Hemlines: Notes on Fashion

with

Elizabeth Mullaney

What is fashion? Is it the haute couture looks that gallop down runways in New York, London, Paris, and Milan two times a year? Or is it the hand-me-down college sweatshirt you stole from your mom that feels like home when you wear it? Or perhaps it’s the designer handbag you bought yourself on your birthday last year? No, wait, maybe it’s the pair of Levis 501s that you wear five times a week? Hemlines: Notes on Fashion is a column that will explore, analyse, and critique fashion as both an industry and a form of artistic and creative expression. From the atelier to the closet, fashion as a medium holds the power to impact and reflect our lives and experiences both universally and personally. Hemlines will act as a forum to investigate fashion as both an everyday outlet for personal creativity and expression, but also as a medium that is profoundly intersectional, calling into question issues of politics, gender, race, and environment.

Gucci, Gucci, Gucci.

Monday, November 22nd
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The Gucci Love Parade on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA. (Image: gucci.com)

On November 2nd in Los Angeles, California, the Gucci Love Parade marched down Hollywood Boulevard. Since taking leadership of the brand in 2015 as creative director, Alessandro Michele quickly became known for his maximalist designs and fashion shows of cinematic proportions. However, the recent Spring/Summer 2022 show took such precedents to a dramatic new level. The 115 look collection read like a retrospective of Hollywood’s fashion over the last century, an outright celebration of classic Hollywood glamour and old-school movie magic.

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Gwyneth Paltrow. (Image: Jordan Strauss/Invision, via Associated Press)
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Gwenyth Paltrow at the VMAs in 1996. (Image: whowhatwear.com)

As much as Alessandro’s show celebrated the stars, the stars showed up to celebrate Alessandro. Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, and Serena Williams, to name a few, were all in attendance. Moonlighting as models, even figures such as Jared Leto, Macaulay Culkin, and Phoebe Bridgers took a turn on the runway for the Italian brand. Gwyneth Paltrow arrived in a familiar red velvet suit, a reprised version of the ruby-colored ensemble—designed by Tom Ford for Gucci in 1996—which the entrepreneur and actor famously wore to that year’s VMAs. Remembered today as one of Paltrow’s most iconic looks, the suit delivers the kind of offbeat glamour Gucci does so well while proving that good fashion never ages.

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Look 42. (Image: gucci.com)
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Look 36. (Image: gucci.com)
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Look 40. (Image: gucci.com)

Set against the shimmering lights of Hollywood Boulevard, the Gucci Love Parade was a fairy tale of sequins upon satins upon velvets upon feathers. Strutting down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one after the other, the 115 looks featured exaggerated silhouettes, overstuffed shoulder pads, and taffeta trains, while the lively 70s-inspired color palette was occasionally grounded by 1960s wide-stripe plaids, dark velvets, and classic menswear pieces. Not to mention the accessories, or rather props, were magnificent. Cowboy hats, crystal speckled cat-eye sunglasses, princess tiaras, vinyl dress gloves, and starry tights vied for attention in a more-is-more collection that once again reminded us that Alessandro is the king of maximalism.

 

Gucci’s name has long been linked with Hollywood. In the mid-1990s, Tom Ford’s collections set the sleek, sex, modern style of the house’s look and established Gucci as a brand dedicated to evening glamour, attracting Hollywood A-listers in the process. However, the aesthetic of golden age cinema has often informed Alessandro’s collections before. Growing up in Rome, Alessandro would hear tales of his mother’s work for a film production company. ‘I remember all the stories she told me, and the details and the sparkles, about that dream factory. There was the alabaster paleness of Marilyn Monroe and her diaphanous voice’, he said. ‘There were the black satin gloves of Rita Hayworth and Veronica Lake’s velvet hair, as well as the bewitching allure of Rock Hudson and Kim Novak’s dizzying transformative power. Everything felt like a fairy tale’. In this respect, Alessandro’s latest collection is deeply personal. However, being presented in the fashion house’s 100th year of establishment, the Gucci Love Parade takes such allegiance to old Hollywood glamour to incredible new heights. In a statement after the show, Alessandro proclaimed:

 

'This boulevard of stars lends perfect support to my uncurbed love for the classical world… Hollywood is, after all, a Greek temple populated by pagan divinities. Here actors and actresses are acknowledged as heroes of the myth: hybrid creatures with the power to hold divine transcendence and moral existence at the same time.’

 

Through an almost camp display of affection, the show exquisitely captured that wild and chaotic 'anything is possible’ spirit of Hollywood that makes it possible for mortal humans turned movie stars to be worshiped as royalty or even gods. From the wild west to Charles Manson and the new Hollywood of the 1960s, the show absorbs an array of Hollywood tropes. And while the fashion world more often tends towards all things new, newer, and newest, Alessandro reminds us that we can never resist a good throwback.

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Gucci took over Hollywood Boulevard for their “Love Parade.” (Image: Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times)

An epitomisation of glitz and drama in a declaration that more is still never enough, the show was an epic success. And this will almost certainly not be the last time we see the Gucci Love Parade march down the streets of Hollywood. As award season approaches in 2022, these same star-inspired looks will likely grace red carpets upon the exact figures who continue the legacy of this fantastical industry that inspired their design in the first place. It was a full-circle moment in the historical collaboration between Hollywood and fashion to say the least.

The Little Black Dress

Monday, October 25th

In 1926, Gabrielle Chanel, better known as Coco Chanel, created her infamous ‘little black dress’. For nearly a century since, the little black dress, often called the LBD, has not only maintained its fashionable currency but has also become something of a mandatory piece in the modern woman’s wardrobe. Within the fashion world — an industry fundamentally characterized by turnover and change — the longevity of the little black dress is remarkable and even paradoxical. While fashionableness is inherently defined by its impermanence, the survival of the little black dress, its transcendence of time and trend, becomes a rather perplexing and oxymoronic phenomenon.

