The British School of Professional Styling.
The Professional Photo, Film, TV & Personal Stylist’s Course.
Assignment 2. Find two examples of designer trends from either current or recent collections that show strong references to a previous era. We would like you to identify the era it references with two well labelled pictures of both the original and current trends, illustrating the shared characteristics.
Trends allow the population to be directed towards a specified designed collection be it in the interior of our homes or the clothes we wear each season. It also gives designers the opportunity to use their creativity to stand out as individuals, having themselves followed guidelines set by the international colour experts and the developments by texile technologists and manufacturers.
The international fashion designers will also use their knowledge of styles that were popular and influenced previous generation, to set a trend for the present, whilist trying to capture the mood of the world around them.
The Autumn/Winter collection of 2020 has inspired some of the couture designers to look a couple of hundred years back in history, while another has looked to the medieval world to clothe women.
The above left photograph is taken from Vogue Magazine, September 2020 and it shows a chainmail dress from the autumn/winter collection of Paco Rabanne whose creative director is Julien Dossena. The cut of the dress is quite elaborate, being cut with diagonal seaming on the bodice, which is familiar to dress cut on the bias in the 1930’s. There is a mixture in the size of the ‘chain mail’, the larger size being used on the bodice, repeated in bands around the hem of the skirt, the wide, elbow length, bell shape sleeves and around the edge of the headdress. Also attached to these ends of the garments is some wide fabulous metallic fringing, consisting of many different styled links and small balls. The transparency of this fringing allows the skin to be revealed in quite a sexy way, especially when you imagine the wearer moving and this decoration swings. It also offers contrast to the solid fabric of the headdress, bodice and skirt and slightly lightens the look.
The designer hoped to ‘grace the body rather than shield it’ but at the same time unite women to be strong.
Chain mail is not traditionally thought of for women’s wear. The first reference in history of this elaborate and protective material was when pictures of Assyrian Soldiers were discovered from the 7th century BC and then the Romans issued chain mail to their legions of warriors.
To the left and above left are manuscript miniature, hand painted illustrations taken from the Maciejowski Bible, held in the Morgan Library in New York.
They are French and date from between 1244-1254. They show a King (with the crown on his head) his knights and soldiers wearing the medieval chain mail used when they went into battle. We can clearly see that chain mail could completely cover the torso, the arms, legs (hose) and the head, or it could simply be a tunic with sleeves that comes to the top of the knees. In England the latter garment was called a hauberk and was used as early as 1100. Chain mail guantlets or gloves were added at a later date with the Crusades to the Middle East.
Over the chain mail they wore a loose surcoat, or tunic.
At the top right of the pervious page is a statue of a woman wearing some chain mail, although we only see the skirt showing below her all metal solid armour.
This is from a later date, probably the mid 1300’s. The statue is of Joan of Arc, who was a French, teenage woman who lead the armies against the English. She was made a saint and has always been a symbol of strength for both men and women.
Beneath the photo of the statue of Joan we see a photo that dates from 2018, where the American actress Zendaya, wore an her version of ‘Joan of Arc’ designed by Versace.
Above is a picture taken from the ‘Horn of Plenty ’collection of Alexander Mcqueen dating from 2009.
It was called a jewelled yashmak and was made by Shaun Leanne.
By looking back through the years of collections we can begin to see, how themes have repeated themselves with different designers and how they have created their individual styles on the same garments.
There are three characteristics that are shared by the current Paco Rabanne chain mail dress and the medieval protective garment we see in the manuscript illustrations from the 11th century.
The first is the straightness of the bodice. The medieval chain mail was a straight tube that hung from the shoulders to the knees, which the wearer was often laced into down the back.
The dress that has been designed by Paco Rabanne has a straightish bodice but also uses features to emphasis a woman’s shape. The bodice is semi fitting to the top hip and detailed with clever seaming to insert a contrasting ‘larger chain mail’ fabric at the waist and top hip level. The designer has ended the very full bell shape sleeves at the bust level and incorporated a small amount of draping on the bust to increase the body width at this point, thus making the waist look smaller.
