Sophisticated. Simple. Retro. Wearable. These are some of the words that journalists have used to describe the catwalk fashions on display this week in Paris, Milan… and Salisbury. From Dior to Dolce & Gabbana, Giamba to Prada, the styles of Spring/Summer 2015 have been conspicuous for their strong silhouettes and attention to detail. There is an emphasis on sensible sartorialism, where practicality and plushiness harmonize. As Jo Ellison, fashion editor for the Financial Times, observes, fashion designers have got real.
Salisbury’s vintage-inspired fashion show, set against the backdrop of its thirteenth-century cathedral, a gothic masterpiece constructed in a single building phase that lasted just under 40 years, provided the perfect parallel to these continental collections. On one level, the flagship event of Salisbury’s annual Fashion Week could be seen as a subtle parody of how the fashion industry has come to rely on historical props and places for legitimacy. The latest round of international fashion shows emphasized how designers’ practice of dipping into fashion’s past for distinction has become routine. In Paris, for example, Raf Simons’ presentation for Dior was housed within a mirrored box in the Cour Carree, the Louvre’s oldest courtyard that has formally played host to Louis Vuitton shows. Simons’ collection was replete with historical references, chiefly from the eighteenth century according to Guardian writer Jess Cartner-Morley.
Brilliant though it was, the timing of Salisbury’s vintage event was almost certainly coincidental. The atmosphere within the Cathedral was one of celebration rather than criticism and condescension. The bursts of spontaneous applause that engulfed the models as they meandered across the medieval pavement in patent stilettos between tables dressed with 1950s china (all supplied by local shop, Beulah’s Attic), not to mention the striking effect of the strong shapes, rich colours and bold textiles against the grey Chilmark stone, engendered a profound connection – rarely witnessed at fashion events – between the sitters and the strutters. Tables buzzed as people recalled memories – to varying degrees hilarious, harrowing and humbling – of weddings, great aunts, children and first loves. The event clarified, far better than any sociological study, why former vogues remain relevant and prevalent.
In an era when the majority of clothes were still made or finished by hand, and with austerity measures providing a unique stimulant for clothing creativity, people’s dress was practical, personal and possessing of a genuine degree of quixotism that did not detract from its quality. No wonder, then, that contemporary designers and the companies they create for have tried hard to understand and utilise the appeal of retro raiment. If the joie de vivre within the Cathedral could have been distilled, branded and sold, the fashion industry would have found an elixir that would truly enable them to create clothes to die for.