Coats are about to have a shining moment – quite literally. One of the most significant shifts during this season’s catwalk shows was the way designers embraced high glamour for cover-ups of every kind: using embellishment, gorgeous colour and, most notably, sumptuous fabrics, they introduced – with trumpet fanfare – the majestic day coat.
Nicolas Ghesquière set the tone, staging Louis Vuitton’s show at the Louvre’s Pavillon de l’Horloge. The gallery, which opened last year, traces the transformation of the historic site from medieval fortress to present-day museum – a fitting location, because time was clearly playing on the designer’s mind. Inspired by 18th-century French garments housed in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, he set about blending “the refinement of period ceremonial dress” with “the dynamic yet casual modernity of clothes today”, resulting in elaborate tailcoats (from £13,000) abundant in brocade and fine embroidery and worn over short dresses, cut-off trousers or sporty silk shorts and trainers.
The royal wedding has given the majestic day coat another elegant cue. Dolce & Gabbana played on the theme of the Queen of Hearts for a collection that embraced the zaniness of Alice in Wonderland’s playing-card characters with a maximalist’s eye. This naturally lent itself to highly decorative outerwear (price on request) – elaborately embellished with paillettes, smothered in bold florals or festooned with feathers. With golden tiaras and royal wedding hats as the final flourish, this was the designers’ regalia at its most humorous. Outside their court, one might scale things down a little: their jewel-buttoned, rose-covered black lamé coat (£3,000) is perhaps the way to do it.
Erdem Moralioglu took real-life royal inspiration for his new collection: the 1958 meeting between Queen Elizabeth and Duke Ellington, which led the composer to write The Queen’s Suite in her honour. Moralioglu imagined the young queen “embarking on a secret, lifelong love affair with jazz” and opened the show with a calf-length coat (£3,360) in jade-green jacquard, with bejewelled buttons and a Watteau back (named after gowns in paintings by the 18th-century artist) with wide box-pleats that hang from a high shoulder yoke and extend to the hem, creating a robe-like effect. “I was looking at silhouettes from the 1950s and the Watteau-back style complements decorative fabric so well,” he says. “There’s something quite decadent about it.”
A similarly decadent mood ruled the first ready-to-wear collection by Ralph & Russo. Taking daywear to great heights, the new coats are lavished with Michael Russo and Tamara Ralph’s signature high-end treatment: a parka in reversible rose-gold silk jacquard (£5,450), a sumptuous metallic jacquard floral design (£7,250), and trench coats (£3,950) in sky-blue silk gazar featuring detachable ostrich-feather pockets. “A standout coat has become essential to our clients’ lifestyles,” says Ralph. “The modern, international woman needs pieces that can transition from day to night.” The luxurious fabrics, from metallic-bonded crepes to laminated tweeds, add what she calls “an evening touch”.
The spring/summer season has traditionally been light on outerwear choices – but this, too, has changed. For designer Sharon Wauchob, who recently moved her studio and catwalk show from Paris to London, a statement decorative coat has become key to collections year-round. “I’m not particularly focused on seasons; for me, a good investment piece needs to be a-seasonal. It’s a bit of a joke when we’re designing looks in the studio that I’ll always grab a coat and put it on top of the most important dress. Then I’ll say, ‘That’s how a real woman would wear it.’”
Now the coat itself is where her private clients want to invest – and it should, says Wauchob, be able to go from jeans to evening dress. “When you put a coat on, it needs to have presence – more than any other piece.” Shining new examples include her hand-embroidered patchwork silk robe (£1,840) inspired by a 19th-century Japanese textile, and an oversized trench (£4,420) worked in hand-polished gold leather.
Fashion consultant Bev Malik, who recently curated a clothing collection for online marketplace Wantz, sees these decorative pieces as “the new heirlooms”. “The coat is the first thing people see of your outfit. The idea of hiding a pretty dress with a discreet cover-up doesn’t feel quite right any more, whereas a statement coat feels instantly glamorous and powerful,” she says. One of her recent discoveries is Georgian designer Lasha Devdariani, who, says Malik, “weaves technicolour dream coats with painstakingly executed traditional embroidery”. These ornate creations (from £595) offer the comfort of loungewear but have a boldness fit for any setting.
Natalie Kingham, buying director at Matchesfashion.com, is also embracing a wealth of highly decorative coats for those “drawn to an artisanal aesthetic – pieces that are beautifully made and are almost collectable items”. She points to Marit Ilison, whose boldly coloured blanket coats (from £952) come adorned with crystals and vibrant floral motifs; Christopher Kane, who turned out some standout pieces at the shows, including a tailored pink coat (£3,995) with tulle trim and an aqua-coloured floral coat (£1,625) with ornamental buttons; and to Berlin-based Rianna + Nina, which uses patchwork, brocade and kimono pieces to create sumptuous handmade outerwear (from £2,145).
“These coats can be worn with jeans and trainers or for evening events, dressing up a simple black dress or jumpsuit, making them very versatile” says Kingham. “You end up focusing your outfit around the coat rather than it just being the last item you put on. They are pieces you will keep forever.”