This is also emphasised slightly by the flare of the skirt on this garment. The overall look gives a slim, but curvy silhouette to the wearer.
Whilst we see beautiful long metallic fringing on the dress of 2020, the medieval metallic tunic or hauberk was a functional garment with a specific role for the wearer, of protection from weapons.
This extended onto the head, which is where we see the second similarity to the 2020 version. Both outfits have a headdress that extends down over the neck. The latter has metallic decorative fringing, partially hiding the face, and might be symbolic of a woman protecting herself in turbulent times.
The medieval soldier had no decoration but had added protection from a metal helmet that was worn over the top of the chain mail hood.
It was only later as the knights became more involved with the Crusades, that decoration was adopted from the influence of middle east. This marked the beginning of Heraldry.
The final feature that the wearers of modern and ancient chain mail share is what they wore on their feet. The model in the Paco Rabanne outfit has heavy soled leather boots which would provide a great of protection and comfort. The chain mail clad soldiers also had leather footwear, though not as heavily soled as the model of 2020.
The photograph to the above left, taken on location is from the May 2020 issue of the British Vogue magazine and shows a Ball Dress from the couture house of Balenciaga’s Spring/Summer Collection 2020. The same dress above right, is from the Vogue website and shows the dress on the catwalk.
The dress is made from a bonded velvet, with a high neck, tight fitting bodice and full-length tight-fitting sleeves. The Skirt forms one of the most recognisable period fashion shapes, the crinoline. In the photo to the left we can very faintly see the lines going round the skirt, which
one can assume is the crinoline frame that holds the skirt out in this bell shape.
Skirt frames were first worn in England in the early 1500 and were introduced by Catherine of Aragon who came from Spain to marry the Prince of Wales. The frames were called Spanish Farthingales and were cone in shape and made from cane. This later developed into the wheel farthingale in the reign of Elizabeth 1 about 1590. The frame went out at right angles to the waist and was often supported by a large hip pad.
The first dome or bell shape frames were seen in the late 1720s and these then developed into frames that were flat at the front and back, called Paniers. They reached their greatest width in about 1740. As the century progressed the panier divided into two separate smaller frames worn on either hip, sometimes called hip buckets. By the 1770’s they had again been replaced hip pads.
The next time we see a dome or bell shape crinoline is in 1864.
The Industrial Revolution in Britain had seen the development
of machines taking the role of humans. Therefore increasing the speed at which things could be produced, including fabric and with the invention of the sewing machine
clothing begun to be mass produced. All this abundance resulted in the size of women’s garments increasing, and to support the growing skirt widths which begun in the 1830’s, steel circular frames were introduced to replace the many layers of starched cotton petticoats.
We can see examples of a ball dresses from 1860 on the page below. The dress to the left is from the collection at the Metropolitian Museum in New York. The dress is a sky-blue damask made in cotton and silk. The dress to the right is a French fashion illustration and shows a slightly more elaborate ball dress, in that the skirt has layers of
frills going from the hem to about half-way up the skirt. The photo below right also shows a ball dress, but we get a real view of a woman wearing the gown.
Comparing these very similar 1860 ball dresses to the example of the 2020 ball dress designed by Balenciaga’s the most obvious features that they share is the dome shaped skirt created by the under garment of a frame, and their colours and tone. However, how the dress skirts are shaped are different. The Balenciaga dress is cut all in one with the bodice, without a waist seam and using princess line seaming coming from the armhole of the bodice down into the skirt it finishes at the hem creating long shaped panels.
The skirts and bodices of the 1860 ball dresses are separate with a waist seam. This allows the skirt to contain a lot more fullness than the 2020 version. This fullness is then pleated into the waist to meet the bodice, which is either cut straight round the body as seen in the photo to the left or lengthened into a point at the centre front as we seen in the top left photo of the museum dress and the dress in the fashion plate at the
Further observations of the bodices highlight other different features between the gowns.
