The notion of the beautifully dressed bohemian can be traced back to the muses of the mid-19th-century’s pre-Raphaelites, who loved to pose for portraits in garments inspired by classical art. Their sartorial style, later known as Aesthetic Dress, favoured clothing with simple lines but in richly coloured and expensive fabrics. Loose rather than constricting, the clothes fell with the natural form and movement of the body – conducive to both good health and freedom of self-expression.
There are unmistakable echoes of ultra-luxe bohemian fashion emerging this season. Many designers are using the word “freedom” in reference to their collections, while presenting refined versions of a loose, artistic style of dress – chic pieces imbued with a spirit of global travel and incorporating sophisticated craft-fabric techniques.
For Chloé and Paco Rabanne, it has been a chance to play with late-’60s/early-’70s counterculture and notions of an escape to the exotic, and to elevate the familiar tropes of the flower child – fluid goddess dresses and pyjama or harem trousers, luxurious fabrics with handcraft treatments, dangling jewellery and sandals – into an elegant ready-to-wear wardrobe. Chloé’s Natacha Ramsay-Levi summoned up “a new age revival” in a collection she described as “hippy modernism”. Patchwork and paisley silk shirts (from £1,700), fluid ankle-length skirts or harem trousers (both from £1,130) and dresses (£2,565) were caught by twisted silk lariat belts (£565) and accompanied by flowing trench coats (£1,890) or slim calf-length ribbed cardigans (price on request).
Paco Rabanne’s creative director Julien Dossena, meanwhile, presented “a melting pot of decorative arts… with a sense of mystic escape”, and opened his Paris show with a standout wallpaper-print floral silk slipdress with handkerchief hem (£1,125). Paisley-print ankle-length dresses (from £560), gathered at the waist, were a slinkier option, with lavish layers of gold pendants (from £170) and chic sandals (price on request).
Elizabeth von der Goltz, global buying director at Net‑a-Porter, feels that the expressiveness and creativity associated with the hippy or global traveller is being taken to a new realm. “This isn’t just for the eclectic dresser – it feels considered and it’s appealing to more women,” she says. “We are seeing a breadth of designers taking it on in their own way, from cool and relaxed at Paco Rabanne to evening-appropriate styles at Oscar de la Renta.”
Inspired by co-designer Laura Kim’s trip to Marrakech, New York-based Oscar de la Renta put patchwork scarf prints on swishy, fringed, sarong-style wrap skirts (£1,470) and softly constructed shirting (from £876). Alongside a lightweight one-shouldered silk kaftan (£1,640), the house also deployed outsized ikat patterning on an elegantly waisted organza summer dress (£5,750), a sophisticated silk bustier (£1,910), and supremely chic wide-leg black and cream trousers (£1,210) worn with a tailored, embroidered blazer with a woven and fringed hem (£5,750) and rope belt (£750) – making beautiful use of the artisanal-craft trend in a season where resist‑dyeing techniques are prominent.
The hippy’s favourite, tie-dye, is the most eye-catching, popular – and perhaps surprising – of these this season, and it’s been elevated from the domain of T-shirts and beach sarongs to silk dresses and skirts. Contrary to its laidback associations, this treatment is adding sophistication wherever it goes, says von der Goltz. “Our customer is always looking for something special, and batik and tie-dye fabrics quickly communicate that handcrafted aspect,” she says.
While Stella McCartney’s blue acid-washed organic-cotton boiler-suit (£895) may be de trop for some, women looking to capture a little of their inner bohemian in a restrained setting could wear one of her toned-down tie-dye T-shirts (£240). And look to Prada: vivid swashes of colour on tie-dyed satin skirts (£2,970) lend something rebellious and artistic to daywear. Paul Smith also embraced handcraft, including a burnt-sienna, handkerchief-hem silk dress (£630), a mid-length black cotton coat (£995) with a pattern that looks like psychedelic fireworks, and a linen drawstring bag (£200) with crochet circles. “Elements of the collection are quite tie-dye in their appearance, but it’s actually ikat weaving, which gives a dispersed and misty impression,” says Smith. The rich palette was inspired by the colour in photos taken by the designer and his father, a keen amateur photographer. “They’ve naturally discoloured over time, which I like, but also we didn’t want them to look too sharp or perfect,” says Smith. “It’s a reaction against the computer-generated images we’re inundated with every day.”
But it’s at Dior that tie‑dye has been taken to couture-grade heights, executed to stunning effect using the house’s petites mains’ unrivalled technique. It emerged on the runway in the form of a dark-red and grey tie-dyed cotton trench coat (£5,700) and matching silk midi skirt (£6,300), worn with a grey dégradé knit (£1,500), the tie-dye distorting an original Dior flower print that is stronger on various garments, including elegant loose harem trousers (£2,050) in inky blues – worn with a neat belted jacket (£2,900) – and a sensational mid-length waisted dress (£22,000) with an asymmetric shoulder effect. Creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri saw the craft as one that could express best the dynamism of her inspiration – the movement of the pioneering American dancer Loie Fuller. The tie-dye was her attempt to “reproduce what for me is a kaleidoscope of rhythms and movements and translate the expressive power of dance into fantastical colours”.
The friction between elegant ready-to-wear and such a haphazard craft held multiple attractions, she says. “Tie-dye is a technique that comes out of total experimentation and the desire for absolute freedom – and from a certain faith in chance,” she says. “It originated outside formal fashion circles, is uncontrollable and expresses a strong political sentiment. Including it allowed me to modulate different moods – the rebellious, joyful culture of the 1970s with a degree of the elegance that Dior stands for.” For Grazia Chiuri, this rather homey craft became a challenge of chance effects versus perfection. “It meant going against the precision of the techniques typical of the studio,” she says. “The petites mains worked on trying to control the results, but it’s precisely the inherent unpredictability that makes the whole thing extraordinary.”
Kassia St Clair, author of The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History, says Dior’s treatment of tie-dye is a fascinating counterpoint for the technique. “They must have put an incredible amount of effort in to get those results,” she says. “It’s going against the grain of tie-dye and the clothing it generally lends itself to. But that’s what makes it new. Designers are turning to techniques that add something unique to their garments.”
They are also no doubt fuelled by the success of resortwear labels whose collections are often infused with a bohemian mood, such as LoveShackFancy, founded by American stylist Rebecca Hessel Cohen and embodying what she calls a “luxe gypsy sensibility”. It is inspired by the Victorian and Edwardian eras and by travel to the Bahamas, The Hamptons and Provence. The (mostly) dresses, in broderie anglaise and silk georgette (from $275), evoke a floaty romanticism perfect for a summer wedding or garden party – but Hessel Cohen maintains that the escapist mindset runs year-round. “Even if it’s freezing, you’ll find me in a cascading dress, styled with a cosy knit sweater and layers,” she laughs. “It’s about how you wear the pieces and the sensibility behind them.” For some, boho luxe is a way of life, not just a summer fling – and it’s a more attractive prospect than ever.