Licentiate Column: The Soft Line

Usually, trends are easy to predict. Florals in spring, sombre patterns in autumn, pastels for sun, dark colours for sleet and rain. It’s a formula for prediction for Mystic Meg would snort derisively at.

There are trends that come out of left field, seemingly for no good reason other than a designer’s well-intentioned need to break us little people out of our fashion funk. That is why we have leggings. It may also be why we had such marvels of engineering as the crinoline and the bustle.

Cartoon by George Cruikshank

‘I know’, said the worlds foremost 19th century couturiers. ‘Why don’t we make women look like gigantic lacy bells instead of bipedal creatures? They’re just dying for a change in style. Or perhaps we should make them wear several pounds of horsehair padding on their behinds? Would their bums look big in this? I should bloody well hope so!’

When designers feel like breaking from the norm, they usually do it not in terms of fabric or pattern, but silhouette. This can have an unexpectedly gorgeous outcome (think beaded flapper dresses or block bright Mary Quant minis), but when the trend involves making a woman look unnatural or like she’s been stuffed into a lifesize sausage casing, then we have a problem.

The newest unwearable silhouette change has been dubbed by Vogue.co.uk as ‘The New Soft Line’. This is probably because it will make you look like the squishy-soft Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.

Stella McCartney A/W '11-'12

Vogue describes the trend as ‘soft, curvy and rounded – it may not sound like high fashion, but the new soft line is the silhouette for autumn/winter ‘11’. This, also, does not tell us very much.

A quick run through of the designers that espouse the soft line trend reveal a motley crew; Chanel and Moschino Cheap and Chic, Jil Sander and Burberry Prorsum. Stella McCartney leads the way, with a collection of pillowy garments.
All these designers and the soft line can be boiled down to this – it’s supposed to make you look like you have no joints. Wear a cocoon coat and presto! Your hips have disappeared! Bell-shaped sleeves? No elbows for you today.

It’s an unfortunate trend because it’s beautiful. It really does have soft lines, waving, undulating, alluring. The problem is that the human body, while in possession of such lines, also has angles, points, edges and relative straightness (ironically, mostly found on the slim models wearing such clothes). It makes a person wonder whether the human body is the best canvas for such an artistic endeavour.

Burberry Prorsum A/W '11-'12

Burberry’s winter coats have huge, exaggerated, cropped cape-like sleeves that could house a couple looking to get their first step on the property ladder. It’s rather unfortunate that on a cold winter’s eve this coat would be about as insulating as as Tesco Value toilet paper, despite the heft of the wool or the meticulousness of craftsmanship.

Stella McCartney A/W '11-'12

Stella MacCartney’s jumper dresses are a bit of a misnomer. You would expect a woolly dress to be comfortable, but here the fabric is stiffened, almost like card. This preserves the silhouette.

The sacrifice of comfort for a soft line is bordering on Victorian – full of restriction, austerity, exploitation and diminished mobility. It sometimes seems that we’ve already gone back there economically. Is that a time we want to go back to sartorially?

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