by Kayito Nwokedi
As I write this article, I have just watched the Georges Chakra fall 2011 haute couture show for the umpteenth time on my blackberry and every time I watch the video, I still Ooh and Aah over it like it’s my first time. While I do this, “love on top”, a single from Beyonce’s new album, 4, plays alongside the video as a faux-soundtrack of the show on my iPod and boy, what a synergy it turns out to be. The luxury and chicness of the clothes coupled with Beyonce’s eighties-feel song meld into a perfect sequence. The first girl steps out in a black cocktail dress while Beyonce croons “bring the beat in”, seconds later, the next dress steps out. A somewhat reminiscent version of a red dress Sarah Jessica Parker wore as Carrie Bradshaw in the first ‘Sex and The City’ movie. In an instant, what comes to mind was what Carrie Bradshaw said,“…I put on the worst of the eighties”. Could it have been a coincidence that a modernized and wearable version of Carrie Bradshaw’s “worst of the eighties” dress on the Georges Chakra catwalk, and Beyonce’s eighties-inflected song could juxtapose so easily? Maybe, maybe not. But coincidence it may be that Georges Chakra, Beyonce and Sarah Jessica Parker all have one thing in common – Style. And no, I’m not referring to the mini glossy fashion magazine buried in the pages of THISDAY’s Sunday newspaper. I’m talking about style, that which never goes out of fashion.
A peek into the dictionary, and I find the meaning of style to be “a manner or way of doing something, a striking quality, often elegance or lavishness, that is considered desirable or admirable; the state of being fashionable”. That last part of the dictionary’s definition is what catches my eye, the state of being fashionable. My point would be made clear in the following paragraphs.
The fashion world today comprises mainly of those who create it – fabric manipulators popularly known as fashion designers. What a tweed fabric might be used for by a particular designer, may be entirely different from the plans of another designer. Fashion designers shape the way we dress, and create what they think people are going to wear. In the words of Karl Lagerfeld, “like poetry, fashion doesn’t state anything. It merely suggests”. In reality though, it takes a keen sense of style to put pieces seen on the runway together without looking ridiculously gimmicky.
Take the simple t-shirt for example. A “normal” wardrobe staple taken into a deep-thought process to conceive what other possible way it could be worn. The most prominent answer so far came when Raf Simons, a 43 year-old Belgian designer, and creative director for Italian house, Jil Sander, created a collection for spring 2011 that still keeps the fashion world on its toes. In the collection, he showcased t-shirts, tucked unfussily into dramatic long couture-like skirts. His aim? To maximize minimalism. Minimalism referring to the t-shirts. Let’s face it, a simple t-shirt isn’t exactly the most interesting item of a wardrobe, but this designer tried to make us see a possibility in making that piece of clothing we usually abandon in oblivion, into something appraised for opulence. And it worked. True, some of what he showed may not work in real life, but he pitched a fantastic idea that the t-shirt can be taken further, rather than its usual everyday pairing with jeans.
Let’s not forget about Ankara. That now, oh-so-ubiquitous fabric, which is still a major trend if I might add, was, and still is used quite distinctively by different designers. Lisa Folawiyo of Jewel by Lisa, the Dries Van Noten of Nigeria, was the pioneer in modernizing the very cultural, very African fabric into not just wearable and chic sixties dresses, but also popularized the “clashing prints” trend. Then came Ituen Basi , a re-incarnated Jeanne Lanvin, who went into haute couture mode and reworked it by deconstructing different fabric prints and piecing them horizontally together to create a beautiful cacophonous mix, which she cut into mini and maxi dresses, skirts, blouses and jackets. In the mix, she dared to bring a vintage silhouette, the “Iro and Buba”, back to life. Over the seas, we saw Parisian house, Cacharel, use the fabric in some of their spring/summer collections, and more recently, musician-turned-fashion designer, Gwen Stefani(creative director, L.A.M.B) and Christopher bailey of British fashion house, Burberry, used the fabric for twenties-inspired flapper dress and trench coat shapes respectively.
So in the end, style isn’t really about buying a designer’s fabulous creation off the rack. It is about buying with intuition, making a personal statement, knowing what suits you, owning the look. Just because Oscar De La Renta creates a masterpiece doesn’t mean it’s instantly going to suit you or make you stylish. Style is what differentiates the way Oscar De La Renta presents the clothes on the runway from the manner in which you wear the clothes.
Fashion may bring us together, but style is what sets us apart.