show and now two-movie franchise Sex and the City. The weekly TV show was a fashionista’s dream and Carrie wore all manner of quirky — sometimes downright weird — clothing as selected for her by the show’s costume designer Patricia Field. Field first rose to notoriety and a kind of under the radar fame in the 1980’s in New York, where her Soho boutique was a destination for any and all who needed to shine things up a bit for the disco. As per Silver’s assessment, Carrie first showed up in things like 70’s tube tops and chintzy bling and ended with designer wonders by the likes of Oscar de la Renta or Lanvin. But what Carrie/SJP did for us was show a kind of relentless courage to go her own way with fashion and many of us followed if in a toned-down kind of way. She was always “dressed”, even if in sweatpants. You can thank her for motifs of the decade like jeans and very high heels, colour and bling, “it” bags, mini-skirts and mixing vintage with just about anything.

Another herald of what will become known as the noughties is Alber Elbaz for Lanvin, who manages what Silver calls “democratic fashion” such that women both tall and small look amazing in the sort of womanly, yet somehow easy clothing. “There is nothing boring in the collection, ever,” says Silver. “Alber is able to do basic extremely well, and can do a sort of un-done done look which is very, very interesting and timeless.” His first collections showed impeccable tailoring and unfinished edges which gave his look a youthful frisson. That young stick-like starlets and those of us in our spreading middle years look equally great in his clothing is an achievement.

Democracy goes slightly further – the second half of the decade has also led to an enduring trend whereby top notch designers from Karl Lagerfeld to Stella McCartney create lines for trendy and inexpensive shops such as H&M or The Gap.

And then there is what we might call the Kate Moss-ification of fashion sensibility. Moss virtually invented the notion of “high-low”, teaming her vintage finds with Topshop and to die for designer pieces. Or maybe call it the Carrie-Bradshaw effect — both the character and the star mixed diamonds with their cheap t-shirts and vintage couture finds.

“I think this is the message,” says Lynn. “Fashion is not so done up.”

Barbara Atkin, the fashion director for Holt Renfrew, suggests that women should edit their wardrobes, and their fashion wish-lists.

She says a few great, well-designed classics will go a long way but her version of classic might be a stunning, wildly printed and colored Etro coat rather than a trench. A statement piece, in other words.

She also suggests this “high-low” method of dressing, plus “boho’s” acceptance of color, pattern and artisanal embellishments is more than a trend but a gift the noughties have given to the future.

For Silver, there’s a fresh breeze blowing into the second decade. “”It” fashion is over,” he says. “Fashion now is anti-“it”. And, the looks now are timeless, consistent. They let you create the look – take a piece and mix it with vintage or something very casual. Fashion now will let you do your own story-telling.”