Skirt

by Alexander Fury .

Enough historical cross-referencing: what does this skirt mean in the wider scheme of fashion circa right now? A return to structure, to volume, to exuberance.

 

In 1911, the couturier Paul Poiret introduced the lampshade skirt to a Europe crazed by the succès fou of Les Ballets Russes. Fiercely exotic, the Ballets Russes had influenced everything from art to interior design, it was only a matter for time before fashion fell under its sway. Add to that the immense popularity of the Tango - the erotic meeting the exotic - and you have a perfect recipe for Poiret's pre-war seraglio of hobble-skirts and wire-hemmed tunics. The thousand and second night had truly begun. Exactly a hundred years later - and doesn't fashion love an anniversary - Mary Katrantzou had her own mad success with a lampshade swinging about a woman's hips. Of course, the former inspired the latter, to a degree: Katrantzou's spring 2011 collection aimed to put a room on a woman, the lampshade skirt was therefore a logical conclusion to Katrantzou's aesthetic conundrum.

The references to Leon Bakst's dramatic costumes for Diagliev's Ballets Russes are entirely appropriate: after all, fashion is made to be seen in movement, and the fringed hem of Katrantzou's skirt - much like Poiret's - entices a viewer. 'Un peu de mouvement... like a hula skirt' to borrow Diana Vreeland's description of her debutante gown after Poiret. The shape itself references Victorian lamps - Katrantzou originally planned to model a print on the lampshade, but eventually the garment sprang straight from print to reality, embroidered, quilted and embellished to the hilt. 

That wilful extravagance inevitably references the eighties, the last great flush of decoration. Christian Lacroix's celebrated, reviled and now revived pouf skirt is an immediate antecedent. The historicism of Lacroix's approach is reflected here too, the lampshade jutting at the hips in the manner of eighteenth-century panniers - a mini-mantua, perhaps, given that this hemline barely grazes the thigh? Certainly, the construction techniques are equal to those employed by Rose Bertin to give the toilette of Marie Antoinette an unparalleled magnificence, stiffened, boned and wired to almost-abstraction. Abstraction is perhaps the wrong term - this silhouette is resolutely, traditionally female, the swaying motion of the skirt reminiscent of a Victorian crinoline. 

Enough historical cross-referencing: what does this skirt mean in the wider scheme of fashion circa right now? A return to structure, to volume, to exuberance. Casting off the shackles of Minimalism, Reductionism and the long shadow the Great Camel Coat. In short, it means we're ready to have a good time again. Come to think of it, that's exactly what Paul Poiret was all about too.