Not since the pashmina have oversized scarves been such an essential year-round fashion accessory. But unlike their predecessor there’s nothing plain, quiet or, dare we say it, conformist, about the latest eye-catching incarnations that come in silk crepe and twill, lightweight cashmere or modal and start in size from around 1m square.
“The scarf is fast becoming the ultimate luxury pick-up, an accessible investment piece,” says Erin Moscow, head of accessories at Selfridges. From the McQueen skull or Vuitton Sprouse print to Stella McCartney, Roberto Cavalli and Emilio Pucci (£270), all extend their ready-to-wear themes and prints to scarves, offering consumers an easy way to buy into the latest season’s offerings.
And these days it’s a case of the bolder and more elaborately patterned the better. Take Emma J Shipley. Since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2011, she’s become known for depictions of that most unlikely of fashion symbols: the silverback gorilla (£325). “I was really interested in gorillas because they have such power and we have a close evolutionary connection to them,” she explains. Shipley launched her graduate collection in 2012 and now sells to 27 stores internationally, with a range that also includes images of tigers, owls and butterflies (all from £95). Her designs are hand-drawn with a graphite pencil prior to being digitally printed onto silk, wool or cashmere and modal blended fabrics. “I wanted to work with scarves as I felt they were the most suitable canvas for my drawings,” she says. “I don’t think they date in the same way a dress or a skirt might, and it’s important to me that they are classic and collectable pieces that could be treasured for years.”
Then there’s Dianora Salviati, an Italian scarf designer who works in Tuscany. This season, alongside her main autumn/winter collection, she has created a limited-edition range of customised vintage scarves (from £600), which launches in Selfridges in October. The vibrant silk carrés – from the French word for square – which Salviati found in flea markets or in her mother’s personal collection, have been hand-painted and reworked as double-faced silk and cashmere designs. “In the past, a silk carré was seen as the height of luxury,” explains Salviati, adding that for her the brand name – such as a Céline label on a vintage scarf, for example – matters very little. What’s more important is the textures, the one-of-a-kind designs, the colours and the abstract patterns she creates to blend with the original print on the silk. “I have reinvented the classic carré, bringing new attitude and a sense of modernity,” she says.
Past the entrance awash with English country-garden flowers and painterly blooms sits Liberty’s scarf hall – a cornucopia of colour and pattern. The biggest indication that scarves have been growing in importance recently is that the area increased from 167sq m to just over 204sq m in the past year. “The appeal of scarves is their versatility, price and design function,” says Ed Burstell, Liberty’s managing director. “It’s a fashion item that doesn’t break the bank, can be worn day to evening and works across all fashion trends.”
Covering the newest designs, Liberty’s homage to the scarf now includes offerings from almost 70 brands, ranging from iconic labels to emerging talent. There’s Isabel Marant, Dries Van Noten and Stella McCartney (£240), as well as two new British names – Teatum Jones, which has produced kaleidsoscope-print silk designs (from £165), and Maia Norman’s label Mother of Pearl, whose range of oversized crepe de Chine scarves (from £125) features stripes and graphic illustrated animals such as birds and bees. There are also labels that Liberty has discovered through its Best of British Open Call, where new brands can present designs to the buying team. These include Weston Earth, which produces scarves featuring high-resolution scans of colourful minerals, fossils and stones (from £75). “I started scanning natural materials in 2003, but was only ‘discovered’ commercially at the Open Call in February 2010,” says Richard Weston, an erstwhile professor of architecture. He says that satin – as used in his Moonstone design (£170), which is exclusive to Liberty this season – is the most successful material for showing the richness and detail of the designs.
Scarves are also a focal point in the collections of ready-to-wear designers celebrated for their vivid digital prints, such as Mary Katrantzou (£310), Erdem (£335), Peter Pilotto and Jonathan Saunders. Peter Pilotto, for example, first launched silk scarves in 2012, with versions in 140cm x 140cm modal/cashmere blends (from £260), while scarves have played a pivotal role in Jonathan Saunders’ collections from the outset – he now produces striking designs in silk chiffon or cashmere (all £285). Meanwhile, new ready-to-wear label Moka London launches its oversized scarves featuring floral prints (£210) this season, while designer Michael Birch creates beautiful pieces that start out as a collage of images, handwritten thoughts and brush strokes, before being printed onto silk georgette, crepe de Chine and silk satin (from $425).
Liberty isn’t the only store to have seen its scarf selection grow recently. In May, Harrods opened a new Scarves, Gloves and Hats room. It houses London Fashion Week favourites such as Peter Pilotto, Jonathan Saunders and Matthew Williamson (£210), and specialists such as Janavi, Jane Carr (£285), Klements (£139) and Lily and Lionel (£165). Alongside these are stalwarts such as Givenchy (£220), Valentino (£195), Fendi (£250) and Alexander McQueen.
Artists are also discovering that a silk square can become a fantastic medium for their work. A collaboration between Thomas Campbell and Lily and Lionel resulted in a collection of scarves featuring English National Ballet-themed paintings, which will be displayed alongside the original artworks in an exhibition at Somerset House in October. And Michael Hoppen, who owns the London gallery of the same name, has collaborated with the German collective Filed Under, which specialises in digitally printed art photography on silk. It has produced 1m square scarves such as Simon Norfolk’s depiction of the Hadron Collider in silk twill (£250), which will be available online and from the Michael Hoppen Gallery in October. Alongside these are designs by anonymous artists (from £200), which will initially be sold exclusively at Dover Street Market as part of its Frieze Art Fair celebrations, and then at Michael Hoppen Gallery from November. “It challenges the way people see photography,” says Hoppen. “When it’s scrunched up or laid out flat you get two very different effects.”
Further afield in Dubai and Beirut, where Boutique 1 is based, scarves aren’t just a fashion item, but more of a cultural necessity. And greater choice is certainly welcomed, according to Boutique 1’s fashion and buying director Bridget Cosgrave, who has recently added scarves by Mary Katrantzou, shoe designer Pierre Hardy and Athena Procopiou to the shop’s repertoire. “Oversized scarves are beautiful and practical,” she says, adding that many of her local clients cover their heads, while others spend all day in air-conditioned buildings or frequently fly long-haul. Small wonder they find these “super-size cocoons of loveliness” an absolute must.