Mix of nostalgia and modernity in young people – The Island
It is the essential of the female wardrobe that always manages to capture the spirit of the times. The BBC’s Katya Foreman examines the enduring appeal of the little black dress.
The little black dress, a must-have for Christmas parties, is a bit of an enigma. It’s both one of the most bland items in a woman’s wardrobe – as the default option when she doesn’t know what to wear for an occasion – and a stubbornly timeless and constantly revisited icon. . Essentially a simple black cocktail dress, the garment carries the affectionate nickname LBD, which has its own dictionary entry.
According to André Leon Talley, editor-in-chief of Vogue who recently organized an exhibition dedicated to the LBD, the term “little black dress” first appeared in 1926, in an American Vogue illustration of the first black “Ford” of Coco Chanel. Vogue editors had named the dress after the black Democratic Model T automobile of the era, predicting that the straight, long-sleeved design in unlined crepe de chine accented with four diagonal stripes “would become a kind of uniform for all women of taste”. They were there.
The garment has a radically modern silhouette, both in its austere design and in its sober hue, associated since the Victorian era with mourning. For Chanel, black was the definition of simple elegance and, in defiance of convention, she helped bring color into everyday clothing. Among the disgruntled rival couturier Paul Poiret allegedly shot Chanel in the street, “Why are you in mourning, Mademoiselle?” The equally loquacious creator would have retorted: “For you, dear Sir”.
dress and awe
To put things into context, three decades earlier, the portrait of Madame Gautreau, better known as Madame X, in a black dress by John Singer Sargent had caused outrage in Paris. The jet black look, with its thin straps and plunging neckline, was considered indecent. “Shown in the huge exhibition selected by the jury, the Salon, in 1884, it horrified Parisians so much that the ignominy drove Sargent across the Channel to seek refuge in Britain,” writes Jonathan Jones of the Guardian.
“In this case, it was not the style, nor the brilliance of the bare shoulders, that upset an audience accustomed to ‘modern nudes’. It wasn’t the morbid pallor of New Orleans-born high-society character Madame Pierre Gautreau…or even the impressionistic way in which Sargent, a friend of Monet, rejects the freshness of academic naturalism. No, it was the dress that caused the distress.
Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, who owned multiple LBDs, once said of the versatile garment, “When a little black dress is right, there’s nothing else to wear in its place.” And, quickly adopted as a staple of French elegance in the 1920s, the shape-shifting LBD nearly 90 years later is still going strong, with a family of icons still fueling its mythos. Notably, there’s something about the slender sleeveless black dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s that continues to mesmerize generations. Accessorized with black elbow patches, a beaded choker, dark glasses and a cigarette holder, on Hepburn, the dress transcended the sum of its parts.
“I am absolutely stunned to believe that a piece of fabric that once belonged to such a magical actress will now allow me to buy bricks and cement to educate the world’s most deprived children,” Dominique Lapierre told the BBC in tears. News after the auction. off the dress for charity at Christie’s London in 2006, for £467,200 ($765,000) to an anonymous bidder by telephone. Lapierre, a French writer and philanthropist, had received the dress from its creator, the French couturier Hubert de Givenchy. According to Christie’s, a second version of the dress remains in the Givenchy archives in Paris, while a third is in the Costume Museum in Madrid.
Points in time
Deceptively simple, the LBD, with its silhouettes and morphing features, can be seen as a marker of changing social codes. The black Versace va-va-voom safety pin dress worn by Elizabeth Hurley at the film premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994, for example, summed up an era, as did Catherine Deneuve’s LBD prim by Yves Saint Laurent in Belle de Jour (1967), with its white silk French collar and cuffs.
“The little black dress has been able to adapt to all the socio-political changes”, notes Didier Ludot, vintage specialist. He has been defending the cause since 1999, when he created his line, La Petite Robe Noire, with a dedicated boutique at the Palais Royal in Paris. And designer Miuccia Prada, quoted in Talley’s aforementioned book, said: “For me, designing a little black dress is trying to express in a simple and banal object, a great complexity about women, the aesthetics and topicality.”
From the wearer’s perspective, nothing is more flattering and versatile than the LBD. Offering new personalities in adjusting a neckline or sleeve length, it smooths out contours, serving as an inky frame to exposed areas of flesh. All in lines and shadows, the LBD is the ally of curves. For Ludot, it is “an iconic and magical garment because it highlights a woman’s features and erases imperfections”.
As the epitome of the blank canvas, the LBD has become a rite of passage for generations of designers, and a fixation for some, like cult couturier Azzedine Alaia, whose roots lie in architecture. “The little black dress is of interest to designers because it’s a wardrobe classic that you can experiment with and twist. Fit and volume form the foundation, with fabric bringing it to life. It’s a real creative exercise,” commented French fashion designer Alexis Mabille who was one of five designers approached by French lifestyle chain Monoprix to design a little black dress for this Christmas season, alongside Giles Deacon, Hussein Chalayan, Anne-Valérie Hash and Yiqing Yin. Suitable for all types, the affordable capsule, which premiered at the Colette style emporium in late November, once again reflects the codes of the black Ford Model T. From Hash’s dual-personality design, which fuses two dress styles into one piece, to Deacon’s black satin t-shirt style with an oversized satin bow at the neckline, each offers a fresh take on a timeless classic. of the wardrobe whose capacity for reinvention seems inexhaustible.–BBC