Jing Zhang looks at the key style trends for autumn-winter fashion
Wild and whimsical styles have given way to a more functional, classic aesthetic in this year's autumn-winter collections. Jing Zhang looks at the key trends
It must be tiring to be a designer today, as there are so many different notes to hit. Designers are under constant pressure to create collections that are on trend, but are different enough to make them stand out in fashion magazines. It's a bit of a contradiction: do what everyone else is doing, but at the same time, do something different, something wild and wilful.
That's not always a bad thing for the consumer, as there's more to fashion than sensible twinsets and boot cut jeans. But the end result of this attempt to garner attention has not always been clothes that are wearable. Though this situation is unlikely to change any time soon, there is a sense that high fashion is at least discovering a yearning for more authenticity.
Major autumn-winter trends for 2014 do include the wild and fantastical, such as the tribal shift, but there are also plenty of high-quality pieces that address the issue of utility and wearability.
Flat shoes, including boots, sandals and sports shoes, are the biggest footwear trend of the year. Denim, the traditional fabric of the blue-collar worker, has experienced a massive reboot among contemporary labels, as well as in high fashion.
Elsewhere, some brands have combined luxury and wearability. They have married increasingly advanced mass production techniques with a more homespun feeling, used innovative materials and textural contrasts, and made an effort to have their clothes live up to their "luxury" label.
Céline and Chloé, leaders in French minimal chic, continue to espouse the pared-down approach that many of us will be adopting this autumn - with coats and outerwear pieces that may become classics.
Clean simple lines, expert tailoring and muted colours offer a transitional and timeless appeal that has even been adopted at Louis Vuitton, where new designer Nicolas Ghesquière, previously of Balenciaga, and Marc Jacobs' replacement, showed us a different approach to Jacobs' kitsch collections.
Those leather pieces, wearable separates spiced up by deep V necklines and pointy 1970s collars, are effortless enough to go straight from runway to street.
MaxMara showed versatile pieces with an English countryside twist, while Alber Elbaz at Lanvin worked almost exclusively in blacks and greys, letting the fabrics, drape and tailoring speak louder than the embellishments.
Even Marc Jacobs, with his earthy palette of browns and greys, seemed to be celebrating "normcore" and understated dressing. Jason Wu, usually a red carpet (and first lady) favourite, also chose muted greys and blacks, using quiet, elegant yet inventive draping to create an easy autumn wardrobe taking you straight from office to an evening gala.
The return to an easy wearability that is more classic has been welcomed by many fashion fans. It doesn't have to be boring, as the subversion and creativity can just be less obvious. The devil, as they say, is in the detail.
Candy colours and pastels unexpectedly appeared across shows in Paris, Milan, London and New York for the coming autumn-winter collections. A softening of the traditional deeper, darker winter palettes make for a delightful respite from grim winter weather.
The resurgence of pastels in past seasons has yielded some exciting results, and showed that powder blues and baby pinks need not be as saccharine and girly as previously thought.
A candy coloured coat, or a pastel dress in funky fabrics, can make a real statement. Note the tweeds at Chanel's supermarket sweep fashion show in Paris, or Frida Giannini's buttery leather pieces at Gucci in Milan. Miu Miu gets in on the trend with an exceptionally young collection with quilted fabrics, and shiny PVC layered over pastel knits.
Native fashions, nature and tribal cultures are regularly mined for fashion ideas. For the coming autumn, designers are tapping the natural and tribal look to get a sense of wilderness, drama and authenticity.
This idea emerged on many catwalks in the form of snakeskins, feathers and furs on powerful feminine silhouettes. Alexander McQueen's fur-encased women appeared to be tough girls, even as they were swathed in macabre baby doll dresses and Victoriana.
Consuela Castiglioni at Marni led the trend, with fine beauties in wild feathered coats and colour-blocked furs - although she kept the look quirky rather than gaudy. Roberto Cavalli's white-hot collection featured fur trims, collars and shrugs with sexy fringed skirts.
Givenchy had a bold and unusual take on life on the wild side with animal prints. The layered look is key to pulling off the tribal princess - and Cavalli and McQueen at least seemed to offer outfits that wouldn't look out of place in Game of Thrones.
With so much fur this season (and the amount seems to be getting a bit distasteful), the message is clearly that "winter is coming". Salvatore Ferragamo and Sportmax are more subtle options for the exotic theme, with a skirt or coat here and there in full python effect or leopard print.
The shape and structure of the pieces, however, were very wearable. This is a precarious area and can be hard to pull off. It's best to offset any wild statement pieces with plain, pure-lined pieces such as a simple black turtleneck, white shirt or basic cigarette pants.
This trend is not about going the whole hog on the street, but carefully balancing the rough with the refined. HYPNOTIC PRINTS AND TEXTURE A few months ago, when I interviewed Alexander Wang at a Balenciaga show in Beijing, he noted that, "in a certain sense everything has been done in terms of design … a silhouette is a silhouette, and where the newness comes from is the technology behind the textiles and fabrication".
Designers might not like to admit it but they secretly agree. Riccardo Tisci, Hussein Chalayan, the Proenza Schouler boys and Wang all chose to showcase their command of technical innovation for autumn.
The look is a mixture of technical and futuristic which blends in specialised, exclusive fabrics. I love the mesmerising effect of those round-shouldered coats and jackets at Proenza Schouler, and the woven knits and leathers at Wang.
Chalayan was the most eccentric, using multicoloured rows of fake nails. London-based Roksanda Ilincic's kaleidoscopic 3-D plastic embellishments were a contrast to textural playmate Mary Katrantzou's prim dresses in patchwork and chainmail metallics, making this autumn trend futuristic and folksy.
POWER OF FLATS
This has to be the year of the flat shoe revival. Never have trainers been so in vogue, crossing from high fashion to streetwear. The Nike flyknit, along with Céline's Vans-like skater shoes, are the footwear du jour. Even the French heritage maisons have embraced the trend, with flat sandals appearing at Chanel couture this July.
Chanel's embellished tweed trainers have been all the rage with editors since last season, with Karl Lagerfeld leading the way on this. Now Christian Dior has jumped on the bandwagon with trainers embellished with floral sequins, and leather pumps with sportswear rubber soles.
Flat brogues are also big news everywhere, from Ferragamo to Jil Sander. In New York, Francisco Costa at Calvin Klein Collection featured flats in the form of tough girl lace-up boots. Hurray for functionality.