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Fashion editor Jing Zhang's tips to make you the star of the party season

girlsWondering whether you should dust off that old frock for the cocktail season?Jing Zhang offers some nifty ideas to make you the belle of the ball

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 December, 2013, 10:15am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 December, 2013, 10:15am

For some, this festive season is all about making drunken mistakes with a co-worker at the company Christmas bash; for others it is a valid excuse to go all out with dressing up.

The slew of Christmas gatherings, cocktail parties and New Year's Eve celebrations will provide you ample opportunity to flaunt your style. But with autumn-winter trends overlapping the fresh resort collections that are coming into stores now, there's a confusing array of fashion to choose from, especially if you want to stand out from the crowd.

For women, the feminine cocktail dress never goes out of style, but it's important to keep it modern. The dark, sensual, Gothic versions at Gucci, high-collared lovely lace dresses from Dolce & Gabbana and the pure scallop-edged A-line dresses from Valentino (pictured in blue and pink) make for perfect party dressing this season. Hues can range from aggressive, bold, festive reds to winter whites and lots of soft, pretty pastels, but the hemlines are definitely worn long and low this season.

Top Hong Kong stylist/photographer Olivia Tsang, who works with the likes of superstar Andy Lau, says "something worth looking into is '40s glamour, but with a cleaner touch."

For a fashion-forward point of difference when dressing up, she favours "soft leather dresses, like those at Loewe, or lace evening dresses with feminine cut-out details, like Elie Saab's designs, are very sexy this season".

Lace is a big hit this winter, but avoid cheesy wedding-type concoctions. British label Preen has some beautiful dresses in bright full lace, and so does Erdem, which, for years, has been reinventing pretty laces into something edgy and cool (both are available from Matchesfashion.com And of course there is Tsang's pick, couturier Saab, a master at sheer panels, sexy lace and strong fitted-bodice long shapes.

Resort ranges are introducing a lot of low-slung loose trousers as many designers such as Rochas, Alexander Wang, Chloé and Narcisco Rodriguez get on that "casual, cool, masculine" bandwagon. And although trousers might seem unconventional for glamorous parties, a slinky, sexy top and plunging neckline will prevent you from looking too manly. Pair that with very refined make-up (a bold lipstick works wonders) and glossy hair for a look that recalls powerful screen sirens like Marlene Dietrich, Angelina Jolie or Tilda Swinton, who have all overshadowed their contemporaries with this look on the red carpet.

Tsang says: "Pants suits are wonderful on long and lean bodies, especially soft and bright colours in soft fabrics. And when paired with a delicate bra, corset and a lovely necklace, the effect is super sexy."

"Try to avoid shoulders that are too big and stiff fabrics that give a 'Terminator' feel."

Roberto Cavalli, meanwhile, hits high with diaphanous, airy loose pants worn low-slung and with feminine lacy slips. Add an elegant print and a flash of neon and you have a perfect example of working trousers that transform into glamorous eveningwear.

Brands like Theyskens' Theory, Diane Von Furstenberg and Swedish high-street store COS are providing plenty of simple, lean options in terms of long gowns and jumpsuits, which look great in block colour or in print, and when worn with off-kilter designer jewellery.

"I am not big into colour stones and too much bling," says Tsang, "unless it's a clean and modern design. But I do love gold accessories like a statement gold cuff or long gold earrings with a clean neckline."

Search for said jewellery and accessories at e-tailer Plukka, J. Crew, Givenchy, Saint Laurent, Lanvin and at Hong Kong jewellery store The 9th Muse, which has a little treasure trove of stylish and rare pieces.

Graphic looks employing pure lines in black and white or contrasting block colours are big news this season, with an architectural slant making for interesting cocktail dresses - see Altuzarra's autumn-winter collection.

Raf Simons at Dior has updated a rather classic dress silhouette (the '50s pinched waist and pencil skirt ensemble) by using graphic colour combinations and making the top strapless. Or perhaps look to the lace and sheer patterned monochrome dresses by Tom Ford for something that stands out in a crowd.

Another trend is jewel tones, like those commonly found on the catwalks of Lanvin, Haider Ackermann or Taiwanese designer Shiatzy Chen. These hues add depth and intrigue to even a simply cut, or draped dress, giving you a glamorous shimmer without going full metallic or disco ball glittery.

Winter white has been popular this season - many designers have favoured sculptural shapes in dresses as well as evening trouser suits. The resulting look is one of cool, modernist chic - see the ones by Altuzarra, that will stand out in a sea of LBDs. Others like Roberto Cavalli have done languid and loose versions of the little white dress that recall the 1920s and '30s with long column structures, low-slung waists and intricate twinkling beading or embroidery.

Even if you do favour the little black dress, your sartorial stylings need not be predictable. Designers like Christopher Kane have done fabulously inventive versions such as his Motif macramé lace mini dress or the Loop tape-trimmed velvet dress, both available from net-a-porter.com With same-day delivery, it can arrive just in time for Christmas.

jing.zhang@scmp.com

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