Both the 1860 bodices and the Balenciaga bodice are tight fitting, but the latter bodice is high necked, finishing with a small stand, cut in one with the bodice. In complete contrast, the 1860 ball dress bodices were more daring, cut off the shoulder at a point that goes across the top arm and v shaped at the centre front in a deep décolletage. Tiny sleeves were inserted into the band across the arm, thereby restricting the movement for the wearers of these bodices.
However, the modern version of the crinoline ball dress has tight fitting, sleeves to the wrist, made to go into an armhole at the shoulder edge and going under the arm, which would allow full movement.
There is no decoration on the 2020 ball dress. It is very plain letting the richness of the bonded velvet be enough to create a look for a special evening event.
In 1860, we see that the necklines are heavily decorated with a combination of lace, self-fabric frills, ribbons, feathers, and a buckled belt at the waist. In the 1860 photo, we can see a pearl (possibly) positioned at the centre front of the neck. Other jewellery is seen at the wrists in the form of bracelets and round the neck there are necklaces on the top two pictures.
There is no jewellery on the model in the Balenciaga’s ball dress but on the location model at we see a silver cap worn on the side of the head with a bar earring. The hair of both these 2020 models is quite simple and short.
The hairstyles of the 1860 women was also simple but being parted in the centre of the head and arranged in a bun either at the back of the head or at the nape. It might have ribbons or flowers pinned into it too.
All models both from 2020 and 1860 appear to have very natural minimal make up.
Below is another modern example of the crinoline designed by Christopher John Rogers the Autumn/Winter collection of 2020. The size of this crinoline dress has increased in all features as it also did by 1865. The designer has cut the fabric in different directions to break up the check pattern in it and ruched the front skirt to reveal a glimpse of some net, which could be made into a huge petticoat or combined with a frame to achieve that size.
At both ends of this year’s fashion seasons we have seen that three designers have looked to the past for inspiration to put their brand at the forefront of what has set the trends for women, but we have also seen that these shapes and themes have been used by other modern designers, such as Alexander McQueen (see crinoline dress below) and Versace version of the chain mail worn by Joan of Arc, in previous years.
I have used fashion plates, photos, and illustrations to outline the similarities and the differences between the ideas and interpretations and noted the social changes which have occurred that account for the differences in the various eras.
In the 12th century chain mail was invented to protect men as they went into battle against weapons of their enemies. In the last couple of years, the MeToo movement has highlighted the struggles that some women have faced in their careers and lives which led Paco Rabanne to design a symbolic garment that would protect them against their ‘foes’.
In the book ‘Crinoline’ by Denis Pellerin and Brian May, there are humorous cartoons from 1864 that show these metal frames being especially useful for keeping unwanted attention away from the wearer as the pesky man cannot reach the woman.
In the time when women are asking for more flexibility in their lives and fashion designers should be trying to be more sustainable, including very voluminous skirts and frames in their collection seems a strange choice. But as they have constructed the modern garments much more simply than the originals, perhaps that is their point and shows how far we have all come.
Ball Dress designed by Christopher John Rogers, for his Autumn/Winter Collection 2020.
Crinoline dress, By Alexander Mcqueen for his Eshu collection, autumn/winter 2000-2001.
Bibliography and sources.
Vogue Magazine May 2020 and September 2020
‘A History of Costume in the West’. By Francoise Boucher.
‘Crinoline, Fashion’s Greatest Disaster’.
By Denis Pellerin and Brian May.
‘Savage Beauty’. Catalogue of Alexander Mcqueen
Exhibition at Metropolitan Museum, New York.
By Andrew Bolton.
Statue of St. Joan of Arc, Dol Catherdral, Dol de Bretagne,
Brittany, France, Europe.
Balenciaga’s Ball Dress, by Emma Somerton.
Paco Rabanne Dress, by Alasdair McLellan.
Alexander Mcqueen crinoline dress by Solve Sundso
Versace ‘St Joan’ outfit, by Getty Images.
Joan of Arc Statue, by Nick Servian
© The Kyoto Costume Institute, photo H