The cape has long been infused with dramatic symbolism. For centuries, it has offered much more than protection against the elements. It has served ceremonial purposes and denoted wealth; it has seeped into popular culture on the backs of superheroes and supernaturals. Yet for all its symbolism, the cape hasn’t made a huge impact on 21st-century fashion – until now. This season designers are offering a huge variety of interpretations, from opera capes to ponchos, shawls to swathed blanket coats. Their generosity of cut, sense of movement and the way in which they focus attention on beautiful fabrication makes for a dramatic alternative to a classic coat.
The richly coloured ponchos (from £1,940) at Ferragamo are the essence of casual luxury, while at Saint Laurent, Anthony Vaccarello put a tailored black cape (£6,935) over leather jeans for an updated beatnik style. The opening look at Michael Kors was a tartan melton-wool cape (£2,990) worn over a floral dress and leopard knee-high boots for a maximalist daywear vibe. Kors also showed a camel melton-wool version (£2,990) with track pants and fluffy slides. There were knitted ponchos (£3,950) at Chanel and a luxurious merinillo shearling cape (£4,500) worn over a mini dress at Dior. Meanwhile, at Jil Sander, Luke and Lucie Meier opted for the most minimalist aesthetic (£620), with a simple oblong of fabric, wrapped around the shoulders and fastened with a single popper.
The drama of a cape makes it a particularly strong evening option. Dolce & Gabbana orchestrated the full-on effect with floor-length opera capes (£2,600) over matching dresses, as did Alexander McQueen, where capes (price on request) were beaded with patterns inspired by butterfly wings. Erdem Moralioglu, who showed a gleaming jacquard version (£2,795) over lace trousers, believes the way a cape allows a glimpse of the outfit underneath, bestows a sense of intrigue that works particularly well after dark: “The idea of the seen and unseen is really interesting. And I love the combination of something informal and formal in a garment. It’s a really modern way to dress for evening, combining the delicate with a strong silhouette.”
Roland Mouret says his customers are choosing capes made from the same fabric as the outfit worn underneath, as in the Astaire fils coupé cape (£1,350) and Haskin skirt (£1,350). The look, he says, is an appealing choice for women who don’t want to show their arms in an evening dress but do want to make a dramatic impact. A long-sleeved gown would offer coverage, but not the drama. “The cape is sensual as well as practical. When a woman walks in a cape you have a memory of the movement. It brings out the strength and the fragility of the body.”
Mouret’s family history has given him a strong affinity with capes: “I remember my uncle, who was a shepherd, wearing a big cape that protected him from the elements. I have that emotion in my blood.” He has also embraced capes for daywear. “When you put a piece of fabric on your shoulders, you are in control of how you wear it,” he says. His glorious mohair capes (red alpaca, £2,250) can be worn free and flowing, or belted for a nipped-in silhouette.
Other designers adopting capes as a major daytime trend include Roksanda Ilincic, who showed wool, fringed blanket capes (price on request), fixed with oversized crystal brooches. She believes their protective and comforting appeal chimes with the mood of the times. “I’ve always felt clothes are soft armour – worn to protect the wearer. We are living in uncertain and transformative times and people are seeking comfort and ease.” The cape, she says, is the ultimate luxury iteration of a protective shield. Ilincic styled her sweeping blanket capes over silky pyjamas and slips to evoke a sense of somewhere safe – like home. “My customers want ease, luxury and beauty. It’s easy to achieve all three with a cape.”
Paul Andrew’s debut collection for Salvatore Ferragamo featured some of the most appealing cover-ups in Milan. Andrew said his focus on capes evolved while looking for a statement piece that chimed with “the contemporary creative’s lifestyle”. His capes (£610) referenced streetwear with their quilted leather-trim hoods. “The cape feels especially right for now, given its ease and the desire for larger volumes in outerwear, but also because of the luxe fabrication and details.” These details are evident in his cotton-gabardine capes with leather trim (from £1,940), or in the shearling (£5,905) versions. A fine example of his reinterpretation of the cape is his hooded poncho dress (£1,470) fashioned from the house’s archive silk-foulard prints.
Alberta Ferretti, known for her sensual aesthetic, is a lifelong fan of the cape. “I have designed capes for many years, I love the mystery and sensuality they evoke,” she says. Ferretti featured caped evening dresses in her spring/summer collection, and loved the look so much she took them into daywear for this season. Her new versions include lustrous, full-length, black leather (£4,050) and rich caramel-coloured wool felt (£1,090). With outerwear this sumptuous, the rest of the outfit can be simple. “I love capes styled with trousers or jeans tucked into knee-high boots,” says Ferretti. “I adore how a cape can add drama. You can wear something unremarkable under a cape, yet still have a distinguished look.”
While Ferretti loves the silhouette of a cape, she understands that not every woman welcomes its full‑blown swagger. And so she designed a cape/coat hybrid (£2,700), with a cape swathed across the shoulders for flare at the back but tailored close to the body at the front. Other brands that have explored the hybrid option include Gucci, which showed a fetching tailored blazer (£1,970), christened the “blape”, with sleeves slit from wrist to shoulder. This blazer/cape combo, embroidered with colourful appliqués, looks good over trousers or jeans for an elevated take on daywear. Fendi offered another alternative with a quilted mini shawl (from £1,190), layered over a tailored coat.
Capes are statement pieces. They can be as simple as a blanket, swathed over the body, as scaled down as a tailored blazer with slit sleeves, or as striking as a maxi-length poncho rendered in the softest leather. For day, they provide a luxurious alternative to tailored coats, ushering in a sweeping silhouette. For evening, they add drama and excitement, pushing the glory of beautiful fabric to the fore and bringing a lavish arc of glamour to any special occasion.