 

For Coco Chanel, the little black dress was cherished for its simplicity. Undecorated and architectural, Chanel’s little black dress was the ultimate expression of linear and structured design in dressmaking, which had been the focus of her career from the beginning. Antithetical to the long-standing tradition of haute contour and one-of-a-kind dressmaking, Chanel’s revolutionary design championed standardization and repetition. In its growing popularity, the little black dress became exemplary of liberation and modernization. Its simplifying power was not only felt throughout the fashion industry but also in individual closets. With a little black dress in her wardrobe, a woman need never worry about having appropriate attire for any occasion.

 

Since 1926 no other colour, indeed no other garment, has demonstrated quite the same versatility. Cristóbal Balenciaga himself was keenly aware of this fact. For the Spanish designer — recognized particularly for his architectural and sculptural abilities — the colour black harbours the unique power to preserve a garment’s physical design, structure, and form. Black emphasizes cut in sturdy fabric; mysteriously conceals the body in mousseline or organza; and formalizes silhouette in velvet. Coupled with the distinct sculptural qualities of Balenciaga’s collections, black upheld and bolstered the true artistry of his designs, enhancing their architectural structure and form. This past September, Kim Kardashian attended the Met Gala in a (literal) head-to-toe black ensemble, custom-designed for the multi-hyphenate celebrity by Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga and perhaps signalling the fashion house’s enduring commitment to the artistic legacy of Cristóbal himself.

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British actress Audrey Hepburn on the set of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a movie based on the novel by Truman Capote. (Image: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis)

In the 1920s and 30s, the role of cinema entered the scene, and the little black dress came to inherit especially glamorous connotations. Cue Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in the ultimate little black dress by Hubert de Givenchy. Perhaps the most famous example of them all, Hepburn’s iconic, floor-length black look effortlessly combines classic and chic, casually gracing Fifth Avenue with its alluring elegance. In the 1972 film, The Tall Blonde Man with One Black Shoe, the French model and actress Mireille Darc donned a more risqué rendition, with a bottom-skimming, back-exposing, high-neck take on the classic piece. In its various forms, styles, and attitudes, the little black dress has become an icon of its own history and timelessness.

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French model and actress Marielle Darc in the 1972 film The Tall Blonde Man with One Black Shoe. (Image: Getty Images via Vogue.com)

By the 1980s, Princess Diana of Wales could be regularly seen outfitted in black gowns and cocktail dresses. However, it would be her 1994 “revenge” dress that would make a particular impact on the historical legacy of the little black dress. On June 29, 1994, Princess Diana attended a fundraising dinner hosted by Vanity Fair magazine for the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens. Though she initially declined to attend, Diana accepted her invitation only two days prior to the event, amidst several days of publicity exposing her husband Prince Charles’s infidelities. The dinner was to be held the same night as Charles would publicly admit to his extramarital affairs in a televised interview.

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Princess Diana arriving at the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens on June 29, 1994. (Image: Jayne Fincher/Getty Images via People.com)

Yet instead of cowering in shame, Diana arrived in a figure-hugging black silk dress, accessorized by a pearl choker necklace, black pumps, and a red lip. Though her arrival lasted a mere thirty seconds, the photographs taken that day captured a fashion statement for the history books. A pièce de résistance, the revenge dress was born. Georgina Howell, in her 1998 book Diana: Her Life in Fashion, describes the revenge dress as ‘possibly the most strategic dress ever worn by a woman in modern times’. On the morning after Charles’s damaging televised interview, Diana’s devastating black look wiped her husband clean off the front pages. ‘The Thrilla He Left to Woo Camilla’, beckoned the headline of The Sun. By way of a seemingly simple choice of colour and cut, Diana reclaimed her own narrative without having to utter a word. That is the power of the little black dress. On that June evening in 1994, Diana reinvented and transformed the little black dress from a universal icon of liberation into a profoundly personal one. Today, her revenge dress remains one of her most iconic looks of all time — an enduring model of independence, bravery, and silent rebellion.

 

The beauty of the black dress is that it is a blank canvas. As evidenced by its shifting forms over the decades, the iconic dress is perhaps so iconic precisely because it lends itself to reinvention and reinterpretation. As elegant as it is democratic, the little black dress can be sexy and seductive, but also conservative and practical — and smart and sophisticated, too. Dressed up or dressed down, the little black dress is an inherent celebration of individuality while also being an icon of its own history. It connects the individual with the universal, inviting its present forms of interpretation to engage with a larger conversation on femininity and fashion that is both personal and transhistorical.

 

 

Sources

 

Brown, Tina. The Diana Chronicles. New York: Random House, 2011.

 

Howell, Georgina. Diana: Her Life in Fashion. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1998.

 

Saillard, Olivier. Balenciaga in Black: The Black Work. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2018.

 

Davis, Mary. Classic Chic: Music, Fashion, and Modernism. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006.

 

Asenov, Stoyan. ‘Notes on femininity, or the big story of a little dress’. Horizon, Studies in Phenomenology 6, no. 1 (2017): 161-180.

 

Bumpus, Jessica. ‘Everything to know about the history of the little black dress’. Vogue, accessed 23 October 2021, https://www.vogue.com.au/fashion/news/everything-to-know-about-the-history-of-the-little-black-dress/image-gallery/331833aef31580619e15123a0e1496d0.