Audiences at the fashion week presentations of some of the most lauded and iconic design houses were in for a surprise this year. Whereas contemporary revivals of dead trends and modernized, re-imagined period fashion have almost become a standard of fashion week, many of the most popular ready-to-wear lines introduced radical and completely unexpected silhouettes in their fall 2013 collections.
Challenging silhouettes, absurd volume, boxy profiles, and experimental tailoring are unsurprising in the collections of mainstream yet avant-garde designers like Rei Kawakubo and Thom Browne. But this season heralded a collective shift to more dramatic, almost costume-eque silhouettes across the board. Alexander Wang’s first season with Balenciaga saw him present an impeccably tailored monochromatic collection rife with in-your-face silhouettes tempered with elegant and luxurious touches such as understated embellishments, rich details and complex, textured patterns. An oversized black jacket secured with a simple silver bow clasp offered exaggerated cap sleeves and an ankle-skimming pseudo-train, which almost fell even with the hem of the model’s pants. Faux pockets further dramatized the silhouette by creating an almost hour glass shape that was vaguely reminiscent of the form of a bone corset. Wang revisited this elegant drama with a cropped long sleeve jacquard blouse that seemed almost bulky in its slightly oversized fit through the shoulder.
The Céline presentation similarly reflected this paradigm shift. Voluminous and almost oblong in shape, six, four and two, button coats were sent down the runway in lux materials and thick wool. These jackets boasted equally oversized lapels that seemed to all but drown the models in material. Even Margiela’s normal focus on deconstruction was sidelined by the eyebrow-raising proportions of some of the fall collections pants. Tuxedo style trousers were re-imagined in the context of womenswear as a bright swath of color meandered down the side of a black front pleated dress pant. However, the collection went far beyond the slouchy menswear-inspired pant we’ve been seeing by extending the pant hem as well as the overall volume of the trouser.
Folk-inspired embroidery wasn’t the only highlight of the Dries Van Noten collection, where the design house also dabbled in the fashion world’s new found favorite silhouette. The same voluminous, almost cartoonishly proportioned jackets we saw in Wang’s presentation also dotted the show. Van Noten even built upon the silhouette by fearlessly pairing volume on top of volume—as is seen with one extravagant A-line dress, which was paired with an equally bulky fur shrug.
Even designers like Gareth Pugh and Thom Browne, who vacillate between the fringe of mainstream and outrageous, found ways to incorporate these gargantuan silhouettes into their already larger-than-life collections. Browne’s models not only looked as if they’d
stepped straight out of an Elizabethan Wonderland, but the silhouettes in his collections could only have come from a place as outlandish as Wonderland. Disproportionate waist to hip ratios was a throwback to the 19th century bustle; and one rose embellished ivory dress sported such an exaggerated waist and shoulder that the model’s natural shape was all but lost.
While the shift to these new silhouettes may not be as revolutionary or lasting as Dior’s iconic “new look,” it still begs the question of who are these clothes for. What woman is willing to contend with the challenging shapes that are integral parts of many of these pieces? The genius of the “new look” was not only in its post-war decadence, but it was also revolutionary in the way in which it flattered the figure. These new silhouettes lack that appeal. Their draw arguably lies in the fact that they are very challenging for the average woman to wear with confidence. A select few will feel comfortable in fashion’s newest silhouette, and while thatrestores a sense of exclusivity to design houses, it may also drive away their core consumer