Picture this: ferociously feminine girls swarming all over skinny boys’ pieces backstage at Paul Smith A/W2011. The moment I initially drew close to examine this collection I thought; yes this collection is built on an intriguing mix of boys’ pieces and fabrics, but the collection also evoked an even stronger question…
Have you ever ‘borrowed’ an item from a man’s wardrobe ever? Have you? I’ve done it many times. Would you remember your first menswear ‘borrowing’ immediately? I think you might. Mine was a jumper I ‘borrowed’ from my dad. It was navy and smelt of bonfire, leather and his musky cologne. Its large sleeves swamped my hands and dipped below my fingertips but that made it feel all the more safe and special – I have never returned it. It’s the one thing of his that I cherish.
My second and most significant ‘coming of age borrowing’ like a cheerleader wearing her footballer boyfriend’s jacket, was while I was at boarding school. I took great pleasure and warmth (because the school was old and always freezing) in wearing a boyfriend’s charcoal wool crombie over my school uniform. The coat and relationship are long-since dissolved.
My next borrowing was a casual one at university, a small man’s cashmere jumper – it had accidentally shrunken in a wash and I wore it until it started to unravel at the elbows and finally disintegrated. My conclusions? They’re threefold. First, I like wool jumpers. Second, I’m romantic. well, no not romantic, what’s the word, more… more… more Irish. That’s it! We have an affinity to wool wherever we end up living in the world. Third seeing as I’m in Sir David Attenborough overdrive today and have wandered into more natural science territory, I’m going to turn this idea over now and see what’s underneath. Here’s a thought…
The sensation of wearing a coat-over-shoulders-over-loose layers, items of clothing belonging to a man or a (bigger, taller) person you love… apart from the emotional connection, there’s an added basic feeling of comfort and warmth we get just from the fabrics and proportions alone. Do you agree? That a crombie or trench which offers cover and warmth also offers the grandeur and roominess of a man’s coat. A roominess which lets you layer different pieces underneath while by some magic trick of the eye makes your female form look even more feminine.
And the fabrics – fine wool for trousers and thick gauge knits, how do they make you feel?
Wool, suede and corduroy – these all brush against the skin creating a different sensation than ‘feminine’ fabrics like jerseys and silks. While a large man’s watch strap (old styling trick) can swamp the female wrist in chunkiness and instantly make a bare wrist more feminine, a sleeved hand cushioned in winter wools at Paul Smith was strung with a chunky bag chain and instantly made the hand look more feminine and lithe.
At Paul Smith the cotton shirt and wool jumpers and grandpa cardigans were linchpins of this low-key look. Shirts were sneaked in under boyfriend jackets and coats. This blue shirt sat sweetly under a navy blazer. You might wonder what I was thinking by this point. The answer – my answer, anyway-is back to school. This shirt and blazer look wasn’t unlike what most of us wore to school which we tweaked ourselves by sneaking in an over sized man’s cardigan or sweater underneath as an extra rebellious layer.
Elsewhere in the collection shirts were layered under wool waistcoats and wool cardigans, Perhaps the jumpers and cardigans were not fashion moments in themselves, but the shirt and tie ubiquity signified a broader trend that dominated many of the other catwalk collections.
Shirts and ties and tailored suits and coats stomped down runways on girls across the four fashion capitals. From Paul Smith and Alice Temperley and Nicole Farhi in London to Chanel, Balmain in Paris and Dolce & Gabbana in Milan to Tommy Hilfiger, Jason Wu, The Row and Ralph Lauren in New York.
At Paul Smith, the man’s tailoring in coats hangs nonchalantly from shoulders and collarbones, skimming breasts and waists, which female clothes in comparison hug tight. High necks and long sleeves were all layered to give comfort and conceal the body.
Other pieces were fitted neatly to the body but after the plunging, frilled extravaganzas of summer, this modest menswear movement, in its muted palette of greys, camels, black was a refreshing change carefully enhanced with stripes, polka dots and shots of neon at Paul Smith to add further femininity.
At Paul Smith the ‘borrowed’ theme was always softened by styling; man’s flat loafers and flat laced shoes were worn without laces.
Round-neck wool boyfriend sweaters were teased up at the cuff to reveal cotton shirt cuffs.
Nails were painted in neon hues.
Ties were loosely slung around the necks of cotton shirts with upturned cuffs and Paul Smith glasses were perched on the edges of noses rapscallion style.
Even the buttons were feminised (when I examined them up close Sir David Attenborough style) it’s as if a little row of obedient polka-dot ladybirds landed ready to hold together buttonholes.
Smith had gone to great pains to refit men’s style trousers, coats and jackets to the female form, cropping and cutting so that they hung and fitted just so.
The look was softened at times with layering. A clever layering instruction for Autumn/Winter2011 when wearing your boyfriend ‘borrows’ PLAY with different lengths; NOTE TO SELF: something SHORT worn OVER something LONGER like in these two picture above G. Yes I like this LONG cardigan dropping from beneath this SHORT jacket idea (pic on the left) or alternatively if you’re petite a piece of LONG softly draped knitwear slung OVER a coat which just peeps below it creates a lean tall silhouette. Reminds me again of borrowing a boyfriend’s coat (just to pop out here on the catwalk for a sec).
I don’t think I’m alone in this sentiment. Yohji Yamamoto who launched his label Y in 1972, based it on the idea of a woman borrowing her lover’s clothes and the feelings it created. Through the Nineties and since playing with these proportions was a Helmut Lang trademark. Nearer to home Margaret Howell cuts collections like this and for years at Paul Smith he’s mastered it and made it a subtle running theme. This season however it’s the full on boyfriend look.
It’s further softened for girls with the help of Paul Smith’s bags. My favourite is this black Mongolian goat hair ball of fluff. Paul Smith’s words to the model about to carry it onto the catwalk? “Go walk the dog!”
I should like to close this little sermonette with this observation. Stand for a while backstage with Paul Smith and it isn’t long before he just starts being his amazing self. In the past I’ve interviewed him on film and his attitude is unique.
“You’re just walking down the street”, “Enjoy yourself out there, no modelling now!” “As you would anyway!” These were his instructions to models about to go onto the catwalk at The Savoy’s Lancaster Room. In that pressurized backstage atmosphere where time is precious you can’t fake genuine sentiment like that.
Maybe secretly some of our favourite boyfriend ‘borrows’ have often turned into lifetime loans. And you might think I sound all nostalgic but with such strong emotions attached to this ‘borrowed’ look, it’s no surprise that it works as a full collection and will translate well in the real world.
If you can see things in this way (or at least try to), we’re on the same page here. If, on the other hand, you decide it’s not for you, then that’s fine too. The ‘borrowers’ at Paul Smith showed me a great way to enrich my look and give extra longevity to old pieces which barely received an outing due to the summer murky weather. And for just one brief moment the new Paul Smith collection (and I don’t think I’m alone here), made me wish I was 16 again. That fragile feeling of invincibility that comes with a ‘borrowed’ boyfriend’s jumper. Am I innocent in thinking that a ‘borrowed’ jumper might help me conquer the world?