If there’s a look that encapsulates the sartorial mood of this summer, then it’s surely a calf-grazing dress in cool linen, cinched at the waist with a simple tie belt. It might be covered in dense folkish embroideries or as smooth and earthy as the sun-baked soil of Provence in late July. The new pastoral has emerged – in a host of different iterations – in the summer collections. Elegant, easy and suggestive of a simpler way of life, it’s turning out to be just the fashion tonic we need in fractious times.
Jonathan Anderson has led the charge, illustrating the laid-back appeal of textured rustic dresses at his eponymous brand JW Anderson. There is a balloon-sleeved, tie-front chalk cotton/linen dress (£825) and a graphic fuchsia and beige hibiscus-print style (£1,750) with a dropped waist and curved sleeves.
Over at the 170-year-old Spanish house Loewe, he continues the theme, celebrating tactile rustic materials and traditional techniques. Fringe-edged plissé, embroidered patchworks, earthy knits and the nubbly textures of linen and burlap have been worked into an array of calf-length dresses with peasant sleeves, dropped waists, raw edges and asymmetric hems. A chinoiserie dress (£2,100) is typical of the collection, with its embroideries, ballooning sleeves and drawstring hem. Anderson has provided an array of accessories that would work brilliantly with them all too. The brand’s Puzzle bag (£2,748) is reworked in tan calfskin with whip-stitched seams, and espadrilles (£295) are luxed-up in buttersoft tan leather.
The designer has, in fact, made it part of his mission at Loewe to celebrate craft, and all things artisanal, in a broader sense. Last year he launched the Loewe Foundation’s Craft Prize, a global platform for makers in glass, ceramics, textiles, wood and metal, with the inaugural prize awarded in April to German wood artist Ernst Gamperl.
But for Anderson, a noted collector of art and ceramics, craft is a personal passion too. And it’s rapidly becoming integral to the way luxury houses distinguish themselves from the mainstream. “Craftsmanship and provenance have become central to the way brands have been positioning themselves to consumers,” agrees Selfridges’ director of womenswear Lydia King. “The season’s pastoral undertones and detailing play into that sentiment in a new and literal way – that sense of homespun, easy elegance is an important reference for both fashion and lifestyle.” Selfridges honed in on the back-to-basics mood this spring with Our House, a celebration of traditional crafts in collaboration with The New Craftsmen.
Paris’s rising star Simon Porte Jacquemus – who launched his line at the age of 19 and received a special award as part of the coveted LVMH Prize in 2015 – has also been channelling this spirit with a potent and poetic collection inspired by the folk culture that surrounded him as a child. His spring/summer show title, Les Santons de Provence, refers to the terracotta figurines that represent the traditional inhabitants of a Provençal village, from farm worker to lavender cutter, and his wide-brimmed hats, poplin blouses and pastoral linens are a modern take on rural clothing.
His elegant coatdress (£775) with wide poet collar and pleated sleeves is cut in the finest taupe wool, and the collection is packed with separates, including standout shirts, that convey a similar mood. Matchesfashion.com has bought into Jacquemus’ crisp gigot-sleeved white cotton blouse (£430) and an exquisite puff-sleeved shirt (£515) in a fine-check silk/linen with eye-catching ruffles that looks beautiful teamed with the designer’s dramatically wide high-waisted trousers. Fendi’s resort collection, meanwhile, puts crisp cotton poplin culottes (£1,000) centre stage – worn cinched at the waist with a tie belt and paired with a khaki cotton top (£500) with frilled sleeves for that airy, elegant mood.
No matter what the intricacies of the silhouette, it’s the down-to-earth materials that are the stars of these laid-back pieces: hemp and flax, burlap and linen, chunky knits and frayed edges are all part of the back-to-nature feel. Rosetta Getty incorporated a chunky silk bouclé crocheted skirt (£2,220) and sweater (£1,980) with long, fringed edges into her resort collection, after being inspired by an exhibition of Brice Marden’s paintings at the Matthew Marks Gallery in LA, where she is based – although all of her collections feature a version of handknits. She has made a beautifully relaxed inky shawl coat (£1,170) with a simple tie belt, and an elegant linen all-in-one (£1,020) – it’s the first time the designer has worked with linen gauze. “I really enjoyed seeing how I could create sculptural pieces that still felt soft and feminine,” she says. “One of the reasons I started my own collection was to design clothes that could be worn with ease. As a woman, I felt the desire to go back to simplicity and elegance.”
At Stella McCartney this mood continues in a relaxed textural collection that includes a white linen-mix midi dress (£785) beautifully corseted through the waist and featuring rounded, voluminous sleeves. McCartney added more languid takes on the new easy rustic mood too, with a slouchy, earthy linen-knit dress (£825) with gathered sleeves and decorative fringing, cinched with a neat brown belt, or a textured viscose/polyamide dress (£920) layered with a raw-edged round-neck jumper. Phoebe Philo, meanwhile, has included the most exquisite linen/viscose peasant tops (£920) and gathered skirts (£510) in Céline’s resort collection – the only added details are the pressed-in creases on the gently ballooning sleeves.
Colombian designer Johanna Ortiz has one of the most elegant versions of the look, with a stretch-cotton poplin dress (£1,145), ornate with neat pin tucks, a beautiful tricolour suede-edged belt and dramatically gathered balloon sleeves. At Tibi there are gently fitted linen/viscose dresses (£715) with gathered sleeves in delicious colours such as forest green and a powdery sky blue.
This fit-and-flare silhouette does, of course, have form – seen in the lightning success of Vita Kin’s embroidered Ukrainian linen dresses (£1,534) that still routinely sell out at stores such as Matchesfashion.com. The beautiful demi-couture of Moscow-based Vika Gazinskaya has enjoyed similar stellar success, and this summer the Russian designer turned to the 17th-century costumes in Peter Greenaway’s 1982 film The Draughtsman’s Contract as inspiration for a beautiful crinkle-linen and silk ombré dress (£1,905) with square neckline, dropped shoulders and ballooning sleeves.
Gazinskaya’s other point of reference was the 1980s classic The Breakfast Club: the current silhouettes, with their ballooning sleeves, fit-and-flare cuts and midi-length skirts, resolutely channel the spirit of that decade. “It almost feels like a modern Buffalo Girl thing to me,” says Matchesfashion.com buying director Natalie Kingham, referring to Vivienne Westwood’s seminal 1982 show in which models wore pastoral pieces inspired by Peruvian folk costumes and rustic billowing dresses in muddy shades (the show’s actual title was Nostalgia of Mud) that were the antithesis of the power dressing and slick suiting of the time.
It goes without saying that, for high summer, these dresses all look dreamy with flats, whether something ornate – Marni’s bejewelled leather and neoprene espadrille sandals (£580) or Sanayi 313’s exquisite faille mules (£1,037) and raffia‑embellished Capannina sandals (£817) are all wonderful with fit-and-flare silhouettes – or something simple like the handmade woven hemp and leather flats (£260) from Gemma Serra’s Spanish brand Ball Pagès, or Michael Kors Collection’s simple-but-chic suede and jute espadrilles (£220).
For Kingham, this summer’s wave of pastoral shapes could easily segue into next season, with the addition of a black poloneck and some chunky high-heeled boots. Getty agrees that the laid-back dresses can easily make the leap from summer holiday to city life: “Now, more than ever, women are looking for pieces that are transitional. A wardrobe needs to adapt to their lifestyle.” One thing is certain – after a summer wearing these easy, breezy, elegant looks, it will be a wrench to give them up. Come September, perhaps think about layering them over a fine knit.