They say that true style lasts forever, long after fashion trends have come and gone. They’re probably right.
As the cogs of the fashion industry continue to spin at greater speeds, producing more and more merchandise that often feel dated within a matter of months, only a small handful of iconic items have withstood the test of time.
Is it their simplistic design that makes them immortal? Or that they were born out of necessities that has created an immunity to passing fads?
We peel back the curtains on five of fashion’s most enduring icons.
01 | Chanel’s tweed jacket
Gabrielle Chanel once stated that she “wanted to dress women in suits that make them feel at ease, but that still emphasise femininity”. That led her to create the tweed jacket.
Tweed was, traditionally, not only reserved for menswear but was also heavy, hence the Mademoiselle taught Scottish craftsmen to create lighter versions to make her suits more comfortable.
She even removed any darts that restricted the body, and had a brass chain stitched into the hem to ensure the jacket fell perfectly even when static.
For Spring/Summer 2020, creative director Virginie Viard rejuvenated the tweed jacket using, for example, boxy hems that kicked out into a peplum of sunburst pleats. She followed up with cropped tweed jackets in ombre hues at the Pre-Fall 2020 showcase just months later.
02 | Burberry’s trench coat
An icon of quintessential British fashion, the trench coat is synonymous with rainy London evenings and idyllic autumnal escapes to the English countryside.
Never mind that Thomas Burberry popularised it in 1879 by taking Charles Macintosh’s original weatherproof coat and remaking it using then-cutting edge gabardine for officers on the battlefields; the outer was later bestowed its present-day moniker for the muddy military trenches that soldiers stationed in.
The original trench coat was all about function over form. Its gabardine material was revolutionary as it was lighter and more breathable than the heavy and stuffy waxed fabrics military officers wore. D-rings on the front and back allowed equipment to be attached. Its collar took a year to perfect, requiring over 180 stitches, handsewn to create a fluid curve.
Riccardo Tisci reinterpreted it with an urban-luxe twist for Spring/Summer 2020, marrying girlish details like gemstone embroidery, scarf-printed attachments and delicately scalloped edges with gritty oversized epaulettes in grey and khaki. He’s even deconstructed it, with one cropped at the waist and matched with a cargo cap, while another bustier dress offered a trench coat-inspired lower half that could be fastened around the waist.
03 | Roger Vivier’s buckle
Inspired by the footwear of French nobility in the 1700s — where a buckle served as embellishment for the shoes — Roger Vivier made his buckle a focal point on leather pumps.
Vivier’s buckle was less ornate, with clean, sharp lines to appeal to the modern sensibilities of his customers. In 1965, the first buckled pump debuted alongside Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian shift dresses.
To mark the 55th anniversary of the buckle, creative director Gherardo Felloni sought to reimagine it in different styles and scenarios, from combat boots with two bejewelled buckles on each side, to classic white tennis sneakers energised by bright pink rectangular buckles.
04 | Valentino’s red
When Valentino Garavani launched his couture collection in 1962, he included dresses in a hue that’s been dubbed Valentino Red. The inspiration goes back to an evening at the opera, when the youngster spotted a lady dressed in red velvet.
“I told myself that if I were ever going to become a designer, I would do lots of red,” shared the Italian designer.
Valentino Red remains a singular feature on the runway every season, as current creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli continues to elevate the passionate hue in myriad ways.
For Spring/Summer 2020 ready-to-wear, he infuses it into jungle-inspired prints. Even though his haute couture creations featured Valentino Red in smaller servings, its impact was great — whether as a trim to punch up an icy blue gown or on hand-painted koi on a cape worn by Irina Shayk.
05 | Dior’s “New Look”
Introduced in 1947, Dior’s New Look — which got its name from an editor’s comment that his designs “have such a new look” — flew in the face of economic and sartorial austerity.
The looks often consisted of a Bar jacket and a gargantuanly fluffy skirt. The lines of the jacket — all curved and rounded — were specifically designed to celebrate the lovely female form. A cinched waist and padded hip line further accentuated feminine figures.
Like Monsieur Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri wants to make clothes modern women can relate to and build a relationship with. Whereas he was focused on creating an image of OTT luxury, Chiuri prefers to address the needs of women today.
For Spring/Summer 2020 ready-to-wear, she expanded the New Look by employing lighter materials and softer tailoring. Waistlines were still fitted, but the 13 metres of fabric once used in the construction of a skirt was drastically reduced for an airier feel. Some skirts were also shortened into miniskirts and cuffed shorts. For haute couture, she swopped full skirts for sensibly tailored slim pants or pleated skirts to afford one ease of movement.
This story first appeared in the May 2020 issue of A Magazine.