Occasionally, during the collections, there comes a point when one designer seems to distil the precise mood of the moment into the season’s most desirable pieces. For autumn that was arch image-maker Hedi Slimane, who, in his second outing for Celine’s womenswear, conjured a super-chic Left Bank look that owes much to the label’s ’70s heyday, a full decade before Bernard Arnault snapped it up in 1987.
These are the designs that founder Céline Vipiana used to transform the Parisian brand from children’s shoemaker to luxurious women’s outfitter: separates in plush, indulgent fabrics – pleated crepe de Chine skirts, cashmere knits and blazers and beautiful leather accessories.
Slimane’s essential pieces don’t look so different to their polite forerunners, but he has given them a potent new life. An early look at his autumn show was typical: an ivory silk-acetate shirt and pleated beige/blue tweed skirt topped with an oversized trench in camel wool/cotton.
This bourgeois mode of dressing might have been packaged to perfection by Slimane this season, but a return to elegant clothes was already dripfeeding into our collective consciousness. The relentless march of streetwear has begun to give way to designs that are irrefutable classics.
“We began talking about ‘reality’ dressing a couple of seasons ago, when we saw the return to jackets and tailoring,” says Net-a-Porter’s global buying director Elizabeth von der Goltz. “Now we are seeing, especially at the higher end, that investment pieces are really resonating – true classics in beautiful fabrics, things that are a bit more long-lasting.” Von der Goltz singles out Gabriela Hearst’s minimal yet super-feminine separates and tailoring from the queens of understated luxe, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen of The Row: “Their show reminded me of when Giorgio Armani first came out with his neutral-toned tailoring. There was a nod to that, but it was done in such a modern and sophisticated way,” says von der Goltz.
This focus on elegant clothes has meant reviving some tried-and-true designs: demure knee-length hemlines appeared at Burberry and Tod’s; round-neck Chanel-style jackets popped up at Marc Jacobs, Balmain and Rochas; while the classic camel coat was given a reboot on countless catwalks – including at Givenchy, where Clare Waight Keller gave it more impact with a belt and exaggerated, puffed-up sleeves. Agnona’s new aptly named Eternal collection includes a light camel cashmere double-breasted jacket and matching cashmere coat. More grand outerwear came from Chanel, where a shin-grazing navy faux-fur cape was paired with black cashmere/wool tweed flares and a cream wool jumper; while at Miu Miu, a similar navy wool cape was teamed with a high‑necked, bow-tied blouse.
Crisp white shirts are also central to this movement, but they tend to come with a flourish – whether it’s Louis Vuitton’s ruffle-collared blouse, or the exquisite leather shirt at Fendi, paired with beige high-waisted trousers. Nabil Nayal, who sold his first white shirt to Karl Lagerfeld when he was a finalist in the 2015 LVMH Prize, creates intricate shirts that reference history – his latest collection includes a cotton-poplin bib-fronted shirt.
There are new faces reinvigorating classic pieces too. Daniel Lee has brought fresh vigour to Bottega Veneta – see his monochromatic dress in mohair wool cinched with a nappa-leather belt with glistening gold hardware, which was typical of his cool restraint.
It’s not just the big luxury behemoths who are homing in on the classics revival – contemporary and young startup brands are also spearheading this movement. A case in point is street-style photographer/designer Tommy Ton, the creative director at Deveaux, who is inspired by classicists such as Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and Diane Keaton. The most well-received pieces from his autumn/winter collection include a cashmere crewneck caped jumper worn over a satin sleeveless gown, as well as moleskin mix double-pleated trousers and a plush tan cape coat. Ton believes this drive towards less trend‑focused pieces is a more sustainable approach to fashion – which is now a pressing concern rather than an option for the few – and challenges what we buy and how we think about clothes.
Giuliva Heritage Collection is another young startup concentrating on exquisitely made, timeless pieces which, in this case, draw on the skills of Italian artisans. Among the sublime tailoring in the new collection is a camel hair double-breasted blazer, matching trousers, matching double‑breasted coat and blue cotton shirt. “We want to show that beautiful tailoring is never boring, but full of character and charm,” says co-founder Margherita Cardelli. Producing clothes that are also sustainable is an added bonus that has become intrinsic to the brand’s story. “We want to create pieces that can survive ages and generations. Timelessness is the way to go – in fashion and whatever else. Buying less and wearing it more is our core message. And this is the only way fashion can truly be sustainable,” she adds.
It’s a mindset that has been central for Emilia Wickstead who, since 2008, has built her made-to-measure and ready-to-wear brand with clothes that are true investment pieces. “My ethos has always been that you buy a dress you can keep in your wardrobe forever. Like a Chanel suit, you can pull it out in years to come, maybe even your grandchildren can wear it too. I love the feeling that it will last and that this idea has now become so big.”
Wickstead’s clothes have always looked as though they have been plucked from a genteel midcentury world, with collections that major on elegant cuts and full skirts, flowing lines and rich colours. Albeit with a twist – her latest collection includes archly feminine jumpsuits in cerulean-blue “luxe gabardine” or in a tobacco-brown wool gabardine as well as a chic teal draped dress that has exaggerated balloon sleeves.
Like Cardelli, Wickstead says demand for timeless, quality pieces is intertwined with conversations around sustainability and longevity in the industry. “Customers really want to see that you are exploring the quality of the fabrics, the craftsmanship and where the fabric comes from. As a designer, that’s the greatest lesson because it forces you to look into all these things – brands are now so conscious of sustainability, but it’s wonderful to know customers are interested as well.”